Category Archives: Sports History

Gene Baker: “Mr. Cubs'” Double Play Partner

Baker Cubs

Based on the historical information I have read, many times on this blog I have stated it appears the slow progress of integration in Major League baseball during the 1950s hindered the careers of many good African-American players. A prime example of this is Gene Baker.  After two seasons in Negro League baseball, Baker became the first African American player signed by the Chicago Cubs.  However, it would be three years before he took the field in a Cubs’ uniform.

Baker Monarchs

Born on June 15, 1925 in Davenport, Iowa, Eugene Walter Baker in 1948 and 1949 played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs; who were managed by John “Buck” O’Neill.  After signing with the Cubs before the 1950 season when 25 years old, Baker stayed in the team’s minor league system for four years.  The top shortstop in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for the Cubs’ Los Angeles Angels Triple AAA affiliate, he averaged 12 home runs, 62 RBIs, and a .284 batting average during those years. At that time the Cubs were getting less than mediocre play from their shortstops, but the team dragged its feet promoting Baker.  Even the Cubs owner, P. K. Wrigley, began to question how Baker could still be in the minor leagues.

Baker & banksOn September 20, 1953, Baker made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter.   Ernie Banks, who the Cubs had signed from the Kansas City Monarchs on September 3, played shortstop that day and hit his first Major League home run.  After Baker had left the Monarchs in 1950 to sign with the Cubs, Banks followed as “Buck” O’Neill’s new shortstop.  He had made his Major League debut on September 17 and beat Baker by three days to be the first African-American to play a Major League game for the Cubs.

The Cubs moved Baker to second base the next season making he and Banks the first African-American double play combination in the Major Leagues.  Baker is credited with helping Banks develop into an All Star fielding shortstop; while he was himself selected to play in the 1955 All Star Game. 

Baker Pirates 2

After the 1957 season began the Cubs believed they needed more power in their line up.  They also had a 22-year-old second baseman, Tony Taylor, ready for the Major Leagues.  A month and a half before his 32nd birthday, the team traded Baker to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Dale Long and Lee Walls who combined to hit 44 home runs for them the following year.  The Pirates were a young upcoming team who had only four players 30 or older.  Baker became a utility infielder backing up 20-year-old second baseman Bill Mazeroski, 26-year-old shortstop Dick Groat, and 23-year-old third baseman Gene Freese.  After missing most of the 1958 season due to  severely injured knee, the team released him after the season and he ended up out of the Major Leagues in 1959.

However, needing a reliable utility infielder and pinch hitter, the Pirates signed Baker at the beginning of the 1960 season. The team won the National League pennant and defeated the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.  Baker got the opportunity to be on a championship team, something his former double play partner Ernie Banks never experienced.

Baker Pirates three

Gene Baker gained the reputation of being a “smart ballplayer”. In 1961, the Pirates named him manager of their Class D minor league team.

 

 

 

Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges: The Last Former Negro League Pitcher in a World Series

“Smokey” Joe Williams, Leon Day, Hilton Smith, and other fantastic pitchers who toiled their entire careers in the Negro Leagues never received the opportunity to appear on professional baseball’s main stage; the World Series. When Jackie Robinson erased Major League Baseball’s “invisible color line in 1947 opening the door for African American and dark-skinned Latinos to play, many of the better Negro League pitchers were past their prime.  However, there were four former Negro Leaguers who did get the opportunity to take the mound in a World Series game.  Three are familiar names in Negro League baseball history.   The fourth and last one, Marshall Bridges who was born June 2, 1931 in Jackson, Mississippi, reflects how slow the progress of integration took in the Major Leagues during the 1950s.

Marshall Bridges 1

On October 10, 1948 Satchel Paige became the first African American to pitch in a Major League World Series game. He pitched 2/3 of an inning in Game 5 for the Cleveland Indians in the 1948 World Series giving up no runs or hits.  The Indians lost the game to the Boston Braves 11 – 5, but won the World Series 4 games to 2.

Don Newcombe pitched in the 1949, 1955, and 1956 Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The team’s leading hurler and innings workhorse during the regular season, Newcombe seemed to run out of gas in the World Series against the Dodgers’ main nemesis each of those years; the New York Yankees.  In five World Series’ starts, he lost four with an ERA of 8.59.

