Sunday, April 15, 2007

60 Years Ago

Nothing I could write could do justice to Jackie Robinson or his profound effect on the history of this country. The formidable numbers he put up aren't what make him great; it's what he meant to this country and what the trails he blazed meant at a time when racism was essentially a Constitutional right. There've been a lot of excellent tributes written about him over the last week or so. I'd really encourage you to pick up a book to get the full story of the man's amazing life. This one, by Arnold Rampersad, is excellent. There's a new one out, that looks like it could be interesting, too.

I knew that Larry Doby became the first black player in the AL when he joined the Cleveland Indians later in 1947. And I knew that the Boston Red Sox disgracefully lacked a black player until twelve years later when Pumpsie Green joined the Red Sox as a backup infielder. But what about Washington?

I know Washington had a strong tradition of supporting the Negro Leagues. Although many people associate the Homestead Grays with Pennsylvania, for many years they played a number of games in DC. Much of this history is chronicled in Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, and I'd recommend that one, too.

Despite that, Washington didn't have a black player until September 6, 1954 when Carlos Paula was called up. Paula had a short career, and I really can't find much on him.

What I find interesting though is that his birthplace is Cuba. Using the standards many are using when assessing the state of African Americans in the game today, he likely wouldn't qualify. He'd be considered a Latin player like Jose Reyes or David Ortiz.

Some of you have been around a lot longer than I have. Do any of you know who the first American-born black Washington Senator was?

For a time, the Senators were quite progressive in scouting and signing Cuban players; they had a minor league team in Havana for a time in the '40s. And Cuban players were free to play in the majors if their skin was light enough. Perhaps the most famous of these was Dolph Luque who pitched for the Reds in the '20s. (If you're looking for a book, The Pride of Havana covers a history of Cuban Baseball)

Beyond the Shadow tries to get at why it took the Senators so long to integrate, and this Washington Times piece points to one of the reasons: economic self interest by owner Clark Griffith, while hinting at one of the other factors -- likely his racist attitudes.

  • Federal Baseball has an excellent post on Nat Peeples who helped to integrate the southern minor leagues. I'd really recommend reading that one.


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