Friday, April 15, 2016

Every MLB Team's 1st Black Player

1. April 15, 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers (moved to Los Angeles 1958): Jackie Robinson. Hall of Fame. Born in Georgia but raised in Pasadena, California, he died in 1972, of complications of diabetes, at age 53.

2. July 5, 1947, Cleveland Indians: Larry Doby. Hall of Fame. Born in South Carolina but raised in Paterson, New Jersey, he died in 2003, age 79.

3. July 17, 1947, St. Louis Browns (became the Baltimore Orioles 1954): Hank Thompson. Probably should have been an All-Star at some point in his career. The Oklahoma City native died following a seizure in 1969, only 43.

4. July 8, 1949, New York Giants (moved to San Francisco 1958): Hank Thompson, again. Monte Irvin, a future Hall-of-Famer, debuted later in the same game.

5. April 18, 1950, Boston Braves (moved to Milwaukee 1953, and to Atlanta 1966): Sam Jethroe. All-Star. The native of East St. Louis, Illinois died in 2001, age 83.

6. May 1, 1951, Chicago White Sox: Orestes "Minnie" Minoso. The 1st black Hispanic player. Should be in the Hall of Fame. This was also the game in which Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle hit his 1st major league home run. The Cuban legend died in 2015, age 89.

7. September 13, 1953, Philadelphia Athletics (moved to Kansas City 1955, and to Oakland 1968): Bob Trice. The Georgia native died in 1988, age 62.

8. September 17, 1953, Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks. Hall of Fame. The Dallas-born "Mr. Cub" died in 2015, age 83.

9. April 13, 1954, St. Louis Cardinals: Tom Alston. The North Carolinian died in 1993, age 67.

10. April 13, 1954, Pittsburgh Pirates: Curt Roberts. Both Alston and Roberts started the games in question, but I have Alston and his team listed first because Alston was involved in a play first. A native of Oakland, he was killed by being hit by a car in 1969 only 40.

11. April 17, 1954, Cincinnati Reds: Nino Escalera. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter. Chuck Harmon, also black, did the same in the very next at-bat. Escalera, a native of Puerto Rico, is still alive, at age 86.

12. September 6, 1954, Washington Senators (became the Minnesota Twins 1961): Carlos Paula. The Cuban was only 55 when he died, in 1983.

13. April 14, 1955, New York Yankees: Elston Howard. All-Star. Honored in Monument Park. The St. Louis native died from heart trouble in 1980, just 61.
14. April 22, 1957, Philadelphia Phillies: John Kennedy. Of course, no relation to the man who won the next Presidential election. The Jacksonville native died in 1998, age 71.

15. June 6, 1958, Detroit Tigers: Ozzie Virgil Sr. All-Star. The Dominican is 83, and the father of former major leaguer Ozzie Virgil Jr.

16. July 21, 1959, Boston Red Sox: Elijah "Pumpsie" Green. They could have taken any number of future All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers. Instead, they chose a guy who turned out to be so bad, he got cut by the 1963 Mets. It was as if they were trying to say, "See, none of them are good enough for us!" This was in Year 13 of a 20-year stretch where they won no Pennants.
Nevertheless, they have honored Green in recent years,
including this first ball ceremony.

The Oklahoma native, and brother of former Dallas Cowboy safety Cornell Green, is now 82. This means, of the Original 16, only 3 have their 1st black player still alive.

Ironically, Boston was ahead of the curve in other areas. Earl Wilson of the Red Sox was the 1st black pitcher to throw a no-hitter in an American League game, in 1962. (Sam Jones of the Cubs did it first in the National League, in 1959.) The Celtics made Bill Russell the 1st black head coach in North American major league sports. (Fritz Pollard was a player-coach on the 1st NFL Champions, the 1920 Akron Pros, but the NFL could hardly have been called "major league" at the time.) And the Bruins had the 1st black player in the NHL, Willie O'Ree -- on January 18, 1958.

That's right, a hockey team had a black player 547 days before the Red Sox did.

17. April 10, 1961, Washington Senators (new version, became the Texas Rangers 1972): Willie Tasby. He was the only black player who started the game for the Senators. The native of Shreveport, Louisiana is now 83.

