Jackie Robinson crashed through Major League baseball’s closed door for African-American and Hispanic ball players in 1947. In order for baseball’s “great experiment” of integration to fully work, there had to be successful players to build on his accomplishments. Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Henry Aaron contributed to it working by having Hall of Fame Major League careers. There were other African-American players such as Alphonse Eugene Smith who also contributed. Although he does not have a plaque in Cooperstown, the former Negro League player helped to permanently put to death the myth African-Americans did not have the talent to play Major League baseball.
Born February 7, 1928 in Kirkwood, Missouri, Al Smith developed his versatility as a ball player while in the Negro American League with the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1946 – 1948. He played third base, shortstop, and outfield as the team won the Negro American League pennant in 1947.
Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Smith made his Major League debut on July 10, 1953; one of eight Negro League players that were Major League rookies that season. With Al hitting lead off (.281 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs) while playing 131 games at third base or the outfield, the Indians won 111 games in 1954 and captured the American League pennant.
As he approached his 30th birthday, the Indians traded Smith to the Chicago White Sox after the 1957 season. He had five productive years in Chicago and helped the White Sox win the American League pennant in 1959, ending its forty-year absence from appearing in the World Series. He finished second in the 1960 American League batting title (.315, 12 home runs, 72 RBIs) and hit 28 home runs in 1961.
The White Sox traded the two-time All-Star (1955, 1960) to the Baltimore Orioles in 1963. After splitting time with Cleveland and the Boston Red Sox the next year, Smith retired. He died January 3, 2002.
On the five Al Smith baseball cards I have in my collection (Topps 1959, 1960, 1964) and Post Cereal (1961 – 1963), there is no mention of him playing Negro League baseball. By omitting that information the cards do not paint a complete picture of his baseball career. Like other African-American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players in the late 1940s and 1950s, Al Smith successfully crossed over the dividing river of racial discrimination that had existed in professional baseball for nearly half of the 20th Century.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown