Hot Stove #228 – Harry Truman, Satchel Paige and Tom Eagleton

The year 1948 was big for Harry Truman and Satchel Paige. What they did 75 years ago is well worth remembering.

The Truman Library is holding a series of events this year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of special moments during the presidency of Harry Truman. A partial list: The Marshall Plan (4/3), recognition of the new state of Israel (5/14), the Berlin Airlift (6/24) integration of the armed forces and the federal workforce (7/26) and, after his famed whistle-stop tour across America, the night of “Dewey Defeats Truman” (11/2). For more on President Truman’s big year, I recommend heading out to Independence to tour the recently renovated Truman Library. It’s awesome.

Dewey defeats Truman: The most famous wrong call in electoral history

As for Satchel Paige, today marks the 75th anniversary of his signing of a contract to play for the Cleveland Indians (now known as the Guardians). Two days later, he made his first appearance in a game in the NL/AL Major Leagues. And in Truman-like fashion, Satchel embarked on his own whistle-stop tour of the American League in a season filled with special moments. Below, Satch with fellow Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller.

NEW HAVEN 200: Barnstorming West Haven with Satchel Paige, Bob Feller

The year 1968 was big for Tom Eagleton. He won the first of his three terms in the U.S. Senate. Last week, Senator Eagleton’s career was celebrated with the opening of an exhibit at the Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse in St. Louis. Rita and I were honored to be in attendance.


Satchel Paige’s Age: When Cleveland owner Bill Veeck signed Satchel Paige, many journalists attacked the signing as a stunt. Not because Satchel had not been a great pitcher, but because he was too old. How old? Satch liked the mystery about his age and was of little help. Wikipedia and Larry Tye’s 2009 biography of Satchel use the date of July 7, 1906, and if that date is correct, Satch signed with Cleveland on his 42nd birthday. And today is the 117th anniversary of his birth.

Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind it, it doesn't  matter." ~Satchel Paige | Mind over matter, Wisdom quotes, Quotes

One thing for sure. He was the oldest rookie in the history of the NL/AL Major Leagues.

First AL Game: On July 9, 1948, Bob Lemon started for the Indians against the St. Louis Browns. Lemon faltered and Satch came on in relief in the top of the fifth. Photographers swarmed around the mound to take photos while Satch warmed up. As recounted by Luke Epplin in his 2021 book about the 1948 Cleveland season (Our Team):

“Some 35,000 fans rose to their feet, screaming and hollering at the top of their lungs. It seemed, Paige recalled, ‘like they was never so happy to see anyone in their life.’”

He pitched two scoreless innings in relief. The reaction of the fans was just the first taste of what was to come during the season.

Satchel Paige Major League debut

Historic Exhibition Game: On July 14, the Indians played a charity exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The only four Black players to play in the AL and NL in 1948 were in the game. Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella for the Dodgers and Larry Doby and Satchel Paige for the Indians. All future Hall of Famers. It was estimated some 40% of the 64,877 spectators were Black.


From the New York Times coverage of the game:

“An astonishing crowd of 64,877 jammed into Municipal Stadium tonight…Most successful part of the game, so far as thousands of Negro fans were concerned, was the two-inning appearance of Satchel Paige, ancient pitching phenomenon…Ol’ Satch struck out the side in the seventh inning…The roar that greeted almost every pitch by the Negro star was deafening. His admirers went wild when he made Tommy Brown his third straight strikeout victim.”

[World Series Trivia: The last time the Dodgers and Indians met was in the 1920 World Series. Cleveland won that year and would win again in 1948. Those are the only two World Series that Cleveland has won. They currently own the longest championship drought in baseball.]

 First AL Win: The next day, July 15, Cleveland returned to AL play in Philadelphia. With the hope of seeing Paige play, fans started lining up at Shibe Park in the morning. A standing-room crowd of 37,684 crammed into a stadium with 33,166 seats. Paige came into the game in the 6th and blew the lead. However, homers by Larry Doby and Ken Keltner bailed him out and Satchel recorded the victory. The first win by a Black pitcher in NL/AL Major League history.

Larry Doby and Satch…

Cleveland Indians in 1948: A Story of Integration - The New York Times

Strong Pitching Season: Satch pitched in 21 games in 1948. He had been brought in primarily for relief, but he also had seven spot starts. He finished with a 6-1 record and an ERA of 2.48. His pitching was instrumental in helping the Indians win the AL pennant. Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich wrote that Paige “had taken up much of the slack occasioned by Bob Feller’s poor season…winning the pennant for Cleveland in a year when Bob Feller, supposedly greatest of them all, couldn’t.”

Gate Attraction MVP: Satch was the runaway winner for MVP of attendance. When fans knew he was going to start, they filled the stadiums.

His three starts at home in the massive Cleveland Municipal Stadium drew 206,432 fans, an average of 68,811, more than double the average home crowd of 33,172. Satch earned his salary and more.

His four starts on the road were also impressive. He had standing-room-only crowds in Chicago and Boston. A virtual sellout in Washington. The 17,092 for a game against the Browns in St. Louis sounds small until you know that the lowly Browns averaged 4,415 per game that year.

This would have been no surprise to Satchel Paige. He was a big draw around the country in his Negro League days. He was often “leased” to other teams for special appearances to draw crowds. To get him into as many games as possible, he sometimes threw only three or four innings, enough for fans to say they had seen the great Satchel Paige. Below, a poster with the promise that Satchel “will pitch.”

Satchel Paige  - 24" POSTER - Championship Negro League BASEBALL - AMAZING IMAGE - Picture 1 of 1

1948 World Series: In the first four games of the Series against the Boston Braves, Cleveland’s regular starters pitched complete games – no need for Satch in relief. The Indians won three of those games to take a 3-1 lead.

In Game 5, Bob Feller faltered, as did two relievers, and Boston was up 10-5 in the 7th inning. The crowd wanted to at least witness Paige in the Series and started chanting “Put in Satch! Let’s have Paige!. Put him in, Lou!” And manager Lou Boudreau did so. Satch received a massive ovation when his name was announced. Boxer Joe Louis was in the stands and later wrote, “As Satch toed the rubber for that first pitch, I like to think that he murmured to himself: ‘At last.’

Satch retired the only two batters he faced and became the first Black pitcher to ever take the mound in a World Series. Click here for Mel Allen’s play-by-play of Satch achieving this long-delayed milestone.

Satchel Paige Pitching In The 1948 World Series - YouTube

In Game 6, two Cleveland starters combined for the win, and the Indians were World Champions.

Three weeks later, President Harry Truman beat Tom Dewey to win re-election.

Two successful endings for two legendary whistle-stop tours across America.

[More on Satchel: Satchel is a prominent figure at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, including presiding over the Field of Legends and as one of the “Black Aces,” a new exhibit celebrating the history of Black and Latino pitchers. His baseball card is in the Oval Office – President Biden likes Paige’s quote, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are.”]


Stadium Bucket List: On the last day of the 2019 regular season, Rita and I took the train from Washington DC to Philadelphia to see a Phillies game. This brought our count of seeing MLB franchises on their home turf to 22 of the 30 teams. We had been making good progress on this bucket list, but then went into a pause because of Covid.

We hope to check off three stadiums this year. The first one was easy. We went to St. Louis the day before the Eagleton event and caught a Cardinals game. I had previously been to a game in St. Louis, but Rita had not. This was my first look at this version of Busch Stadium, and I liked it a lot. The Astros beat the Cards 10-7.


Below, our group at the game. From left, Merri Abels, Judi Roling, Rita, Lonnie, Mark Abels and Steve Roling.


We plan to see a Rockies game in Denver on our way to the Telluride Film Festival in late August. Then the Diamondbacks in Phoenix when we visit Larry and Diana Brewer in late September. If we get those done, we will have five to go. Two in Texas, two in Florida and the Mariners in Seattle.

Tom Eagleton, the Cardinals and Stan Musial: Tom Eagleton was a lifelong Cardinals fan. So much so that I needed two Hot Stoves to tell his baseball stories (click here). Eagleton’s favorite player was Stan Musial who became his good friend and served as honorary chairman of some of Eagleton’s campaigns.

Senator Thomas Eagleton Baseball Fan | Lonnie's Jukebox

Stan Musial is of course a legend in St. Louis, and his statue is the focal point outside Busch Stadium.


Rita’s photo of Steve Roling and me in front of the statue had a surprise photo-bomb when we looked at it later. At Stan’s right elbow is the top of the building we would be in the next day, the…

Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse: The courthouse was completed in 2000. Below, another view from Busch Stadium:

Cardinal Nation » Busch Stadium: 2/26/06 Inside the new stadium » Pictures  from Busch Stadium, St Louis MO

One of the key parts to this story goes back to 1976 when I recruited Woody Overton to help on some campaigns. His hard work caught the eye of Eagleton’s KC Senate staff, and an offer was made. Woody joined up, and the experience changed his life. Eagleton became Woody’s mentor and father figure. Woody stayed for ten years, ending his service when Eagleton retired from the Senate.

Woody returned to politics in a big way in 1992 when he was tapped to co-chair the coordinated campaign that helped elect Bill Clinton, Mel Carnahan, Bob Holden and other Democrats. Again, his good work was noticed – this  time by a president. Clinton appointed Woody to be the Regional Administrator in the Kansas City GSA office covering four states. One of the many major projects overseen by Woody was a new courthouse to be built in St. Louis.

