Last month on December 5, five former baseball players received the necessary votes to be a part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. The Hall’s Early Baseball Era Committee, which considers candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came prior to 1950, elected former Negro League players/managers Bud Fowler and John “Buck” O’Neil. The Golden Days Era Committee, which considers candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1950 – 1969, elected former Major League players Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, and Saturnino Orestes “Minnie” Minoso. The induction ceremony will be July 24 at the Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
The other candidates on the Golden Days Era Committee ballot not elected to the Class of 2022 were Dick Allen (who missed by one vote), Ken Boyer, Danny Murtaugh, Maury Wills, Billy Pierce, and Roger Maris.
The names on the Golden Days Era Committee’s ballot brings back memories of the 1964 Major League season. That year, the American and the National League pennant races went down to the last games of the season before a winner emerged. All ten of the candidates on the Golden Days Committee’s ballot were still active in the Major Leagues that season; five in the National League and five in the American League. Two were in their rookie seasons and two were at the end of their careers. One began the growing pains that would lead to being a successful manager, while one had a pause put on his role as a Major League manager. One played on a team in the last year of its dynasty, while another played on a team that would sandwich the season between two World Series championships. One reached the high mark of his career, while for another it would be year six of 25 years in the Major Leagues.
In the National League on September 20th of 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies were in first place leading the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals by six and one-half games. One of the reasons for the Phillies’ success, newcomer third baseman Richie Allen. It would be a few more years before Allen would prefer to be called by the name which his mother and family addressed him; “Dick”. Allen’s .318 Batting Average with 29 HRs and 91 RBI that summer earned him the honor of being 1964 National League Rookie of the Year. Highlights of his 15 years in the Major League include hitting 356 HRs, being a seven-time All Star, and being named 1972 American League Most Valuable Player while with the Chicago White Sox. Despite Allen’s heroics in 1964, the Phillies lost ten straight games beginning September 21 and finished in second place on game behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals clinched the National League pennant by beating the New York Mets 11 – 5 the last game of the season. Third baseman Ken Boyer, at the height of his 15 years Major League career in 1964, led the team. Boyer, a seven-time All Star who would finish with 282 HRs and 1,141 RBI, hit .295 that season with 24 HRs and 119 RBI. Named the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player, Boyer also hit a home run to help the National League win the All-Star Game that season. He is considered one of the best third basemen in the Major Leagues during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The San Francisco Giants were only two games out of first place on October 2, however, the team lost its last two games and finished fourth. It would be the last of the 18 years career for Giants’ lefthanded relief pitcher Billy Pierce (3 – 0, 34 game appearances, forty-nine innings pitched). The six-time All Star lefthanded ace of the Chicago White Sox pitching staff in the 1950s, Pierce won 218 games including 35 shutouts and two 20 game winning seasons. He pitched the first four innings of the White Sox 5 – 3 win against the Kansas City A’s on August 20, 1961; the first Major League game I attended.
The 1963 World Series champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, slipped to sixth place in 1964. Dodgers’ shortstop Maury Wills hit .275 and won the fifth of his six straight National League stolen base titles with 53. The Dodgers would rebound to be World Series champions in 1965.
The Pittsburgh Pirates in 1964 tied with the Dodgers for sixth place. After the season Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh retired. He had been the team’s manager since 1957 and led the Pirates to be World Series champions in 1960. Murtaugh came out of retirement for another stint as Pirates’ manager in 1970 and led the team to another World Series championship in 1971.
The candidate needed twelve votes (75%) for election to the Hall of Fame. Dick Allen received eleven while the other four each received less than four. I am surprised that Ken Boyer and Maury Wills did not receive more votes. But that is my generational bias speaking. To me, a 13 years old baseball super fan in 1964, the pennant races that season were the most exciting I had experience.
I will talk about the five other players on the Golden Days Era Committee ballot my next post.