On October 1, 1952 Joe Black of the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees 4 – 2 to become the first African American pitcher to win a World Series game. He pitched a complete game giving up only six hits in the first contest of that year’s Series.  Black, however, lost Game Four and the deciding Game Seven by the identical score of his victory, 4 – 2.

Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges began his professional baseball career as a pitcher and first baseman for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League.  Signed by the New York Giants in 1953, the hard throwing left hander spent five seasons pitching in the minor leagues.  When he turned 28 years old, Bridges finally made his Major League debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959 winning 6 games while losing 3.  He finished second in strikeouts among Cardinal relief hurlers with 76 in 76 innings pitched

Bridges 4

The Cardinals released Bridges in August of 1960 and he finished the season with the Cincinnati Reds. The next season, Bridges did not make a mound appearance when Cincinnati lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series four games to one.  However, due to a surprising shift of fortune it would be different for him the next year.

A little more than 2 months after the Series, the Reds traded Bridges to New York and he went on to become the top relief pitcher for the 1962 Yankees.  In 52 relief appearances, Bridges had his best Major League season winning eight games while saving 18 others and helping the Yankees capture the American League pennant.

Bridges 2

The “Sheriff” made two appearances in the World Series pitching a total of three and two- third innings as the Yankees defeated the San Francisco Giants to win the World Championship. However; he made a place in baseball history by surrendering the first World Series grand slam home run hit by a National League player, Giants’ second baseman Chuck Hiller, in the Yankee’s 7 – 3 Game 4 lost.

Bridges 3

After being shot by a 21 year old married woman (Carrie Lee Raysor) in a bar during spring training the next season, Bridges fell out of favor with the Yankees.  Although there had been off the field incidents involving Yankee star players Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, Bridges had crossed the Yankees’ behavior double standard line that his fellow African American teammate Elston Howard had for seven years been able to toe.   Bridges recovered from the gunshot wound in his leg, but made only 23 relief appearances for the 1963 Yankees.  After the season, the team traded him to the Washington Senators.

For more on Negro League Baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)

 

 

 

 

Negro League Umpires

Umpires 2                Umpires 1

“Strike Three, you are out”! Umpires are an essential but underplayed part of a baseball game.  Most of the time they do their job correctly and leave the outcome of the game to the skill level of the players, as it should be.  However, like all humans, umpires make mistakes.  Occasionally an umpire’s judgement on a close play will cause a controversy, but it is seen as just a part of baseball’s overall nature as a sport.  On a close play, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers stole home in Game one of the 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees.  The argument between the home plate umpire and Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is a classic cut of baseball film history.  Berra, until his death earlier this year, continued to say Robinson was out.

Umpires were also an essential part of Negro League baseball. Last week marked the birthday of former Negro League umpire Percy Reed.  Born on May 10, 1910 in Mobile, Alabama; Reed lived most of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio where he became the main Negro League umpire for the “Queen City”.  From 1935 – 1937 he called games of the Cincinnati Tigers, one of the city’s most renowned black teams.  The Tigers were a charter team of the Negro American League (NAL) in 1937.  When the Tigers folded, Reed went on to be the major baseball arbitrator for Negro League baseball games in the city until 1947.  He worked contest played by Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, and other great Negro League stars.

Due to the racial prejudice that existed in professional baseball in the early 1900s, there were only a handful of professional black umpires. By most accounts, the Negro National League (NNL) founder Andrew “Rube” Foster used only white umpires for league games during the first two years of operation (1920 and 1921) before hiring black umpires W.W. “Billy” Donaldson and Bert Gholston.  Both Donaldson and Gholston had long, distinguished careers in Negro League baseball stretching into the 1930s and 1940s which included umpiring Negro League World Series and East West All Star Games.

The responsibility for providing umpires for league games shifted to the home team beginning in the 1930s. This led to a period of inconsistency in the quality of umpiring in Negro League baseball. Visiting teams complained the umpires’ calls were tilted in favor of the home team.  Some players were not hesitant to voice their displeasure to an umpire’s decision in which they disagreed.  After disputing a call while playing with the Philadelphia Stars, third baseman Jud Wilson hit an umpire during the 1934 Negro Championship Series.  A few years later, Wilson went after an umpire with a bat in the locker room at the end of a game.  As teammates restrained Wilson, police got the umpire out of the room safely.

