Saturday, January 5, 2013

Remembering Negro League pitching ace Ross 'Satchel' Davis, 94

I had the opportunity to speak with Ross "Satchel" Davis in 2008 for an hour about baseball. I wish that I had recorded the interview, as it was extremely spirited and informative. Around the same time I spoke with him, another writer went and visited him at his home in Garwood, Texas, and posted a wonderful article about their meeting.

This tribute below captures the essence of what I remember about Ross "Satchel" Davis from the encounter I had with him on the phone.

Ross “Satchel” Davis, former pitcher for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues, passed away at the age of 94 from complications due to pneumonia early in the morning on January 1st, 2013 at the DeBakey VA hospital in Houston, Texas according to his close friend Sarah Perry. Perry is the daughter of Melinda Ramsey, the family whom Davis lived with during the past few years in the Houston suburb of Garwood.

Ross 'Satchel' Davis signed photo
Davis was born on July 28, 1918 in Greenville, Mississippi. He pitched in the Negro Leagues from 1940-47 with the Baltimore Elite Giants, Cleveland Buckeyes, New York Black Yankees, and Boston Blues. His career highlights include pitching a no-hitter with Roy Campanella as his catcher as a member of the Baltimore Elite Giants against a potent Newark Eagles lineup that included Hall of Famers Biz Mackey, Monte Irvin, and Willie Wells in 1940, and pitching in the 1947 Negro World Series as a member of the Negro American League champion Cleveland Buckeyes.

His career was interrupted due to his military service in World War II from November 1943 through the end of the 1945 season. During his Army service, he was awarded a Bronze Star. Despite receiving a discharge that forbade him from playing baseball due to a bout with hepatitis in the service, Davis signed with Boston Blues of Branch Rickey’s United States League in 1946. Eventually he made his way back to the Buckeyes the following year, posting a 5-1 record during their run to the Negro World Series. At the end of the season due to persistent health problems, he called it quits at the age of 29.Despite his early exit from the game, in a 2006 interview with the Long Beach Telegram, he looked back with fond admiration at his playing days.

"No doubt those seasons were some of the best times of my life," he says. "Of course, like I said, those also were hard years, and when it became a job rather than a game I quit. I can thank the good Lord that all that segregation we faced is past now. Still, I think I'd rather have played then because even with all we had to deal with, the game was only about the game. We didn't do all the posturing you see now. If we hit a home run, we'd run around the bases like we were trying to turn a single into a double, not stand there and look at the ball like some guys do now. We'd call that showboating, and that just wasn't done in our day.”

Davis’ signature pitch was his fastball, which earned him the respect of the mighty Josh Gibson, and praise from the man whom he shared the same nickname, Satchel Paige. In an interview with author Brent P. Kelley in the 2003 book, “I Will Never Forget,” he explained how he earned his moniker.
“Satchel gave me that name when he came through St. Louis,” he said. “I was warming up getting’ ready to go in the fourth, and he came down and wanted to know who was this young fella throwin’ these salt tablets. They said, ‘That’s Ross Davis.’ He [Satchel] said, ‘Well, he throws the ball harder’n me.’ Of course, the guys didn’t have any idea they were gonna hit Satchel, so they knew that we were comin’ behind Satchel. They started grittin’ their teeth, taking their vicious practice swings, and Satchel with his big mouth said, ‘No need for you so-and-so’s diggin’ in. That’s my son out there. He throws the ball harder’n I do.’ The news papers took it up, started to call me ‘Satchel Paige’ Davis, and then they reduced it to ‘Satchel’ Davis.”
Davis was living in Long Beach, Calif., when he met Melinda Ramsey and her husband through the Internet. They formed a special bond, and invited him to live in an apartment in their home. Davis accepted, and Perry said his presence was more than they ever imagined.

“He took us in,” Perry said. “He was the best friend you could ever have. He had lots of stories, lots of advice ... just a perfect friend.” 


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