Seven former players from the Negro League baseball era are on the ballot that will be considered by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball Era Committee on this coming Sunday, December 5th. If any of the players receive a vote from at least 75% of the 16-member Committee (12 votes), he will be a part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class for 2022. The induction ceremony will be July 24 at the Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown New York.
This will be the first-time former Negro League players have been given Hall of Fame consideration since 2006. Prior to that year, 24 former players from the Negro Leagues were in the Hall of Fame. Realizing that number not being a true representation of Negro League baseball’s contribution to the game, Major League Baseball commissioned a group of Negro League historians to make recommendations for addition potential inductees. As a result, 12 ballplayers and 5 owners/executives were a part of the Hall of Fame Class for 2006: the Hall of Fame’s largest number of inductees from Negro League baseball in one year.
However, a concern arose as to whether the number inducted in 2006 indicated there were no others from the Negro Leagues worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. To address this and other issues concerning past eras, the Hall of Fame switched to an Era Committee format to select potential inductees. One of the Era Committees, the Early Baseball Era, considers candidates whose contributions to baseball were realized prior to 1950. This committee will vote on candidates for Hall of Fame induction once every 10 years.
The former Negro League players/managers this year on the Early Baseball Era Committee ballot for Hall of Fame induction are as follows:
John “Bud” Fowler (Infielder, Pitcher)
The first African American professional baseball player, Fowler played with several minor league white professional teams beginning in 1877. After the establishment of the “invisible color line” in the late 1880’s which barred African American and dark-skinned Latinos from white professional baseball, he played with many of the early African American professional baseball teams.
Grant “Home Run” Johnson (Shortstop)
One of the best hitters in black professional baseball during the dead-ball era (1900 – 1920), Johnson wore the uniform of top African American teams during that era such as the Philadelphia Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, and Chicago Leland Giants. He received the nickname from his clutch timing of hitting home runs, not the quantity.
Richard “Cannonball Dick” Redding – Pitcher
One of the best pitchers in black professional baseball in the dead-ball era and the early 1920’s. The blazing speed of his fastball made Redding a contemporary of Walter Johnson, Major League baseball’s ace during that period.
John Donaldson – Pitcher
Starting in 1913, Donaldson spent over 20 years in black professional baseball. The left-hander pitched for black independent teams that born-stormed through the country during 1913 – 1919. He also pitched with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League (1920 – 1924), the first African American professional baseball league.
George “Tubby” Scales – Infielder
A career .319 hitter, Scales spent 27 years in the Negro Leagues (1921 – 1948) with teams including the New York Lincoln Giants 1923 – 29 and Homestead Grays 1925 – 26, 1929 – 31, 1935. He also led the Baltimore Elite Giants as player/manager in 1938, 1943, and 1947.
Vic Harris – Manager
A career .305 hitter, Harris spent most of his entire Negro League career as left fielder and then manager with the Homestead Grays (1925 – 1933, 1935 – 1948); one of the most renown franchises in Negro League baseball. As manager, he led the Grays to nine consecutive Negro National League pennants (1937 – 1945).
John “Buck” O’Neil – 1B/Manager
The three-time All Star played first base for the Kansas City Monarchs, another of the most renown Negro League franchises, during the periods 1938 – 1943 and 1946 – 1955. He became the team’s manager in 1948. The first African American to become a Major League coach (Chicago Cubs 1962), O’Neil is one of the co-founders for the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
It will be 2032 before the Early Baseball Era Committee will next consider candidates for Hall of Fame induction.
The Hall of Fame’s Golden Days Era Committee considers candidates for induction who made contributions to the game from 1950 – 1969. Saturnino Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, who had a 17 year, nine-time All Star career in Major League baseball is on the ballot in which this committee will vote Sunday. Minoso, who got his start in the Negro Leagues, played on the 1947 Negro League World Series champion New York Cubans.
