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.


    • Griffith's reluctance to integrate the Senators is the reason Howard University, whose medical center occupies the land where Griffith Stadium once stood, refuses to erect a marker to commemorate the stadium.

      By Blogger paul, at 4/16/2007 12:00 AM  

    • Chris: I'm fairly certain that the first US-born black player to play for the 1901-60 Nats was catcher Earl Battey, who was acquired from the White Sox for the 1960 season. Battey moved with the team to Minnesota and had an illustrious career as a Twin.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/16/2007 8:23 AM  

    • Thanks, Ghost.

      If so, that's even more depressing than how it appears now.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/16/2007 8:29 AM  

    • It's well known that Washington's two professional sports teams at that time, the Senators and the Redskins, were owned by two racists, Clark Griffith and George Marshall respectively, who both reluctantly integrated their teams in the early 60s.

      To this day I'm still surprised the memorial to George Marshall still stands outside RFK Stadium.


      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/16/2007 10:07 AM  

    • The memorial to Marshall was probably mandated by the legislation authorizing the ballpark passed back when Congress still ran the city.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/16/2007 6:13 PM  

    • Was Chuck Hinton before Battey? I forgot but I enjoyed watching Hinton hit the hardest homers I ever saw in Griffith Stadium.
      Of course, like the Redskins, the Senators were the team of the south. No other major league team between here and Key West.
      A third, minor point, is that my father's laboratory at Howard U. look out on Griffith Stadium and the game could easily be viewed between the lower and upper decks.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/16/2007 10:01 PM  

    • Barry: Chuck Hinton never played for the 1901-60 Nats, only for the expansion (1961-71) Nats.

      Chris: I'm planning on leafing through my copy of Calvin: Baseball's Last Dinosaur to verify racially tinged comments made by Clark's adopted nephew Cal Griffith re his rationale for moving the original Nats to Minnesota. If anhyone can beat me to that, please post up.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/17/2007 3:28 PM  

    • I've definitely heard that about Calvin. I'll be interested if you pull up anything specific, though.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/17/2007 3:40 PM  

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