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Statue of Paige a moving tribute

Statue of Paige a moving tribute

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Linda Paige Shelby filled in for her two siblings. Neither Robert Paige nor Pam Paige could make the unveiling Friday afternoon of their father's statute on the grounds outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Shelby got the call to pinch-hit. She was the best option among the six remaining children of legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, who went into the Hall in 1971. It was Linda Paige Shelby who had, after all, written the speech for the occasion.

But Shelby knew it was less about her words than it was about the event itself, which was a tribute to her father and the men and women who'd made the Negro Leagues.

And when she saw the statute for the first time, she almost didn't have the words.

"It was surreal," Shelby said after the unveiling ceremonies. "It was something that these guys never, in their wildest dreams, thought would ever be happening. They never thought this day would come -- ever.

"But to have the appreciation that they have now and the recognition, it's so meaningful to the families, because we knew their private struggles -- their thoughts. They just simply wanted to be remembered, and it's being accomplished."

The unveiling of the Paige statue stands as just one remembrance during a weekend in which Negro League and pre-Negro League players will, as pop culture icon Andy Warhol once put it, have more than their 15 minutes of fame.

A group of 17 men and one woman will take their place Sunday alongside Paige and 17 others from "black baseball, " as well as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and the dozens and dozens of others from the Major Leagues.

Some of those Hall of Famers -- Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, Yogi Berra, George Brett, Al Kaline and George Kell -- were among the dignitaries at the event, and they all shared the occasion.

"We are here to dedicate a statute of Satchel Paige, which will serve as a permanent tribute to everyone who worked and played in the Negro Leagues," said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame. "He is the one individual who best captures and exemplifies the excellence of play that took place in the Negro Leagues.

"Not only was Satchel renowned for his pitching ability, but he was also known for his 'Satchelisms' -- the Yogi Berra of the Negro Leagues."

Clark called Paige, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month, one of baseball's most beloved and most endearing personalities, and nobody could offer anything to dispute that statement. For if anyone man serves as the historical face of the Negro Leagues, Shelby's father was that man.

As the words on the Paige statute, which Stanley Bleifeld sculpted, said, "In honor of the Negro Leagues' most celebrated pitcher and dedicated to all of those whose contributions to the national pastime were too long diminished simply because of the color of their skin."

"We were blown away that a statute of him would be in Cooperstown representing the Negro Leaguers," Shelby said. "That's just fantastic."

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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