Born on January 7, 1924 in St. Charles, Missouri, James Edward “Jim” Pendleton played shortstop for the Chicago American Giants in 1948 after serving in the military during World War II. At 6’ and 185 pounds, he had speed and range playing the position; plus he could hit. Pendleton missed the desegregation of the US military, an early major step in the civil rights advancement of African Americans. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which began the process of ending the racial segregation of the Armed Forces after the speedy infielder had returned to civilian life. However, Pendleton would be involved in the concurrent major step in African American civil rights, the integration of Major League baseball.
After the 1948 season, it is said the Brooklyn Dodgers paid the American Giants $7,500 for Pendleton’s contract. Two of his Negro League teammates would also sign with Major League teams; Quincy Trouppe with the Cleveland Indians in 1952 and Roberto Vargas With the Milwaukee Braves in 1955. The “invisible color line” which had kept African Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics out of Major League baseball for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947 by Jackie Robinson, but the integration process began slowly. Other than the Dodgers, who along with Robinson had Roy Campanella, the Cleveland Indians were the only other Major League team in 1948 with African American players. Larry Doby and “Satchel” Paige were on the World Series Champion Indian team that year.
But with Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese the unmovable fixture as the Dodgers’ shortstop, Pendleton spent four years (1949 – 1952) in the team’s minor league system. Before the 1953 season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted into an outfielder. In 120 games he batted .299 that season and hit three straight home runs during a hot streak at the plate. It would be his best Major League season.
The Braves traded for New York Giant star outfielder Bobby Thomson before the 1954 season. He broke his ankle during spring training and opened the door for Pendleton to become a fixture in the Braves’ outfield. However, after failing in his attempt to get a higher paying contract, Pendleton arrived at spring training late and not in top shape. He lost the opportunity to replace Thomson to Henry Aaron; a 21 year old rookie who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career. Pendleton never returned to his 1953 form and spent the remainder of his Major League career as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder.
After two more seasons with the Braves, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the start of the 1957 season and in 1959 traded to the Cincinnati Reds.
Pendleton spent two years in the minor leagues, 1960 -1961, and then resurfaced to play for the Houston Colt 45s in 1962. It was the inaugural season for the National League expansion team. Although 38 years old, he had his best statistical season since 1953 playing in 117 games and batting .246 with a career high eight home runs.
To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”: http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.