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BASEBALL!
Notes on the National Pastime
Page 26
"The game has a cleanness. If you do a good job, the numbers say so. You don't have to ask anyone or play politics. You don't have to wait for reviews." -- Sandy Koufax
PLAYER PROFILE: JOE PAGE
Nickname: "Fireman"
Born: October 28, 1917 (Cherry Valley, PA)
ML Debut: April 19, 1944
Final Game: May 25, 1954
6'2"     205
Bats: Left     Throws: Left

Played for New York Yankees (1940-1951), Pittsburgh Pirates (1954)
Postseason: 1947 WS, 1949 WS
All-Star 1944, 1947, 1948
AL Babe Ruth Award 1949

Joseph Francis Page, a powerful left-handed hurler out of the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, made his Yankee debut on April 19, 1944. That season he posted a 5-1 record and secured a place on the All-Star team. Then a shoulder injury lessened his effectiveness and he drifted back and forth in mediocrity from starter to reliever. However, Bucky Harris saved Page's career in 1947 by putting him in the bullpen. A 14-8 record with seventeen saves and a 2.15 ERA in relief that season got Page a lot of attention. Those fourteen relief wins lasted as the AL record until Luis Arroyo snapped it in 1961.
Page followed up his regular-season heroics with outstanding hurling in the 1947 World Series, getting the save in game one and winning the clincher, holding the Dodgers to one hit in five scoreless innings. He was the first World Series Most Valuable Player. In 1948, Page led the league with fifty-five appearances and became an All-Star for the third time....
Under Casey [Stengel], Page saved twenty-seven games and posted a 13-8 record. He closed out the Red Sox in the next-to-last game of the season, enabling the Yankees to win the pennant. In the World Series, Page won game three and held the Dodgers scoreless in game five from the seventh inning on.
Joe Page's final Yankee season was 1950. Perhaps it was the heavy workload through the years, perhaps it was just time. But after only seven seasons as a Yankee, he was done. Joe Page still ranks in seventh place in franchise history with seventy-six saves.
-- Harvey Frommer
A Yankee Century


In mid-August [1949] Boston began a late surge that seriously threatened the Yankees' hold on first place, but because of [Casey] Stengel's uncanny foresight and his players' excellent execution, the team was somehow hanging onto the lead despite widespread injuries to key players. The pitching staff was holding up satisfactorily, and Joe Page, the controversial relief pitcher, was at the top of his form, sneering at the hitters, and throwing bullets at them ....
Joe Page was Henry Fielding's Tom Jones in a baseball uniform, a tall, handsome celebrity with jet-black hair and a toothpaste smile, a rounder who enjoyed being noticed in public, a night owl who greeted the rosy-fingered sunrise through bloodshot eyes after a lusty night's play.
For two years of his checkered career Joe Page was the most valuable pitcher in the American League, a left-handed relief specialist who would insolently saunter to the mound from the right-field bullpen, his jacket saucily slung over his shoulder partially covering the number 11 on the back of his pinstripe uniform. When he got there he took the ball from the manager and nonchalantly fired a half-dozen warm-up pitches of medium velocity. Then after the batter stepped in, Page would survey the runners dancing off the bases, sneer defiantly at the batter, and then streak exploding, rising fastballs past the usually overmatched batsman.
....Page came from the coal country of the Allegheny valley where human life was cheap. During the depths of the Depression the life of a miner wasn't worth much more than the cost of a good headstone .... In mining society the threat of death was really the way of life, something which had to be stoically accepted because its likelihood was so immediate. Few miners put money in the bank for a rainy day. Instead they took that money and lived life day by day. This was Joe Page's milieu, a lifestyle most of his teammates could never understand. They thought him to be irresponsible, out for himself, and an attention-seeker who loved public adulation whereas they wanted to be left alone .... Page's reaction to this rejection was a veneer of indifference, as he traveled his side of the tracks while they traveled theirs.
It was this veneer that also drove his managers into fits of rage when they would chastise him, only to see him shrug his shoulders. Few could understand how a man could be so excellent one year and so mediocre the next, yet seem so indifferent to his change of fortune.
Page reached the Yankees in 1944 ... [and] started the season winning five of his six starts and was named to the 1944 All-Star team by manager [Joe] McCarthy. There was a tremendous amount of pride in his local community when he was named to play in the game, being held in Pittsburgh that year. But on the day that was to be his triumphant homecoming, his father suffered a stroke, and Page, instead of playing, sped to the local hospital where his father died before he could see his son pitch in the majors ....
In 1946 McCarthy's frustrations with managing the losing wartime Yankee teams and with fighting a seemingly losing battle to reform Page finally surfaced on a plane trip from Cleveland to Detroit in May .... McCarthy slipped into the aisle seat next to Page and propped up his right leg... to lock Page in. He tapped Page firmly on the arm to get his attention. "You're going to sit and listen to what I have to say," McCarthy said.
"Sure," said Page breezily.
"What the devil's the matter with you?" McCarthy asked.
"Nothing," Page said.
"When are you gonna settle down and start pitching? How long do you think you can get away with this?" McCarthy's voice level was beginning to rise.
"Get away with what?" Page asked annoyedly. "I'm not trying to get away with anything. I'm doing the best I can. What do you want outta me?"
McCarthy began shouting, so that he was audible throughout the entire plane. The other players and the press, embarrassed, tried to act like they weren't listening and like nothing unusual was happening. "Who the hell do you think you're kidding?" McCarthy shouted, his Irish temper at the boiling point. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to send you back to Newark, and you can make your four hundred dollars a month for all I care."
Page, unruffled, shrugged his shoulders. "That's okay with me," he said. "You wanna send me to Newark, send me to Newark. Maybe I'll be happier there."
....But that afternoon when the plane landed in Detroit, McCarthy did not go to the ball park. He was too hypertense to manage. After a rest in his hotel room, he flew directly home to his Tonawanda, New York, farm. The next day he telephoned in his resignation as Yankee manager, a job he had held since 1931.
....Page didn't become a big winner until 1947 under the much more live-and-let-live Bucky Harris, who switched him to the bullpen. In '47 Page appeared in fifty-six games, winning fourteen and saving twenty others. He was fourth in the voting for Most Valuable Player. In the world series he saved the first and third games. In the seventh and deciding game Page entered in the top of the fourth inning, and over the final five innings he blew his fast ball past the Dodgers, allowing one hit and no runs. After the final game, the entire team toasted Joe Page and his live fast ball, including owner Larry MacPhail who earlier in the year had dispatched a female private detective to follow Page around. Columnist Ed Sullivan wrote about Page and the female detective, and before long there were stories that she had fallen in love with Page and was sending MacPhail the most glowing reports.
After Page's 1947 triumphs, he spent the entire winter celebrating, and the following year he arrived in camp thirty pounds overweight, and after crash-dieting to lose the weight, he was weak all season. He also suffered from a tired arm after Harris used him with mixed success in fifty-five games ....
When Stengel became manager in '49, Page, rested and fit, regained his 1947 form and pitched in a record sixty games, winning thirteen, saving twenty, and holding the opposition in fourteen other games without getting credited in the records. It was another incredible, magical year -- the last such season he would ever have.
In 1950 he again suffered a tired arm, pitching with mixed success, and then in 1951, in spring training, Page was on the mound when his right leg, the striding leg, slipped after his windup, and, releasing the ball off-balance, he tore the bursar muscle in his pitching arm. His career was over ....
-- Peter Golenbock
Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964
Sources:
 A Yankee Century, Harvey Frommer
Copyright 2002 by Harvey Frommer Associates
Published by Berkey Books (New York), 2002

available at AMAZON

 Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964, Peter Golenbock
Copyright 1975 by Peter Golenbock
Published by Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1975

available at ABEBOOKS