BATTING AGAINST SATCHEL PAIGE
Two big events in my life occurred ten days apart in the summer of 1964. I batted against Satchel Paige and got married. The game against Paige takes a little more explanation. Read on.
I organized and played on a semi-pro baseball team in Ames from 1960 to 1971. For those twelve years I was always the business manager, caught and played outfield (couldn’t pick up a ground ball), and served as field manager about half of those twelve years. We played about 30-35 games each summer and would relive those days in a minute if I could.
In the late spring of 1964, Ted Rasberry of the Kansas City Monarchs contacted me about playing a game in Ames. They billed themselves as the Kansas City Monarchs although the Negro Leagues were not organized at that time. They traveled from town to town and featured the immortal Satchel Paige. Mr. Rasberry and I met, set up a deal and scheduled a game for July 29, 1964.
A local television station wanted to interview Satchel Paige, so we set up an interview for late afternoon the day of the game. About 4 o’clock a big green Cadillac rolled to a stop in front of our home in Ames. Out stepped Ted Rasberry followed by Satchel Paige. They walked slowly up the slope of our front yard. Rasberry said, “Mr. Smalling, this is Leroy.” We shook hands. This was my first introduction to Satchel Paige. I’d seen him before at a minor league game in Burlington, Iowa a few years before. But this was my first time to meet him personally.
Paige was supposed to pitch 3 innings to start the game. And he did. We really didn’t do much damage to him or the Monarchs as they beat us 5-1. However, my at-bat in the first inning was unforgettable. Paige didn’t throw hard. At age 55, his motion was somewhere between side arm and underhand and deceptive. He threw me one that I drilled one hop off the right centerfield fence. And with my great speed I got a single out of it. But it was a clean hit. I could tell my boys that I batted against Hall of Famer Satchel Paige just like my dad told me about the time he batted against Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander.
That summer I also batted against two other major leaguers. Jackie Collum, who last had played in the majors in 1962, pitched for Grinnell. He was still pretty crafty and dispatched me on strikes with ease. However, I homered off of Larry Biittner. He later played first base and outfield in the majors for a number of years. Satchel Paige pitched again in the majors in 1965 and threw three scoreless innings. It must have been his motion. But, to this day I’ve always wondered if ol’ Satch laid one in there for the opposing manager to hit. I’ll never know.
Ten days after the game with the Monarchs, Marge and I were married on August 8, 1964 in Rochester, Minnesota. Together we had 33 years of wedded bliss and raised four fine sons.
July, 1964 Brookside Park, Ames, Iowa. Jack Smalling faces famed Hall of Famer Satchel Paige in the first inning of the Ames Merchants game against the traveling Kansas City Monrachs. The result was a line drive single to right center.
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