Bob Lutz

October 17, 2010

The night he took on a legend

Ray Peters contacted me in the summer, looking for something.

Ray Peters contacted me in the summer, looking for something.

His former boss and friend, Noel Rudd, told Peters he pitched in the 1960 National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita and that he opposed legendary right-hander and Negro League star Satchel Paige. Rudd wondered if Peters, who had sent him box scores from Rudd's appearances in a Canadian amateur league, could put his research skills to the test again.

Peters didn't hesitate, armed only with Rudd's e-mail that said Rudd played for Stewart Motors and Paige for — he thought — a Boeing team.

Peters, who is retired and lives in Arkansas, went to work. He contacted the NBC and was provided some information from the 1961 NBC annual, a publication the organization stopped printing 40 years ago. There was a linescore and statistics for the tournament, but no box score of that particular game.

Peters then contacted me, and I went to The Eagle's microfilm.

Paige pitched for the champion Bismarck, N.D., team in the first NBC World Series in 1935, when he was 29 and was nine years removed from his debut in the Negro Leagues.

Who knows how many games and innings Paige must have pitched in his lifetime? He became the oldest rookie in major-league history when he debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 1948, when he was 42. He went on to pitch in 179 games, culminating in 1965 when, at the age of 59, he pitched three scoreless innings with the Kansas City Athletics 12 years after his most recent big-league appearance.

Of course, it makes sense that Rudd, a retired banker who lives in Gilbert, Ariz., would want documentation from his start against one of the most famous pitchers in baseball history.

It happened on Aug. 31, 1960, in a fourth-round NBC World Series game. The stands at Lawrence Stadium were full as Rudd, a 19-year-old left-hander who was pitching at Phoenix Junior College, opposed Paige, who was not with the Boeing Bo-Jets, but with Wichita's Weller Indians.

They dueled into the fifth inning of a scoreless game before Stewart Motors scored twice in the fifth, a rally started when Paige walked Ruud. Paige was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth.

Rudd, meanwhile, toiled on. He made it through seven shutout innings, although the Indians had no shortage of baserunners, thanks to nine hits and five Rudd walks.

When Weller scored a run in the eighth inning, Rudd was taken out of the game. Eventually, the Wichita team won the game 3-2 in 10 innings. Neither Paige nor Rudd figured in the decision.

Now, 50 years later, Rudd has the box score from that game, one of the most meaningful in his life. His friend, Peters, sent him a framed collection of memorabilia from that game.

"I just remember how full that ballpark was that night, and no one was there to watch me pitch," Rudd said. "I probably started warming up in the bullpen an hour before the game because of nerves."

Rudd said he couldn't stop looking in the Weller Indians' dugout before the game for Paige, and eventually he and a few teammates approached the lanky right-hander for an autograph. That didn't go so well.

"He wouldn't even talk to us," Rudd, now 70 and living in Gilbert, Ariz., said. "He wouldn't give us an autograph for a damn thing. In fact, I think he waited until about five minutes before the game before he even started warming up."

Clyde Girrens, whose four appearances on the NBC World Series all-tournament team are more than any other player, was Paige's catcher that night. Girrens, from St. Mark's, played in his first NBC state tournament when he was 15 and played five years in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He was 30 when Paige became his teammate.

"He had pitched for Salina that summer and (NBC founder) Hap Dumont wanted us to pick him up for attendance purposes," Girrens said. "I had never met him, but we played against him in a state tournament or somewhere and I hit a home run off of him."

Paige, Girrens recalled, didn't require much attention.

"The first time I caught him, he said to me, 'Just put the glove where you want it and I'll put the ball there,' " Girrens said. "He said he could take one of those pound coffee cans and hit it 99 times out of 100."

Sure enough, Paige's control — except for that walk to Rudd in the 1960 game — was impeccable. He was a popular player with teammates wherever he played, according to historical accounts, and the Weller Indians were no different.

"Just delightful," Girrens said. "He loved to fish and he liked being around the guys. I remember, we had a game in Blackwell, Okla., with him and they had advertised Satchel pitching in that game down there. Well, it's a 7 p.m. game and at 6:40, there's no Satchel. We're getting kind of nervous. Finally, here he comes, dragging a big ol' duffel bag.

"Our manager, Andy Teter, handed him a uniform, but he said he already had one. He turns that duffel bag upside down and seven or eight uniforms must have dumped out. He put one on and started warming up. We asked him where he had been and he said he was out fishing and fell asleep on the bank."

Rudd remembers Paige still throwing hard in that 1960 game.

"As hard as me," he said. "And I was a pretty hard thrower, that's how I got people out."

Girrens remembers something different.

"I always told Satchel I could catch him bare-handed," Girrens said, "no harder than he threw."

Stories deviate after 50 years. But box scores don't. And now Rudd has his proof of facing the great Satchel Paige.

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