Apocrypha in PittsburghBy David Marasco
Baseball is about legends. This appeal to myth was even more so behind the color line. One tall-tale has Josh Gibson hitting a ball out of Forbes Field only to be called out when it was caught the next day in Philadelphia. Not surprisingly, Satchel Paige as the Negro League's most famous player also stars in many such stories. One of these is recounted in his autobiography, "Maybe I'll Pitch Forever,"
One day I pitched a no-hitter for the Crawfords against the Homestead Grays. That was on July 4. I remember because somebody kept shooting off firecrackers every time I got another batter out. Those firecrackers still were popping when I ran out of the park, hopped into my car, and drove all night to Chicago. I got there in time to beat Jim Trent and the Chicago American Giants one to nothing in twelve innings.This seems more than a little unbelievable. A full nine innings followed by an all-night drive to be topped with a twelve-inning shutout? Even if one does believe in Paige's pitching abilities, his memory might not be trusted. His autobiography was written in 1962, and while that was only one year removed from his pitching for AAA Portland, it was nearly 30 years after the fact. Also to be considered is that the only Trent that played for the Chicago American Giants was Ted Trent. This calls for a little digging. Fortunately both Chicago and Pittsburgh had very active press corps in their African-American communities, so many pieces of this puzzle could be found.
The Pittsburgh Courier splashed the banner headline "Paige
Hurls No-Hit Classic" across the top of their July 7th 1934 weekly
edition. So the first part of Paige's story is true. This was a game
for all time. Paige struck out 17 batters, and but for a walk and an
error would have had a perfect game. Only four balls left the
infield, one of them a low line drive by Harry Williams that was
snagged on a diving catch by Vic Harris. The Crawfords were a
loaded team, and they played like it that day. Cool Papa Bell lead
off their half of the first with a ball to left that was played into a
speed-induced triple. He was plated by Josh Gibson's sacrifice fly.
In the fifth Leroy Morney doubled, but when Paige sacrificed him
over nobody covered third. Morney took a wide turn and Buck
Leonard, playing first, threw high to the man backing up the play.
Morney scored on the error. In the seventh the Crawfords chased
the Homestead's starter and scored two more runs. All that was left
was for Paige to complete the no-hitter. Despite pinch-hitting for
the two last batters, the Grays could not stop Paige. To understand
his dominance that day, observe his strikeout totals inning by
inning: 3,2,3 2,1,1 1,2,2. According to the plot Paige was now to
drive to Chicago, this is the next part to verify.
The most popular newspaper of the Chicago African- American community was the Chicago Defender. However, when the paper is surveyed for Paige's victory over Trent no record can be found. It is well known that records from that era are spotty at best, but a Trent-Paige showdown should have received some press. Ted Trent was having a marvelous year in 1934, and would go on to start in the Negro League's East-West All Star Game at Comiskey Park. Paige was so well known at the time that he many times appeared simply as "Satchell" in boxscores. He would win the East-West game that year. Given their fame, a twelve-inning duel between the two would be quite newsworthy. The only twelve inning game involving Trent was a match he won on the road at Nashville on the 24th of June. That game was a Herculean effort. As recounted in the Defender,
One of the finest efforts of Trent was his twelve inning win over Nashville last week, played under a blazing southern sun. Trent was suffering from cramps from the first frame to the final, and yet continuing through to win. At the conclusion of the game and with the arrival of victory, Trent collapsed and had to be removed to the club house on the shoulders of his mates.This does not resolve the mystery of the Trent-Paige showdown. The next week's edition of the Defender reveals some clues. A large picture of Satchel Paige was featured on the sports page with the title "Twirls No Hit Game," below the picture are details of his July 4 feat against the Grays. Also included is an account of Willie Cornelius' near no hitter. Cornelius and Paige matched up for a pitcher's duel on the 8th of July. The two put up zeros across the board for the first nine, but it was Cornelius who was the more effective. While Paige had allowed 6 runners on 5 hits and a walk, Cornelius had given up no hits, allowing only walks to Bell and Gibson, with Bell reaching a second time via an error. However, in the tenth the Cornelius fell apart, giving up five hits and three runs. Paige then shut down the American Giants in the bottom of the tenth to take the victory.
At this point Paige's actions in Pittsburgh on the 4th should be
more closely examined. As it turns out, the Grays and the
Crawfords actually played a double header that day. After Paige had
won the first game, the stadium was cleared and another game was
played. With the Crawfords enjoying a 2-1 lead in the seventh, the
Grays put two men on base. The Crawfords responded by bringing
in from the bullpen Satchel Paige! After striking out the first man he
faced, Satchel gave up a double to the pitcher to plate two runs.
Paige could not stop the bleeding and another run scored. While he
recorded three more strikeouts for a day's total of 20, he was
responsible a blown save in the second game loss. With Paige
pitching twice on Wednesday, what were Trent's activities? After
his twelve-inning effort the week before, Trent pitched on Saturday
the 31st. He then came in and pitched three innings of relief on
Monday the 2nd. Finally he had a complete game against the
Crawfords on the 7th.
So the according to Paige, after he pitched his no-hitter he
drove all night to Chicago and then beat Trent in a twelve-inning
game. The reported facts support Trent pitching a twelve inning
game the week before in Nashville, and then Paige beating
Cornelius in ten innings four days after his no-hitter. For Paige's
version to be true, Trent must have achieved the following tasks:
Sunday the week previous he had to pitch a twelve-inning game
where he was carried from the field. The following Saturday he
started in a game against the Cleveland Red Sox, and then came in
as relief on Monday night. According to Paige, on Thursday he was
to have competed in yet another twelve inning game, and then
started yet again on Saturday. All but the twelve-inning game
against Paige have been documented. In addition to Trent's efforts,
Paige must have pitched a nine-inning no-hitter, a part of the second
game in the double header, a twelve inning shutout and a ten-inning
shutout over the span of five days. All of this and no reporting of
the Trent-Paige twelve-inning affair. The historical truth is that after
pitching his famed no-hitter Paige blew a game the same day. Four
days later he would beat Cornelius, and after almost thirty years he
would confuse not only the chronology of the events, but Cornelius
with the far better Trent.
Another nail in the coffin comes from a comment in the July
14th edition of the Chicago Defender. It mentions the fact that
Paige's victory over Cornelius was his third shutout over the
Chicago American Giants that year. A quick search of that year's
Defenders reveals the other two. On their opening weekend, Satchel
and the Crawfords visited the American Giants and defeated Trent
7-0. A month later Paige would return to Chicago and this time
weave a one-hitter to once again triumph 7-0. With the three
shutouts verified, Satchel could not have posted a 1-0 victory over
Trent and the Giants on 5th of July.
If Paige did not pitch against Trent, then what were his activities between his no-hitter and his start against Chicago? These facts are revealed in the November 17th edition of the Pittsburgh Courier. According to an article that reviewed Satchel's season, after pitching on the 4th Satchel left with Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee and arrived in Marion, North Carolina on the night of the 5th. Leaving North Carolina on the night of the 6th, Greenlee and Paige drove 1000 miles to Chicago, arriving on the 8th just forty-five minutes before the start of Satchel's game.
So as it turns out, this legend
is seemingly false. While this is
regretful, it does not detract from the fact that in a little over two
weeks Ted Trent had a 12 inning victory, Paige pitched a no-hitter
and Cornelius and Paige faced each other for ten innings with a near
no hitter. While Satchel may not have had all of the facts straight,
the greatness of these men is by no means exaggerated.
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