Shortstop Ernie Banks and Second Baseman Gene Baker were first African American infield double play duo in Major League baseball. From 1954 – 1956, they were the #1 infield double play combo for the Chicago Cubs. Click on the following link for more:
I will teach an online course for the spring session of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Kansas. The course, “Dawning of a New Day: The 1950’s Racial Integration of Major League Baseball”, will be on February 11, 18, & 25; 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm. For registration information, click on the “Available Sessions” link below or call 913 – 897 – 8530.
Pictured above are the New York Giants starting outfielders for the 1951 World Series: Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, & Hank Thomposon
Here is a course description: On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first African American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century. He erased the racial barrier, called the “invisible color line” that had kept African American and dark-skinned Latinos out due to racial discrimination since the late 1880s. However, by 1950 only three of the 16 Major League clubs had African American or dark-skinned Latinos on the roster. This course will tell story of the slow, yet steady pace of racial integration in professional baseball during the 1950s. It will cover from the beginning of the decade to the last team to integrate in 1959, the Boston Red Sox; all with the growing civil rights movement in the United States as the backdrop.
Pictured above are Chicago Cubs’ shortstop Ernie Banks & Cubs’ second baseman Gene Banks
The focus for my blog posts during this COVID 19 shortened 2020 Major League baseball season has been baseball time capsules from the 1950s. During that decade, the pace of integration in the Major Leagues slowly, but steadily went forward. As a consequence, due to the decrease in its talent pool, Negro League baseball had begun a journey towards extinction by the early 1960s. All of this with the early Civil Rights movement as a back drop.
This week’s post is about Tom Alston, the first African American to appear in a Major League game for the St. Louis Cardinals. On May 2, 1954, in a doubleheader against the New York Giants, the rookie first baseman had the best game of his short Major League career. In the first game Alston had four hits including a home run, his third of the young season, and two RBIs. The second game he hit a bases loaded double (3 RBIs) in the Cardinals’ first inning. He ended the day batting .313.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers erased Major League baseball’s “invisible color line” that had kept out African American and dark-skinned Latino players since the end of the 19th century. Over the next six years, along with the Dodgers, African American and/or dark-skinned Latinos would play with seven other teams; the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, New York Giants, Milwaukee Braves, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Philadelphia A’s. In 1954, the color line would be erased on four other teams; the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Senators, and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals, one of the Major League’s most renowned franchises, had been reluctant to accept the changing winds for racial diversity in professional baseball. The progress of racial integration in St. Louis mirrored that of cities in southern states at that time. Many stores and restaurants refused to serve African American customers. Also, the Cardinals were the last Major League team to abolish racially segregated seating at their home stadium. However after buying the team in 1953, new Cardinals’ owner August A. Busch, Jr. wanted the team to be reflective of the African American target market for his company’s product; Budweiser beer.
Born 1/31/26 in Greensboro, North Carolina; Thomas Edison Alston played baseball at North Carolina A & T following a stint in the military. After two minor league seasons on teams coached by former Negro League pitcher Chet Brewer, he caught the Cardinals’ attention while playing for San Diego (Pacific Coast League) in 1953. With Alston having a power hitters’ body (6’, 5” and 210 lbs.) along with showing agility playing first base, the Cardinals paid $100,000 to obtain his contract.
For the first time in the franchise’s history, the 1954 Cardinal team would have African American players; Alston along with pitcher Brooks Lawrence and former Negro League pitcher Bill Greason. The 28 years old Alston made his Major League debut on April 13 becoming the first African American to play in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. Although not as historic, his debut occurred a little more than a month before the 1954 landmark US Supreme Court Brown vs Board of Education ruling (May 17) that struck the first blow in making racial segregation against African Americans unconstitutional.