Nobody ever thinks about who were the 1st black players on each of the expansion teams, because the established 16 were all integrated. Maybe we'd think about it if one hadn't been. But, by 1961, the idea of a team's 1st black player was no longer a big deal. Not even in Texas in 1962 or in Georgia in 1966. (Hank Aaron played in the Braves' 1st game in Atlanta.)

18. April 11, 1961, Los Angeles Angels: Julio Becquer. He was the only black player who started the game for the Angels. Lou Johnson later entered the game as a defensive replacement. The Cuban Becquer is now 84.

19. April 10. 1962, Houston Colt .45's (renamed the Houston Astros 1965): Jim Pendleton. He and Roman Mejias both started the game, but Pendleton was involved in a play first. Pendleton, from outside St. Louis, died in 1996, age 72.

20. April 11, 1962, New York Mets: Felix Mantilla. An All-Star, and the starting 2nd baseman on the 1957 World Champion Milwaukee Braves, he was the 2nd Met to bat, after the white Richie Ashburn. Also in the lineup for the Mets in this away game in St. Louis was Charlie Neal. Mantilla, a Puerto Rican, is now 81.
21. April 8, 1969, Kansas City Royals: Ellie Rodriguez. As the starting catcher in a home game, he was involved in a play before any of the other black players came to bat. The Puerto Rican is now 69, and works in scouting for the Atlantic League, which includes New Jersey's Somerset Patriots.

22. April 8, 1969, Seattle Pilots (became the Milwaukee Brewers 1970): Tommy Harper. He was the leadoff hitter in their 1st game, in Anaheim. Tommy Davis was also in the starting lineup. Harper, from Oakland, is now 75.

23. April 8, 1969, Montreal Expos (became the Washington Nationals 2005): Maury Wills. He was the leadoff hitter in their 1st game, at Shea Stadium. Mack Jones and Jim "Mudcat" Grant were also in their starting lineup. Of course, the 1st team in white baseball for whom Jackie Robinson played was the Dodgers' top farm team in 1946, the Expos' Triple-A predecessors, the Montreal Royals. Maury, now 83, is a club ambassador for the Dodgers.

24. April 8, 1969, San Diego Padres: Ollie Brown. One of 6 black players in the starting lineup in a home premiere, he was the 1st one involved in a play. The Alabama native died last year, at 71.

25. April 6, 1977, Seattle Mariners: Diego Segui. He was the starting pitcher in a home game. He was the only player to play for both Seattle teams, the Pilots and the Mariners. Now 78, he is the father of former major leaguer David Segui.

26. April 7, 1977, Toronto Blue Jays: Pedro Garcia. One of 4 black players in the starting lineup of a home game, he was the 1st one involved in a play. Now 65, the Puerto Rican played for a while in Mexico.

27. April 5, 1993, Florida Marlins (renamed the Miami Marlins 2012): Benito Santiago. The Marlins were at home, and he was the catcher, so he was involved in a play before fellow members of the starting lineup Junior Felix and Orestes Destrade. Now 51, the Puerto Rican is out of baseball. His son Benito Santiago Jr. plays pro basketball in Puerto Rico.

28. April 5, 1993, Colorado Rockies: Eric Young Sr. He was the leadoff hitter in their 1st game, at Shea Stadium. Unlike Maury Wills of the '69 Expos, though, he was a local, from New Brunswick, New Jersey. Both he and his son Eric Jr. would play for the Mets. Eric Sr. would also hit the 1st home run in Rockies history, 4 days later in their home opener. Now 48, he is the Rockies' 1st base coach. Why do I list the Marlins before the Rockies? Because their game started first, that's all.

29. March 31, 1998, Arizona Diamondbacks: Jorge Fabregas. The D-backs were at home, and he was the catcher, so he was involved in a play before any of the other black players. Now 46, the Miami native is out of baseball.

30. April 1998, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (renamed Rays 2008): Wilson Alvarez. He was the starting pitcher in a home game, so he handled the ball first. Now 46, the Venezuelan is a pitching coach in the Orioles' system.

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