Don’t Look Back. Something Might Be Gaining On You

Satchel Paige? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous baseball player Satchel Paige once offered advice about staying young at heart. Here are three versions:

  • Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
  • Don’t look back. Somebody may be gaining on you.
  • Never look back. You might see someone overtaking you.

Would you please help me to find the correct phrasing and an accurate citation?

Quote Investigator: In June 1953 “Collier’s” magazine published a profile of Leroy Satchel Paige. A sidebar listed six quotations from Paige under the title “How to Stay Young” including the following 3 items: 1

If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The most forceful warning about avoiding looking backward appeared in the biblical story of Lot’s wife. She was told by an angel to flee the city of Sodom and to not look backward. When she disobeyed this injunction she was transformed into a pillar of salt.

In 1888 a humorously garbled version of this tale was retold by a child: 2

A little five-year-old who had been to Sunday school for the first time came home puffed up with importance over what he had learned. “Mamma,” said he, “do you know about Lot’s wife?” “A little,” she said, “but tell me what you know.” So the little fellow told his story very earnestly, becoming positively dramatic when he reached the climax and said: “And the angel of the Lord said unto Lot’s wife, skate for your life and don’t you look back, but she did look back and turned a somersault.”

In 1907 a high school valedictorian in Coffeyville, Kansas delivered a speech containing distinct but thematically related advice: 3

They never look back, never stop to consider what they have accomplished, only what they will be able to accomplish in their allotted time. They know that if they stop to reap or look back someone will fill their place and when the lead is once lost it is almost impossible to regain it.

The profile article containing the quotations from Satchel Paige appeared in an issue of “Collier’s” magazine dated June 13, 1953, but the magazine was available before its cover date. In addition, an advertisement announcing the “Collier’s” piece appeared in several newspapers on June 5, 1953. For example, the “Daily News” of New York printed the following: 4

How has Satchel Paige managed to outlast the great DiMaggio and so many others who began their careers long after he was an established star?

Satch gives his own six rules for longevity ending with the warning: “Don’t look back. Something might he gaining on you.” Don’t miss, TIME AIN’T GONNA MESS WITH ME, in Collier’s Now on sale

In November 1953 a newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania reported on a dinner speech delivered by Orlo Robertson who was the Associated Press Sports Editor. Robertson credited Paige with a slightly altered version of the quotation. The phrase “something might” became “somebody may”: 5

He concluded with the famed recipe for “right living” given by the Negro baseball ace Satchel Paige, which ends with the admonition, “Don’t look back — somebody may be gaining on you.”

In June 1955 a syndicated columnist printed another version of the saying with “someone” instead of “something”: 6

When Satchel Page, the iron man of bronze baseball, said not to look back, someone might be gaining on you, he could have had in mind the class reunion.

In 1960 a columnist in an Auburn, California newspaper printed another variant without attribution: 7

Never look back. You might see someone overtaking you!

In 1987 “The Miami Herald” published a profile of venerable Broadway producer George Abbott who employed a variant of the saying: 8

“I tell people I don’t look back; like Satchel Paige said, don’t look back, somebody will be following you,” Abbott said with the grin that does a great deal to diminish his formidability.

In 2006 “The Quote Verifier” by Ralph Keyes 9 and “The Yale Book of Quotations” by Fred R. Shapiro included the saying with a citation pointing to “Collier’s” magazine. 10

In conclusion, Satchel Paige deserves credit for this quotation which appeared in the sidebar of a 1953 “Collier’s” magazine article.

(Great thanks to twitter user whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. The twitter user prefers to remain anonymous.)

Notes:

  1. 1953 June 13, Collier’s, “Time Ain’t Gonna Mess with Me” (Concluding The Fabulous Satchel Paige) by Richard Donovan, How to Stay Young (Six quotations displayed in a sidebar box), Start Page 54, Quote Page 55, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)
  2. 1888 February 1, The Petaluma Courier, W.C.T.U. Corner, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Petaluma, California. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1907 May 12, Coffeyville Daily Record, High School Commencement, (Quotation from valedictorian Emery Coyle), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Coffeyville, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) (Two typos were changed: “alloted” was changed to “allotted”; “possible” was changed to “impossible”)
  4. 1953 June 5, Daily News, How Satch Does It (Advertisement for “Collier’s” magazine), Quote Page 69, Column 1, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1953 November 29, Sunday Call-Chronicle (The Morning Call), Local Athletes Honored at Dinner; Johnny Bucha Tops by Ralph Rosenberger (Call-Chronicle Staff), Start Page 7, Quote Page 48, Column 1, Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Typo repair: “Stachell” was changed to “Satchel”) (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1955 June 8, The Atlanta Constitution, Did Satchel Mean Reunions? by Leo Aikman, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Atlanta, Georgia. (Typo repair: “Page” was changed to “Paige”) (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1960 June 16, Auburn Journal, It Happened On the Hill by Jan Fonseca, Quote Page B2, Column 8, Auburn, California. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1987 June 21, The Miami Herald, No business like show business for Abbott by Christine Arnold (Herald Theater Critic), Start Page 5B, Quote Page 8B, Column 2, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 133, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  10. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Leroy Robert ‘‘Satchel’’ Paige, Quote Page 575, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified with hardcopy)