SEYMOUR MAN PLAYED AGAINST SATCHEL PAIGE
Seymour Man Played Against “Satchel” Paige
In 1963 Satchel Paige, the baseball legend, played in Seymour at Rock Ledge Park against the Seymour team and a number of Dairyland League all-stars. Seymour resident Ray Skodinski, remembers when he got a base hit off the future hall of famer.
“He threw me a blooper pitch on the inside corner of the plate. I hit it off the handle of the bat and it went over the third baseman’s head for a single. It wasn’t much of a hit but I got on base and Dick GeRue came up and hit a home run. That’s when they found out we had a good team. Paige didn’t have much speed on the ball anymore and he threw us mostly junk.”
“Satchel” Paige’s Traveling All-Star’s appeared in Seymour on June 16, 1963 in an exhibition game to raise funds for youth baseball and the city team. Fran Gerl, who was president of the city team, recalls that Elmer Schmit, Will Mamerow, and “Babe” Seidl played big roles in getting the colorful Paige to come to Seymour.
Two years later, 60 years after Leroy “Satchel” Paige's supposed birth date, he took the mound in the major leagues for the last time, throwing three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics.
Paige starred in the Negro league before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. He compiled such feats as 64 consecutive scoreless innings, a stretch of 21 straight wins, and a 31-4 record in 1933. For 22 years, Paige mauled the competition in front of sellout crowds.
In 1948 the Cleveland Indians were in need of extra pitching for the pennant race. Bill Veeck signed Paige at age 42 and he helped the Indians win the pennant. He pitched for five additional years in the major leagues in addition to his brief stint with Kansas City in 1965.
Living in the fast lane, and needing money, Paige continued to play ball into his 60’s and his traveling teams would often play five or six games a week. Of course, the fans expected he would pitch the entire game, but that was impossible even if he was a young man. Following is the summary of the game as reported in the June 20, 1963 Seymour Press.
“Satchel” Paige Exhibition Draws Wonderful Crowd
Some fans disappointed in “Satchel’s” brief showing.
(Seymour Press, June 20, 1963)
Many of the fans and players alike spent Sunday afternoon checking weather reports, watching the sky, making last minute repairs at the ball park and just plain pacing, As 6:30 rolled around there was still no sign of the all-star attraction but a big black cloud was painfully evident. The suspense was short lived however as only a few rain drops came down when Satchel Paige and his boys came wheeling in raring to go.
The big crowd was growing rapidly and you could hear a wave of murmurs go over the field as the visitors moved smoothly out to warm up. Small boys eyes large with wonder, trailed bashfully behind while more sophisticated elders attempted to conceal their curiosity but were not overly successful.
The first project for everyone was to find out which one was really “Satchel” and keep an eagle eye on him. In the pre-game warm-up there was a slight amount of clowning and the, now over-flowing crowd was brimming with excitement.
The moment of truth was not far away. It was noticeable during the playing of the National Anthem that our worried promoter had forgotten to bring the flag, no matter its “play ball” time. The visitors scored in the first inning on a pair of hits and it was quite evident that they could handle a bat. Then it was old “Satchel’s” turn to pitch. He retired the side easily in the first inning by tossing some soft stuff that would barely break a window. In the 2nd however, Dick GeRue smacked one of the “bloopers” far and wide over the right field fence to the delight of everyone. “Satchel” finished the inning and then retired for the evening
Disappointment was evident on all sides by the brief and no-effort appearance of the star attraction. He was replaced by a young hard throwing right-hander and it became just another ball game. Most of us were amazed by the tremendous effort put forth by the visitors to win the game. The World Series couldn’t have been contested more fiercely. Manager Will was shuffling players in and out in order to give his entire squad and the guest players from the league a chance in the game.
As the game wore on, the visitors built up a big lead mostly through the fact that Seymour was playing an exhibition game and treated it as such. The Negro team has tough competition for each position and the players are fighting to move up to a higher league.
That would explain their battling over every call and decision that was close. Paul Coppo ended the local scoring in the 9th with a home run, making the final 9 – 3.
The financial aspects, the crowd, the combined efforts of all concerned far over-shadowed the minor disappointments involved. Certainly, Paige should have put more effort into his performance and the fans expected to see a clowning type of ball game. But in looking back we all just assumed that part as the advertising sent us never did mention that angle.
Elmer Schmit, in heading up the promotion, the players, both local and guests, fans who spent much time and effort to sell tickets, groundskeepers, ticket sellers, and all others, bushels of bouquets for a job well done.
Approximately $549.00 worth of tickets were sold so that after expenses are paid there will be around $150.00 to divide between the little leagues and the ball club.
Dairyland League Champions
It was a pleasure to interview Ray Skodinski and his wife Rogene (McBain) regarding Seymour Baseball in the early 1960’s. A WWII veteran and former employee of Superior Electric in Appleton, Ray played baseball well into his forties. A star athlete at White Lake High School he once had a tryout with the Cleveland Indians. He is in possession of two letters from former Chicago Cub coach “Red” Smith encouraging him to play professional ball. But as Ray said, “WWII got in the way.” He served in Germany as a gunner on a tank destroyer.
With a gleam in his eye he recalled the championship team that faced Satchel Paige in 1963. “Paul Coppo (Green Bay Bobcat hockey player and future owner) was the key to the team. He had a great curve ball and was sneaky fast. He was also a good hitter. Gene Krahn and Jim DeWaal were also good pitchers.
Dick GeRue was a good hitter at first base, Gale Wandtke played second, Ron Decker was at third and Dick Gosse was a smooth fielding shortstop. Phil Heuser and Fred Haase usually did the catching. I played left field, Jim DeWaal was in center and Krahn or Doug Seidl played right. Will Mamerow was the manager.”
A check of the back issues of the Seymour Press verifies that Seymour dominated play in the Dairyland league winning both the first and second half of the season. In fact, in the final game the “fence-busters” beat Navarino 23-4 to cinch the championship. Ray Skodinski, at age 37, was four for five, hit two home runs and tallied six RBI’s. His batting average for the season was .365. Former teammate Ron Seidl recalls, “Ray was a strong guy who hit mostly line drives. He seldom struck out. Many of the younger players on the team looked up to him.” Perhaps “Red” Smith was right!
Ray still follows baseball, and commented that he likes the Brewers, but his favorite team is the Chicago Cubs. “When I was a kid there wasn’t a major league team in Milwaukee and most people in the area were Cub fans.”