Although the actions of Jud Wilson with his legendary temper were extreme examples, player clashes with umpires surfaced as a problem many times in the Negro Leagues during this period. Due to a lack of support and authority given from league officials, umpires were reluctant to eject players or managers from games.  It became so bad at times it is said some umpires carried concealed weapons for protection.

By the late 1930s league officials helped curb the problem by making stronger efforts to support their umpires and discipline players.  Also, former Negro League players who still had the respect of those still active in the leagues began umpiring.   Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston (1976) and Wilber “Bullet” Rogan (1998), Frank Duncan, Crush Holloway, and others were umpires for Negro League games after retiring.  However, there is still the supposed story of former Kansas City Monarch Harly McNair pulling a knife on players who threatened him with bats after umpiring a game.

Bob Motley, a Negro League umpire in the late 1940s and the 1950s went on to call games in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1959. During that time Emmitt Ashford was also umpiring in that league.  In 1966, Ashford became the first African American Major League umpire.

 

To learn more about the history of Negro League baseball, read “Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)

 

Honoring Jackie Robinson, #42

robinson-day

Please excuse the tardiness of this blog post.  In my effort to assemble a team to play in the Satchel Paige Division (age 11 – 12) of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inter-City) program run by the Kansas City Boys and Girls Club, I allowed April 15th to slip by me.  But that is still not a good excuse, considering how important that day is not just in Major League baseball but because of its significance in both African American and 20th Century American history.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing Number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbet’s Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5 – 3 win.

To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, last Friday was designated by Major League Baseball; “Jackie Robinson Day”. All Major League players wore number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games that day and other activities were also held at Major League ballparks to honor Robinson.

Growing up in a home where my father and two older brothers were baseball fans, I was made aware at an early age of Jackie Robinson. However; his mark in history, both African American and Twentieth Century American, continues to grow in significance sixty-nine years after that Brooklyn spring day in 1947.  A mark that he made through his excellence on the baseball diamond whose impact goes well beyond the sport itself.

robinson standing

Robinson hit .297 in 1947 and led the National League in stolen bases. Although many sportswriters doubted he would be successful, the National Sportswriters Association named him 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1949, he led the National League in hitting (.342), stolen bases, and drove in 124 runs.  For his efforts Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  He hit over .300 six in his 10 Major League seasons, and over .290 two others.  A six-time National League All-Star, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants (finishing second four times) and one World Series championship (1955).

But I missed his playing career!   When I made my entrance into the world in August 1951, Robinson and the Dodgers were in the process of blowing a 14 1/2 lead against the second place New York Giants to lose the National League pennant.  There was no ESPN, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, or MLB Network in the 1950s.  I am sure Jackie would have made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day highlights numerous times.  He retired after the 1956 season as I was in the kindergarten class of Miss Williams at Kealing Elementary.  That is why I love seeing the black and white films showing him in action like in the documentary showed last week on PBS; “Jackie Robinson:  A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMaHon”.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting today.

robinson running

Truthfully Jackie Robinson was not the best player in Negro League baseball when Dodger Vice-President and General Manager Branch Rickey signed him in 1945. But he was named the 1946 International League’s Most Valuable Player while with the Dodgers top minor league team in Montreal.   Bob Feller, the star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said Robinson would never be good enough as a hitter to make it in the Major Leagues.  How ironic was it that they were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1962.  Jackie Robinson accepted the hopes and expectations for success of his race as he faced the expectations and predictions of his failure from those opposed to him.  Despite this pressure from all sides, he proved his skeptics wrong and opened the door for other African American and dark-skinned Latino ball players.  Jackie Robinson was an extra-ordinary man God equipped for a super extra-ordinary task!

Earl Battey and the Great Year For African American Catchers – 1963

Earl Battey  Elston Howard  John Roseboro  me 1963 (141x200)

My March 10th post titled, “My public apology to Elston Howard”, ended with the following question; “Who was the African American catcher that finished eighth in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 1963”. Congratulations to James O’Berry for giving the correct answer, Earl Battey!  1963 turned out to be a good year for African American catchers.

Hitting .285 with 26 home runs and 84 Runs Batted In (RBIs), Battey helped the Minnesota Twins to a third place finish in the American League.  But the national sports writers chose Howard, who hit .287 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs leading the New York Yankees to the American League pennant, as the American League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).  The first time an African American player won the award in the American League.  In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the pennant and defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series with an African American behind the plate; John Roseboro.  He hit a home run off Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford to help the Dodgers win Game One of the Series.  In addition that year, I was the catcher for the championship team in the 9 – 11 little league age group at the Athletic Field in Kansas City, Kansas.  It was a good year for African American catchers!

In 1963 Battey had the best season of his 13 year Major League career. He signed with the Chicago White Sox after leaving high school in 1953 and made his Major League debut in 1955.  But he spent the next five years with as a backup to White Sox veteran catcher Sherman Lollar.  Battey got his break after the 1959 season when the team traded him to the Washington Senators, a sub-.500 ball club throughout the 1950s that had begun to rebuild by the end of the decade. He became the Senators # 1 catcher and hit .270 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs in 1960.  But it was after the franchise relocated to Minneapolis the next year, becoming the Minnesota Twins, when Battey’s career took flight.

While in a Twins’ uniform, Battey was a four time American League All Star catcher (1962, 1963, 1965, and 1966) and a two time Glove Award winner (1961, 1962). He became a part of the power laden batting lineup of the early 1960s Minnesota Twins, the favorite team of my friends Mighty Mouse and Gary T.  Along with Battey on the 1963 team, Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew hit 44 home runs, Bob Allison 35, and Jimmie Hall 33.  Battey was the steady hand for the Twins’ pitchers which included All Stars Jim Kaat, Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Camilo Pascual.   With Battey behind the plate, the Twins won their first American League pennant in 1965, but lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As an eleven year old little league catcher in 1963, I identified with Earl Battey. No, I did not show any signs at that age I would have the skills when older to hit 26 homes runs against Major League pitching as Battey did that year.  Nor was there any indication of me potentially having his ability to throw out base stealers as he did.  I did however have Battey’s lack of foot speed and some people felt I had started the journey of evidently developing his 200 pound plus body frame due to my love at that time for food; especially peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Fortunately, I would not complete that journey.  I did play well enough in 1963 for our team, the only all black team in the league, to go undefeated and win the championship.  It was a good year for African American catchers!

Team Picture 7

After Earl Battey retired following the 1967 season, who was the Twins’ # 1 catcher the next season?  (You should know this James O’Berry!)

Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.   For more information, go to http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greatness in the Shadows – Larry Doby

Today’s guest is Douglas M. Branson, author of the new book, Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League, (University of Nebraska Press).  Currently, Doug is a business law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Larry Doby

“In April 1947, Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, thereby beginning the integration of the National League. Eleven weeks later, in Chicago, Larry Doby came to bat for the Cleveland Indians, thereby launching integration of the American League.  To date, fifty -five biographies, or more, of Robinson have been written, along with 3 feature length movies made.  Only one biography of Doby exists, written in the 1980s.

Doby and Robinson were friends, who frequently commiserated with one another on the telephone, and barnstormed together once the season ended. Robinson and Doby were good baseball players.  Robinson hit .297, with 12 home runs, in his rookie season.  Doby hit .301, with 15 home runs, and led his team to victory in the 1948 World Series, in his first full year.

Robinson was a six time All-Star; Doby was a seven time All-Star. Doby too was the first genuine 5 tool (hit for average, hit with power, field, throw, and run the bases) African American player, although.  Baseball writers voted Jackie Robinson into the Baseball Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible (1962).  The Veterans Committee (not the Baseball Writers of America) voted Larry Doby into the Hall as well (1998), but 39 years after Doby had finished his playing days and 36 years after the Hall had inducted Jackie Robinson.

Why has Larry Doby remained so obscure, especially to younger generations? This book attempts to answer those questions, describing and critiquing the shadows that masked Doby’s achievements, both as a racial pioneer and as a first rate baseball player, from view.   In doing so, the book disputes more than a few settled views of baseball history”.

Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League is available through Amazon.com and University of Nebraska Press (use code 6BFP for a 25% discount).

Newspaper Article

Below is an article about “Last Train to Cooperstown” that appeared in the Kansas City Star newspaper on Sunday, February 7th.

Star Article

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

Negro League Baseball’s Maiden Voyage

rubefoster

On February 13th and 14th in 1920, the first officially organized African American professional baseball league was formed in Kansas City, Missouri. The brainchild of black baseball team owner/manager Andrew “Rube” Foster, the Negro National League (NNL) was patterned after the two Major Leagues who at that time did not allow African American and dark-skinned Latino players to participate.   Foster’s Chicago American Giants along with the Kansas City Monarchs, Dayton Marcos, Indianapolis ABC’s, St. Louis Giants, Detroit Stars, Cuban Stars, and Chicago Giants were the initial teams in the league. Several black leagues had been previously organized, but none operated long enough to be historically significant.

“We are the ship, all else the sea”, is what Foster said to describe the NNL. He saw it as a ship travelling through the sea troubled by the stormy strong winds of racial segregation and discrimination.    Long term, Foster hoped the success of the NNL would highlight the talents of African American and Latino ballplayers; eventually leading to the breaking down of the racial barriers and integrating the Major Leagues.

After the second all black league was formed in 1923, the Eastern Colored League (ECL), the first Negro League World Series was played in 1924. The NNL’s Kansas City Monarchs were crowned champions as they defeated the ECL’s Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania.

As the decade ended, Foster suffered from mental illness and could not effectively operate the NNL as it faced financial problems caused by the “Great Depression” which rocked the country beginning in 1929. He died in December of 1930 and the NNL dissolved after the next season.

But, league structure Foster set up for black baseball would continue as the original NNL became the precursor for both the new Negro National League (NNL) that formed in 1933 and the Negro American League (NAL) which began in 1937. Both of these leagues, just as Foster hoped, continued to give African Americans and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers the opportunity to professionally express their God given talent; the opportunity not given them by white organized baseball.

Also; Foster’s vision became a reality when Jackie Robinson, a former Negro League player, in 1947 became the first African American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Fifty other former Negro League players went on to have Major League baseball careers after Robinson erased the “invisible color line”.

Name the teams that were in the 1923 Eastern Colored League (ECL).

 To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 1

monte irvin

Former Negro League and Major League player Monte Irvin died on January 11th, in Houston, Texas.  A member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Irvin helped to solidify Negro League baseball’s place in baseball history.  However, at this time when we celebrate his life, that place is again being marginalized.

Born in Haleburg, Alabama on February 25, 1919; Irvin’s family joined the migration of southern African Americans in the 1920s to northern cities looking for better economic opportunities and they settled in East Orange, New Jersey.  A four sport star in high school; track, football, basketball, and baseball, Irvin played with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (NNL) under an assumed name the summer of 1938 before heading off to Lincoln University (Pa.) on a football scholarship.  However, he quit school after a year and went back to the Eagles to begin his Negro League career.

His smile and easygoing demeanor made Irvin a favorite of Negro League fans, who voted him to participate in five East-West All Star Games. Fans in the Caribbean leagues where he played in the winter also loved him.  By the end on 1941, many considered the 6’1’’, 195 pound Irvin the best player in the Negro Leagues. A .300 hitter with a power stroke, Monte also had the speed and versatility to play in the infield or outfield.

Much has been written about how serving in the military during World War II took productive years away from Major League baseball stars such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Bob Feller. The same can be said about Monte Irvin, who also served his country doing that time.  He missed nearly four seasons (1942 -1945) while in the Army.  When discharged in the late summer of 1945, he met with Brooklyn Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey about a new Negro League team.  Out of baseball for almost four years and suffering a nerve condition he had contacted while in the military, Irvin told Rickey he was not ready to play yet.  But he did not know Rickey really wanted him for the Dodgers.  It would have been Irvin, not Jackie Robinson, that would have become the first African American to play in the Major Leagues since before the beginning of the 20th Century.  Serving in the military altered Irvin’s place in baseball history.

By the start of the 1946 season, Monte felt ready to play again. He led the Newark Eagles in batting average as the team won the Negro National League (NNL) pennant and defeated the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League World Series.  In the Series, Irvin hit .460 with three home runs.

What Hall of Famer played second base for the 1946 Newark Eagles?

 

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

 

Jim Pendleton: A Career Altered by Two Hall of Fame Players

Jim Pendleton

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.

 

%d bloggers like this: