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President Joe Biden speaks during an event to commemorate Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 2021. (AP) President Joe Biden speaks during an event to commemorate Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 2021. (AP)

President Joe Biden speaks during an event to commemorate Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 2021. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher November 12, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • As he began to describe Paige as a great pitcher in the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball, Biden used the phrase “the great Negro,” but then corrected himself to describe Paige as a great Negro Leagues pitcher.

After President Joe Biden clumsily related an anecdote about Negro Leagues and major-league pitcher Satchel Paige, he triggered a storm of denunciation from the right.

The Negro Leagues were the all-Black baseball teams that played largely during the 1920s and 1930s when baseball was segregated. Paige was one of the star players. 

A misleading Facebook post by the conservative group ForAmerica, which has 7 million Facebook followers, stated:

"Joe Biden referring to Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige as ‘the great negro at the time’ sounds just as terrible as you'd think it would. YIKES."

Biden’s misstep drew derision from conservative commentators as well as coverage from outlets such as Fox News, which called his remark a gaffe.

Biden, who sometimes stutters, has had his share of verbal stumbles, some of which have been misconstrued or distorted. In February, we rated False a claim that he had used a racial slur when he stumbled over the word "eager."

So we wanted to take a closer look at the remarks ForAmerica and others were referring to, and their context. 

Biden was in the process of describing Paige as a great Negro Leagues pitcher, but stumbled with his words and initially stopped at the word "Negro."

Paige’s background

Paige, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, played in the Negro Leagues, which began forming in 1920, and later in Major League Baseball after the color barrier was broken.

In 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in the modern era to play in Major League Baseball, Paige became the first Black pitcher to pitch in the World Series. 

The Alabama native pitched in 21 seasons, starting in 1927. After a hiatus from the majors, he last played in 1965, at age 59, pitching three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics against the Boston Red Sox. 

What Biden said

Biden mentioned Paige shortly after beginning his Veterans Day ceremony remarks at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Biden acknowledged the presence of 96-year-old Donald Blinken, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and the father of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Then Biden, who is 78, joked about their ages and said:

"And I just want to tell you, I know you’re a little younger than I am, but you know I’ve adopted the attitude of the great Negro — at the time, pitcher in the Negro Leagues — went on to become a great pitcher in the pros — in Major League Baseball after Jackie Robinson. His name was Satchel Paige. 

"And Satchel Paige, on his 47th birthday, pitched a win against Chicago. And all the press went in and said, ‘Satch, it’s amazing — 47 years old. No one’s ever, ever pitched a win at age 47. How do you feel about being 47?’ He said, ‘Boys, that’s not how I look at it.’ They said, ‘How do you look at it, Satch?’ He said, ‘I look at it this way: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’

"I’m 50 years old and the ambassador is 47."

Biden made similar remarks about Paige’s prowess when the Los Angeles Dodgers, winner of the 2020 World Series, visited the White House in July, and in a meeting with Pope Francis in October.

Use of the word "Negro" began to be socially unaccepatable starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there was a transition to the word Black. The term persists in some proper names, and was used on the U.S. census form as recently as 2010, as a choice in the race question.

The Negro Leagues are still referred to by that name, without any socially unacceptable connotation. In 2020, Major League Baseball officially designated the seven leagues that existed from 1920 to 1948 as having major league status.

It’s not clear which game Biden was referencing, and there may be inaccuracies in his anecdote. While Paige’s date of birth is officially listed as July 7, 1906, there is some question about whether that is accurate.

Paige was the losing pitcher on July 7, 1953, the day he would have turned 47 by that 1906 birthdate. His St. Louis Browns fell 8-7 to the Detroit Tigers on that day, according to the Baseball Almanac. July 7, 1948, was the day he signed his first Major League Baseball contract, with the Cleveland Indians.

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Our Sources

Facebook, post, Nov. 11, 2021

National Baseball Hall of Fame, "Satchel Paige," accessed Nov. 11, 2021

Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, "Biden Refers To The ‘Great Negro’ Satchel Paige," Nov. 11, 2021

Reuters, "Fact Check-Clip shows Biden telling Pope Francis story about baseball player Satchel Paige," Oct. 29, 2021

OutKick, "Watch: President Biden Can’t Help But Call Satchel Paige ‘The Great Negro’ of Baseball," Nov. 11, 2021

Fox News, "Biden calls Satchel Paige 'the great negro' in latest gaffe," Nov. 11, 2021

Townhall, "Joe! You Can't Call Black People By That Name Anymore," Nov. 11, 2021

Pew Research Center, "Race and the Census: The "Negro" Controversy," Jan. 21, 2010, "The Negro Leagues — Satchel Paige," accessed Nov. 12, 2021

PolitiFact, "Joe Biden stumbled over his words in a recent speech," Feb. 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "Biden’s verbal blunders: Separating the real from the fake," Oct. 5, 2020

C-SPAN, "President Biden Delivers Remarks at Arlington National Cemetery," (1:08:15) Nov. 11, 2021

Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia,  "When Did the Word Negro Become Socially Unacceptable?", October 2010, 

The White House, "Remarks by President Biden Honoring the 2020 World Series Champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers," July 2, 2021

The White House, "Remarks by President Biden at the National Veterans Day Observance," Nov. 11, 2021

Mediaite, "No, Joe Biden Did Not Refer to Satchel Paige as a ‘Negro’ During Veterans Day Speech," Nov. 11, 2021

Snopes, "Here’s What Biden Said About Satchel Paige," Nov. 11, 2021

U.S. Census, 2010 questionnaire, accessed Nov. 12, 2021

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, "Negro Leagues History," accessed Nov. 11, 2021

Baseball Almanac, "Detroit Tigers Vs St. Louis Browns July 6, 1953 Box Score," accessed Nov. 11, 2021

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More by Tom Kertscher

In Context: Joe Biden’s ‘Negro’ reference to baseball player Satchel Paige