J. D. Thorne


What is pressure to perform for an athlete?  Will Alex Rodriquez of the Yankees feel pressure to perform while appealing his suspension from Major League Baseball?  Will Ryan Braun have it when he returns to baseball next season after admitting to lying about his P.E.D. use?  Warren Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher of all time who did not even win his first major league game until he was 26 years old after military service in WW II, was often asked about the pressure pitching in major league games.  He responded by saying, “No.  There is no pressure pitching against major league hitters.  All they can do is hit my pitch.  Real pressure was at “The Battle of the Bulge” when the opponent was shooting at you with live ammunition meaning to kill you.”

The idea of “real” pressure to perform is what the legendary Satchel Paige described to renown Sports Journalist Earnest Mehl. Times being what they were in 1937, he accepted an offer of good money from the San Domingo Republic Dictator Roberto Trujillo to play for his team in the winter league.  Satchel was willing to play for money, as are most ball players.  In fact, he is one four Major League Baseball Players also ever to have even played for the Harlem Globetrotters! (The others are Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Fergie Jenkins, all Hall of Famers.)  Once Satchel confirmed the advance money had been deposited in his New York Bank by the representative of President Trujillo, Dr. Jose Enrique Aybar, the manager of the Cuidad Trujillo team, he hopped on the plane to San Domingo to pitch for the Dictator’s ball club that winter.  Paige said, “Boy, I never did see a President like Trujillo.  Power!  He’s got it.  If that man don’t like you some day you wake up and you’re movin’. . . For instance, if he wants his team to win a ball game to save his honor and you pitch and don’t win – see what I’m up against?

Born according to some accounts in 1906 in Mobile, Alabama (some say earlier), “Satchel” earned his famous nickname as a youth earning extra money carrying the bags of passengers from the railroad station.  Beginning in 1924 he pitched in the Negro Leagues.  He usually threw year round in numerous games barnstorming in the off-season, often against white major leaguers like Rogers Hornsby.  He pitched in 1934 against a team put together by Dizzy Dean, and won four of the six games they pitched against each other in the exhibition games.  The following year, Joe DiMaggio called Paige, “the best I ever saw, and the fastest.”   Beginning in July, 1948 he became the first black pitcher in the major leagues at approximately age 42.   Once there, despite having previously suffered a serious arm injury, he helped Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians to the pennant winning 6 games and losing just one down the stretch run.  When asked the secret of his longevity, Satchel quipped, “Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”

But he said to Earnest Mehl the most pressure he ever felt was in the championship game for the Cuidad Trujillo team.  “You see this President Trujillo, he runs the whole show down in San Domingo.  He wants a team so good it will win the championship, which is a feather in his cap.  He’s got troops of soldiers around him all the time.  I never seen a man with such power.  He flies us down to Ciudad Trujillo on a big plane and we ain’t put out no place to let other passengers on.  No, sir.  We got right of way.  And what’s more, we don’t even have passports.  Not having passports kinda made me feel uneasy anyway but that president he fixes it up someways.  But I wasn’t down there very long until I wished I wasn’t.  Just to show you, the President he gives an order that none of the ballplayers could be sold any whisky.  And we wasn’t either.  The guy that done it would have been shot.  It was almost like we was in jail.  We was President Trujillo’s ball club and we got to win that championship.  Because if we don’t win maybe the people won’t re-elect him again.  It’s that important.  That’s why the manager of the team, Dr. Aybar, says there was only one piece of advice he would give us:  ‘We better win.’”

“Some of the guys the president had watching us sent shivers down our spine.  They was tough looking.  They packed guns and long knives and I know they could use ‘em.  We didn’t want to give them a chance.  I think that is what the manager meant when he said we better win if we knew what was good for us.  When he said that he looked right at them guys carrying them guns.  If you think it ain’t tough to field a grounder in a situation like that, don’t think.”

“When we come up to that championship game with the Estrellas de Oriente team sponsored by his political rival there must have been about 7,000 people in the stands.  And all of them had guns, too!  . . . Boy my mouth was dry that day.  But only the president was in power and he had the army and so the fans that come to see the game from Estrellas de Oriente didn’t dast say too much. You know how it is:  they was outnumbered.  But if we lose that game then the Estrellas de Oriente team is champion and that’s a political blow to President Trujillo and when there is an election again the votes may go against him.  We find that out.  ‘Satchel, old boy,’ I say to myself, ‘if you ever pitched, it’s now.’  I don’t think I ever throwed harder but I wouldn’t say I was relaxed.  That was one day Paige was not free and easy.”

“We had a flock of colored Americans on our team but they got just as many on their team.  All we could hear from them fans was warnings about we better win.  The more they yelled, the harder I threw and I bet never did I have a better fast ball.  Only I never seen any better hitters than them guys.  But in the seventh inning we score two runs and then I manage to shut them out the last two frames and we win, 6 to 5.”

“No sooner was the game over than we was hustled back to our hotel.  The next morning when we got up there was a United States ship in the harbor.  It was a sister ship to one which was blowed up at Pearl Harbor.  There was a plane waiting for us too, and were we glad to get on board.”

“I read in a newspaper that Dr. Aybar, our manager, says ‘baseball in Trujillo City is not commercial.  Money makes no difference.  Baseball is spiritual in every respect, as indulged in by the Latin races.’  I am saving the clipping of that paper because I am thinking that if he is right and baseball is spiritual as it is played down there, ‘ol Satchel could be a spirit right now if didn’t win that big game.”