The consensus was that this new courthouse should be named after Tom Eagleton. The problem was that Eagleton did not agree, repeatedly declining the honor. As the ceremony in St. Louis was closing last week, Eagleton’s wife Barbara was asked to say a few words, and she used them to address this subject. Her poignant message was about how she and Woody worked together in cajoling Eagleton until he finally said yes.

Below, Barbara Eagleton, Woody’s wife Jane Overton and Barbara Reres (staffer in KC and DC).


So it was a banner day for Woody on September 11, 2000, when the Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse was dedicated. Below, Congressman Dick Gephardt, Woody (RIP 2017), Eagleton (RIP 2007) and Senator Jack Danforth.


The Exhibit: The newly-installed exhibit covers several walls of the jury assembly room at the courthouse. Below, Rita starting her tour.


The Staff: The courthouse is impressive. The exhibit nicely captures the life of Tom Eagleton. The opening ceremony was moving and reminded me of one of Eagleton’s strongest traits – he attracted the best and the brightest to his campaigns and to his U.S. Senate staff.

The staff’s loyalty and love for Eagleton is palpable to this day. Many of the staffers keep in touch and love to tell Eagleton war stories. And a good contingent showed up for the ceremony: Sitting – Angie Sellers, Barbara Reres, Jane Overton, Jean Moore and Ed Quick. Standing – Denise Zerillo, Mark Abels, Steve Roling, Bob White, Joel Poole, Joe Dugan, Gerard Grimaldi, Judge Rod Sippel, Mike Ryan and Judge Ed Filippine.

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Mark Abels (Eagleton press secretary) and Judges Sippel and Filippine were speakers at the ceremony.

Also speaking was Robin Carnahan who heads the national GSA office under President Joe Biden. Her dad Mel Carnahan was the successful candidate for governor when Woody co-chaired the coordinated campaign in 1992. Robin gave an Eagleton quote that I like (and is even more relevant today): “Politics is the art of self-government. If good people don’t study politics and learn it and practice it, then government will be abandoned to those of lesser motives.”

Or as Woody said he learned from Tom Eagleton, “Politics is necessary, but public service is the goal.”

Lonnie’s Jukebox – Eagleton Senate Campaign Edition: Tom Eagleton ran (and won) three races for the United States Senate. In 2019, I wrote a three-part series about the Eagleton campaigns, and they are archived here on my website. The jukebox selections today will be songs we heard while out on the campaign trail.

First Term Election (1968): After law school, I joined the Young Democrats, and my first campaign was 1968. Our club was closely associated with the Committee for County Progress (CCP), which worked primarily in local county elections. But there was a statewide race that had us excited. Lt. Governor Tom Eagleton was running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Ed Long and businessman True Davis. The CCP endorsement gave a big boost to Eagleton who went on to win the primary and general.

1968 Tom Eagleton US Senate 1 3/4" litho ('72 McGovern's VP)  Missouri MO button | eBay

Tunes from the campaign trail in 1968…

“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding.

“Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf.

Second Term Election (1974): In 1974, Eagleton ran for his second term. The main local race was for County Executive, and Mike White won the primary. I was Mike’s campaign manager, which led to me being elected Chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee. This meant I would work closely with the Eagleton campaign for joint efforts on the Democratic ballot for the general election. As always, Eagleton’s staffers were personable and extremely effective. Our County Committee campaign piece:

On the radio in 1974…

“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” by Jim Croce.

“The Loco-motion” by Grand Funk Railroad.

“Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Muldaur

In 1977, Senator Hubert Humphrey came to the Truman Library to accept the “Harry S. Truman Award for Public Service.” Tom Eagleton was on hand to support his friend. Mike White and I got this cool photo with two “Lions of the Senate.” In the 1990s, Eagleton was on the board of the Truman Library and was instrumental in raising funds and providing leadership for modernization of the library.

Third Term Election (1980): I worked directly on the campaign, serving as the “Get Out the Vote” coordinator in Jackson County. It was a rough year for Democrats with Ronald Reagan winning in a landslide over Jimmy Carter. Eight Democratic incumbent senators were targeted for defeat, and six lost. The two survivors were Alan Cranston (CA) and Tom Eagleton.

On the jukeboxes in 1980…

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen.

“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes.

“Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. Released in October of 1980 and rose to #1 in early 1981. There is an Eagleton story. In 1982, the Cardinals won the NL pennant and played Milwaukee in the World Series. With the Series tied 3-3, Woody and I drove to St. Louis to see Game 7. We attended the game with Mike Ryan, Woody’s counterpart in Eagleton’s St. Louis office. The Cardinals won, and there were celebrations across St. Louis. The three of us ended up at Balaban’s, a landmark bistro in the Central West End. Sitting at the bar, we kept hearing the same song played on a loop all night long. It was “Celebration,” a perfect match for the evening.

Image result for celebration kool and the gang 45 rpm