Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How New York Yankee Jim Coates battled both Satchel Paige and Luke Easter

The year was 1957. Jim Coates was a hard-throwing right-hander who just had his first taste of big league ball with the New York Yankees. The 25-year-old was biding his time with the Richmond Virginians in the Triple-A International League, waiting for a permanent spot to open in New York. While Coates was cutting his teeth in preparation to join Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle in Yankee Stadium, the International League had a few Negro League veterans ready to show the youngster that he still had some work to do.

Satchel Paige with the Miami Marlins / Author's Collection
Toiling with Coates in the International League was future Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige. The 50-year-old Paige was pitching for Bill Veeck’s Miami Marlins, fresh off a season where he led the league with a microscopic 1.86 ERA.

“Satch was a guy that in his prime, he could throw the ball really good,” Coates said to the author in 2013.

Once in awhile Paige would reach into his bag of tricks and pull out his famed blooper pitch. More than 50 years later, Coates recalled how Paige dared hitters to swing at his slow one.

“He came up with the blooper pitch and threw it real high,” he said. “Satch was a type of guy that was great to watch. He could do it all, believe me. He’d tell ‘em, ‘Here, hit it.’ He’d throw that ol’ big blooper.”



While Paige managed to stun hitters half his age, Coates sensed that the legend was pitching more off smarts and guile than he was with the trademark speed of his younger days.

“Satch, he knew wanted to do it, but he just couldn’t,” Coates said. “He was at an age and state where he tried but he just couldn’t do it.”

During our talk, Coates brought up how great not only Paige was in the International League, but also his Negro League counterpart Luke Easter. The slugging 6’4” first baseman was a few years removed from his time with the Cleveland Indians; however, his power still rivaled the all-time greats. Coates said that he had the perfect remedy to quell Easter’s powerful stroke.

“I didn’t have any trouble with Luke,” he said. “All I had to do was knock him down first pitch and he didn’t want any part of that plate.”

Luke Easter
Easter was no stranger to being dusted off at the plate. While Coates felt that he had Easter’s number from a few knockdowns earlier in the season, the Negro League veteran patiently waited for the perfect opportunity to let the youngster think he had the upper hand. The two squared off when Easter played for the Buffalo Bisons during the 1957 International League playoffs. This time Easter tipped the scales in his favor.

He sent one of Coates’ offerings soaring over the center-field wall, nearly clearing the scoreboard. Coates admitted that Easter had a knack for making the ball disappear, even off himself.

“He hit ‘em out of there in Richmond in the International League like a golf ball,” he said.

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