“Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever” was the title of Satchel Paige’s autobiography and even when that book was released it appeared Paige just might be able to pitch at a reasonably high level forever. For those of us who only got to see Paige in newsreel clips or see his face on baseball cards, it is hard to comprehend how any pitcher could make his major league debut at age 42 (at the very minimum) and still be effective after age 45.
While his career essentially ended after that season, Paige came back for a three inning one-off cameo in September 1965 against the Boston Red Sox. He only surrendered one hit in those three innings, and that was to future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski who hit a ringing double.
Even in 1968, when Paige was brought back to be a coach for the struggling Atlanta Braves, so he could qualify for his pension, there was always talk that he would be activated for another appearance. While it never happened, some still believed Paige could pitch competitively in the majors at his official age of 62.
While it would have been nice in an historical viewpoint to see a 1966 or 1969 Paige card, in some ways, by not printing those cards (unlike today where everyone possible would have printed one and gotten him to sign autographs for those issues), we are left with very few cards from his major league career.
Of course, the reason Paige has no mainstream cards until the 1940’s was he spent the better part of two decades in the Negro Leagues where he built up his reputation as the best pitcher in baseball. The Negro League players did not make as much money as their white counterparts nor, as we said, were on any major card issues in those days. Could you imagine a 1933 or 34 Goudey or 1939, 40 or 41 Play Ball Paige card? In fact, I wonder why no one has ever really done a Negro League tribute set in the design of those sets.
The Leaf Paige card is scarce, with fewer than ten grading above a near mint 7 and high grade examples fetching tens of thousands of dollars.
All three cards (1949 Leaf, 1949 Bowman and 1953 Topps) are very popular but the easiest of these three to obtain is the 1953 Topps, which was issued in the larger-size format of the early 1950’s. To me, the design on that one is the best of the three and Paige almost appears to be bigger than life, which in a sense he was.
While Paige was released after the 1953 season (he did make the All-Star team that year no less) and only made that one appearance he did continue to be a minor league pitcher for the next several seasons. Also important to note is that Paige was card #220 in the 1953 Topps set and the last card issued before the high number series began. A good question is did Topps intend Paige to be the final card in the 1953 set before realizing they could issue another series?
With an 47 year old pitcher making the All-Star team, kid collectors getting his cards from the pack and the world understanding he was a legend (even in 1953) there is little wonder any and all of these Paige cards were popular immediately and have never wavered in collectors eyes. And unlike the other true Negro League legend, Josh Gibson, Paige was able to live long enough and keep his career going to get some post-war major manufacturer cards. While we can wonder why no 1950, 1951, 1952 or even 1954 Paige cards were issued we as collectors can be thankful for what we’ve got.
You can see all of Paige’s cards on eBay here.