After a slow start, hitting only .211 in April, Alston hit .411 the first 11 days of May which included that May 2 doubleheader against the New York Giants. But, National League pitchers discovered his weakness; the high inside fastball and Alston hit .181 in June with no homes runs. The Cardinals sent him to the minor leagues and moved Hall of Fame outfielder Stan Musial to first base. Alston tried regaining his batting hitting 21 home runs with 80 RBI playing for AAA Omaha in 1956. However, it never resurfaced for him at the Major League level. In 1955 – 1957, he hit .139 in 25 games with the Cardinals.
Alston began a battle with mental illness during the 1957 season. Diagnosed as having schizophrenia in 1958, he would spend the next 11 years in a North Carolina psychiatric institution. It is unclear if Alston’s mental condition played a role in his inability to handle the pressure of being the Cardinals’ first African American player his rookie season. However, what happened on May 2, 1954 is forever clear. On that day, Tom Alston had the best day of his short Major League baseball career.
In November I will teach the following course via Zoom for the University of Kansas Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s Fall Session: The Negro National League: A Journey Through the Stormy Seas of Professional Baseball. The course will consist 3 sessions 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM on November 11, 18, and 25. For registration information, click on “Available Sessions” link below or call 913 – 897 – 8530.
Here is a course description: As a reflection of the harsh racial attitudes in 1920, African American and dark-skinned Latino players were kept out of white professional baseball. Within this difficult racial environment black baseball team owner/manager Andrew “Rube’ Foster birthed the Negro National League on Feb. 13, 1920 in Kansas City, Missouri. It became the first successfully operated African American professional baseball league. 2020 is its 100th anniversary. Foster saw it as a ship travelling through the stormy sea of racial segregation. We will examine how despite closing down in 1931, it produced 13 Hall of Fame inductees and became the blueprint that sustained Negro League baseball until the color barriers in baseball were erased.
The focus for my blog posts during this COVID 19 shortened 2020 Major League baseball season has been baseball time capsules from the 1950s. During that decade, the pace of integration in the Major Leagues slowly, but steadily went forward. As a consequence, the talent pool for the Negro Leagues decreased setting it on a journey towards extinction by the early 1960s. All of this with the early Civil Rights movement as a back drop.
This week’s post is about former Negro League outfielder Bob Thurman. On August 18, 1956 while playing for the Cincinnati Redlegs, Thurman hit three home runs. The make-up of his team, still called Redlegs and not Reds in 1956, gave an indication of racial integration in the Major Leagues nine years after the color line had been erased.
Drafted into the military while playing in the semi-professional baseball leagues of Wichita, Kansas, Bob Thurman saw combat duty during World War ll in New Guinea and the Philippines. After leaving military service in 1946, he played with the Homestead Grays during the last years of owner Cum Posey’s “long gray line”. Long time Negro League veterans Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell and others were still with the Grays; however Posey died before the season started. Signed as a left handed pitcher, Thurman proved to be a better power hitter and became the team’s regular centerfielder. With the veteran players approaching the end of their baseball careers, Josh Gibson died in 1947, the Grays mixed in Thurman along with future Major League players Luke Easter and Luis Marquez to help the team remain competitive. In 1948, the Grays defeated the Birmingham Black Barons in the last Negro League World Series.
With the Negro National League disbanding after the 1948 season, Thurman signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. Monarchs’ manager Buck O’Neil had a team that included future Major League players Elston Howard, Connie Johnson, Gene Baker, Hank Thompson, and Curt Roberts. The Monarchs were looking to sell their best players to Major League teams in order to remain operating profitably. On July 29, 1949 the New York Yankees purchased Thurman’s contract and he became the first African American signed by the team.
However, the Yankees were not serious about integration. Although Thurman batted .317 at Triple AAA minor league Newark Bears for the remainder of that season, the Yankees traded him to the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were also slow embracing integration and released Thurman in 1952 despite him having respectable years in the team’s minor league system. It would not be until 1954 before Ernie Banks became the first African-American to play for Chicago’s north side team.
Thurman spent the next two years playing summer and winter Caribbean league baseball. After a tremendous winter league season in 1955, he signed with the Cincinnati Redlegs mainly as a 34 years old reserve outfielder/pinch hitter and made his Major League debut on April 14, 1955; a little more than a month before his actual 38th birthday.
