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Friday, May 29, 2009

Babe Ruth never batted against Satchel Paige. Neither did Jackie Robinson.

Babe Ruth never batted against Satchel Paige. That is often mentioned by people who want to emphasize that blacks had been excluded from wide participation in MLB before April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the modern color line by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League.

Paige (born 1906) was eleven years younger than Ruth (born 1895). The Babe never batted against Satchel in a MLB game. But neither did Jackie Robinson. Paige finally pitched in MLB from 1948 through 1953, plus a one game three inning stunt in Kansas City in 1965.

All MLB games for Paige were in the American League. Robinson played all his regular season games in the National League. More to the point, what top notch pitchers did Robinson face who would have been banned during MLB racial segregation? The best during Robinson's years (1947-1956) was Jackie's Dodger teammate Don Newcombe, winner of the first Cy Young award in 1956.

Even if Paige had been allowed to pitch in MLB the chances were less than 50% that he would have pitched to Ruth. Paige could have pitched in the other league. Had Paige pitched in the same league as Ruth chances were one in eight that he and Ruth would have been teammates. That's less than 50%, not even dealing with the eleven year age difference. Paige would have been 20 in 1926 about the middle of Ruth's career. In 1920 when Ruth hit 50 homers for the first time, Paige was 14 years old.

There is no reason to think that Satchel Paige would have changed Babe Ruth's stats to a significant degree, even assuming that Ruth would have had difficulty hitting Paige.

Paige was probably a great pitcher but what other banned pitchers would have impacted Ruth?

Evidence is anecdotal. It may be uncomfortable for some to address this but great black players were and still are mostly non-pitchers. Why? I don't know.

Since integration in 1947 only three pitchers who would have been banned because of the color of their skin have pitched well enough in MLB to be inducted into the Hall of Fame: Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Ferguson Jenkins. Only Gibson is an American born black. Marichal was born Dominican and Jenkins Canadian. There are no American born black pitchers yet to be considered who would be elected to the Hall of Fame. One dark skinned Hispanic pitcher who would have been banned is a probable Hall of Famer: Pedro Martinez (Dominican Republic). That would make a total of four since 1947, 62 years ago.

What great black non-pitchers did Jackie Robinson play against? In Jackie's early years, none. Roy Campanella won three NL MVP awards (1951, 1953, 1955) but he, like Newcombe, was Jackie's teammate on the Dodgers. Larry Doby broke the AL color line July 5, 1947 with Cleveland, less than three months after Jackie Robinson. Luke Easter joined Doby on the Indians August 11, 1949.

Start dates of Hall of Fame NL blacks during Jackie's years:
Ernie Banks - September 17, 1953, full time 1954
Willie Mays - May 25, 1951, military service 1952-1953 except for 34 games in 1952
Hank Aaron - April 13, 1954
Frank Robinson - April 17, 1956
Roberto Clemente - April 17, 1955.

The National League integrated earlier and more thoroughly than the American League. However, especially during the first half of Jackie's career (1947-1951), he played against no star players (Mays was not yet a star in 1951) who would have been banned because of their color, none of whom were pitchers who could have directly impacted Jackie's batting.

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