On August 18, 1956, the Redlegs hit eight home runs in a 13 – 4 victory over the Milwaukee Braves. After hitting a double in the third inning, Bob Thurman hit home runs in the fifth, seventh, and eighth.
In addition to Thurman, the other former Negro League players on the Redlegs’ roster that season were George Crowe, Chuck Harmon, Joe Black, and Pat Scantlebury. All were thirty-plus years old and nearing the end of their playing careers. However, with Major League scouts draining the Negro League talent pool by 1956, more African-American and dark-skinned Latino players were being signed who never played Negro League baseball. Twenty years old Frank Robinson hit two of the eight home runs for the Redlegs in that August 18 game. The 1956 National League Rookie of the Year and 1986 Hall of Fame inductee did not play in the Negro Leagues. Neither had eighteen years old Redlegs’ outfielder Curt Flood. He appeared in five games that season and later played 12 years with the St. Louis Cardinals.
If the New York Yankees in 1949 had known Bob Thurman’s real age of 32, they would not have signed him. Neither would the Redlegs in 1955 had they known him being almost 38! But finally given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues, Bob Thurman certainly proved in that game on August 18, 1956 that his time for hitting a baseball had not passed him by. He hit 35 home runs in his five seasons (1955 – 1959) with Cincinnati.
All pictures via Google Images
For my daily historical notices go to Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop
The focus for my blog posts during this COVID 19 shortened 2020 Major League baseball season is a baseball time capsule from the 1950s. During that decade, the pace of integration in the Major Leagues slowly, but steadily went forward. As a consequence, the talent pool for the Negro Leagues decreased setting it on a journey towards extinction by the early 1960s. All of this with the early Civil Rights movement as a back drop.
This week’s post is about Ozzie Virgil, who accomplished two milestones in the integration of the Major Leagues during the 1950s. Virgil became the first Dominican Republic born player in the Major Leagues (1956) and he broke through the Detroit Tigers’ color barrier in 1958.
Born Osvaldo Jose Virgil on May 17, 1933 in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, Ozzie moved to New York City (The Bronx) when 13 years old. After two years in the US Marine Corp., he signed with the New York Giants in 1953. Versatility became Virgil’s strength, he could play all infield positions including catcher and also in the outfield. Virgil made his Major League debut on September 23, 1956. The next season he made the Sporting News’ All-Rookie team as a utility player; seeing action when needed at four positions, including third base and catcher.
Of the dark-skinned Latinos who had played in the Major Leagues at that time, most were from Cuba or Puerto Rico. Virgil would be the first of many Major League players from the Dominican Republic including Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Juan Marichal, Vladimir Guerrero, and Pedro Martinez. By the mid-1950s, talented young African American and dark-skinned Latino players were bypassing the Negro Leagues and directly signing with Major League teams. Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Bill White, Curt Flood and others in addition to Virgil who began their Major Leagues careers during that time did not play Negro League baseball.
Before the 1958 season, the Giants moved to San Francisco and traded Virgil to the Detroit Tigers. Eleven years after Jackie Robinson erased the “invisible color line” in professional baseball (1947), Detroit and its American League counterpart Boston Red Sox were the only Major League teams never to have an African American or dark-skinned Latino on the roster. It had been a strong Negro League baseball city with the Detroit Stars in the 1920s and 1930s. However, the Tigers’ previous long-time owner Otto Briggs (1935 – 1952) had a bad relationship with African Americans due to the prejudice many of them experienced working at his automotive body factory. Also, African Americans were not allowed to sit in the box seats at Briggs Stadium.
The Tigers were World Series champions in 1945, but had finished no higher than fifth place since 1950 and efforts were being made to build the team around outfielder Al Kaline and pitcher Jim Bunning who would both have Hall of Fame careers. Jake Wood, the first African American to make his way through Detroit’s minor league system, played at the Class B level in 1958 and would not become the Tigers’ starting second baseman until 1961.
On June 6, 1958, at Griffith Stadium against the Washington Senators, Ozzie Virgil became the first nonwhite player to appear in a Major League game for the Detroit Tigers. He played third base and hit a double in the team’s 11 – 5 win. Virgil hit .244 in 49 games.
For the majority of the 1959 season, the Tigers were again at their pre-integration level. Virgil spent the entire season in the team’s minor league system (Double AA level). Newly acquired 35 years old Larry Doby, the first African American or dark-skinned Latino to break through the American League’s color barrier in 1947, played only 18 games before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in July. Also, the Tigers briefly promoted African American pitcher Jim Proctor, who appeared in only 2 games before being sent back to the minor leagues.
But, in 1960 Virgil appeared in 62 games as the Tigers used him as a key utility player. The Tigers traded him to the Kansas City Athletics In 1961 and he would spend the next seven years splitting time between the minor leagues and four major league teams. Virgil finished his playing career with the team that first signed him, the San Francisco Giants.
After retiring Ozzie Virgil coached 19 years in the Major Leagues and his son, two-time All Star catcher Ozzie Virgil Jr, had an eleven year Major League career.
All pictures via Google Images
For my daily historical notices go to Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop
It now appears that despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, there will still be a 2020 Major League Baseball season. The number of games that will be played and other details will be announced before July 1, the expected starting date. My weekly blog posts for the season will be a baseball time capsule from the 1950s. During that decade, the pace of integration in the Major Leagues slowly, but steadily went forward. As a consequence, the talent pool for the Negro Leagues decreased setting it on a journey towards extinction by the early 1960s. All of this with the early Civil Rights movement as a back drop.
This week’s post is about Roy Campanella.
91,103 fans were at Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum on May 7, 1959 for Roy Campanella Night, a special occasion which included a benefit exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees. On that evening, the Dodgers paid tribute to the 8-time All-Star, former Dodger catcher who did not have an opportunity to play for the team after it moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. Less than two months before the Dodgers would start 1958 spring training for the team’s first season in Los Angeles, he had a car accident that left him permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
Roy Campanella’s journey through professional baseball began in 1937 when at 15 years old he played for the Washington Elites of the Negro National League. He developed his skills as a backstop under the tutelage of his manager Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, considered one of the best catchers of that era despite not being allowed to play in the Major Leagues because of his skin color.
After nine years in the Negro Leagues, Campanella signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and became teammates with Jackie Robinson in 1948. Although Robinson had erased the “invisible color line” in 1947, African Americans and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers would be faced with racial discrimination and prejudice in Major League baseball throughout the 1950s.
Campanella became one of the anchors for Brooklyn Dodgers teams that won five National League pennants (1949, 1952 – 1953, 1955 – 1956) and one World Series championship (1955). Named National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times (1951, 1953, & 1955), he hit a career 242 home runs with 856 RBIs.
On that special night in 1959, former Dodgers’ teammate Pee Wee Reese pushed a wheelchair bound Campanella out to the infield of the Coliseum in front of a cheering crowd that gave a three minute standing ovation. Also, Biz Mackey received a roaring ovation when introduced that night as Campy’s catching mentor. Mackey did not live to see the crowning acknowledgement of his baseball career that came in 2006 with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Yankees, who were the 1958 World Series champions, won the game 6 – 2. But it did not turn out to be an omen about the season for the teams. For the first time since 1954, the Yankees did not win the American League pennant in 1959. The Dodgers won the National League pennant that year and defeated the Chicago White Sox 4 games to 2 in the World Series. It would be the last hurrah for Campy’s former long- time Brooklyn Dodgers teammates (“The Boys of Summer”) Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, and Carl Furillo.
As his health permitted, Roy Campanella continued to be a part of the Dodgers’ family (coaching catchers during Spring Training, Community Relations Department, etc.) until his June 23, 1993 death.
All pictures via Google Images
For my daily historical notices go to Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop
One way the cable sports networks are trying to help sports fans cope with the cancellation of professional and other sporting events due to the COVID- 19 pandemic is re-broadcasting key games and matches from previous years. While channel surfing I have seen replays from past “March Madness” NCAA men and women’s basketball championship games, Game Sevens of the NBA Playoffs, Super Bowls, Masters’ (golf) Championships, and World Series’ Game Sevens (my favorite).
Following their example, my blog posts during the 2020 Major League baseball season will be a baseball time capsule from the 1950s. During that decade, the pace of integration in the Major Leagues slowly, but steadily went forward. As a consequence, the talent pool for the Negro Leagues decreased setting it on a journey towards extinction by the early 1960s. All of this with the early Civil Rights movement as a back drop.
This week’s post is about Henry Aaron and John Irvin Kennedy.
Aaron’s First Major League HR
On April 23, 1954, 24 days before the United States Supreme Court’s May 17th decision that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, Milwaukee Braves’ rookie outfielder Henry Aaron hit his first Major League career home run. Aaron hit a 6th inning solo 4-bagger off St. Louis Cardinals’ veteran right hand pitcher Vic Rashi at Busch Stadium in the Braves 14 inning 7 – 5 win. He had also gotten his first Major League hit, a double, off Rashi in a game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium on April 15. Rashi had come to the Cardinals after three 20 game winning seasons and six World Series championships with the New York Yankees (1946 – 1953). Braves reserve catcher Charlie White, who played for the Philadelphia Stars in the Negro Leagues, hit his one and only home run of his two year Major League career in the Braves April 23rd victory.
Henry Aaron signed with the Braves in 1952 after leading the Negro American League in batting during his one month stint with the Indianapolis Clowns. After one and a half seasons in the minor leagues, he moved into the Braves’ starting line up during spring training in 1954 when outfielder Bobby Thompson broke his ankle. On April 13 at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field against the Redlegs, Aaron made his Major League debut going without a hit in five At Bats.
By September of his rookie season, despite suffering the ups and downs of a first year Major League player, he had batted .280 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs. However, his season ended on September 5th. While sliding into third base after hitting a triple, his fourth hit of the game, Aaron broke his ankle. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Wally Moon of the Cardinals, Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, and Braves’ teammate pitcher Gene Conley.
The Phillies First African American Player
On April 22, 1957, John Kennedy became the first African American player to appear in a Major League baseball game wearing a Philadelphia Phillies’ uniform. He entered against the Brooklyn Dodgers as a pinch runner at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City, New Jersey where the Dodgers played eight games in 1957
John Irvin Kennedy wedged his Negro League baseball career between two attempts to play in the Major Leagues. After college (Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida), the slick fielding shortstop played two seasons in Canada on a team managed by former Negro League star Willie Wells. Signed by the Major League’s New York Giants in 1953, Kennedy spent one season in the team’s minor league system before being released. He spent the next three seasons in Negro League baseball; 1954 – 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons and with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956.
The talent level in the Negro Leagues had decreased by the mid-1950s, the best African American players were being signed by Major League teams. After appearing in the All-Star Game while with the Monarchs, Kennedy got the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies who in 1957 were the only National League team without an African American player. In the early stages of the Phillies 1957 spring training Kennedy made a big splash with his fielding skills. He made the team as a reserve infielder, but hurt his throwing arm as the regular season began.
After his debut, Kennedy appeared in four other games and then the Phillies sent him to the minor leagues with an injured shoulder. He finished the season hitting 19 home runs while playing at High Point-Thomasville in the Class B-level Carolina League.
John Kennedy spent the remainder of his career in the Phillies minor league system (1958 – 1961), never to play in another Major League game.
All pictures via Google Images
For my daily historical notices go to Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop