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Forgive Gene Michael if he looks a little dazed in his 1969
Topps card. He’s shown as a member of the Yankees, even though he’s wearing the
colors of the Pirates, a team that he hadn’t played for since 1966. Somehow
Topps could not find a picture of Michael with either the Yankees or the
Dodgers, the team that actually traded him to the Yankees.
Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, I can tell you this without
hesitation: Michael’s move to New
York, which coincided with the start of the 1968
season, helped change his career for the better, more subtly in the short term
and quite significantly over the long haul.
At one time traded for Maury Wills, Michael had fallen into disfavor
with the Dodgers because of his lack of hitting. After the 1967 season, the
Dodgers dealt him to the Yankees, where he would eventually replace Tom Tresh
as the starting shortstop. Like many shortstops of the era, Michael couldn’t
hit worth a damn, but he could field the position with a smooth alacrity that
the Yankees hadn’t seen since the prime years of Tony Kubek.
It was during his Yankee years that Michael established a
reputation as the master of the hidden ball trick. With the runner at second
base thinking that the pitcher already had the ball, Michael would blithely
move toward him and then place a tag on the unsuspecting victim before showing
the ball to the umpire. It’s a play that major leaguers occasionally pull off
in today’s game, but Michael did it with a stunning degree of frequency, at
least five times that have been documented. Considering that the hidden ball
trick relies on heavy doses of surprise and deception, it’s remarkable that
Michael was able to execute it more than once or twice. He was that good at it.
The hidden ball trick epitomized Michael’s intelligence. He
had little obvious talent, possessing no power, average speed, and an overall
gawkiness that came with his rail-like frame of six feet, two inches, and a
mere 180 pounds. Yet, he was surprisingly athletic, enough to have starred as a
college basketball player at Kent
State, where his lean
look earned him the nickname of “Stick.” As a major league shortstop, he made
up for his lack of footspeed and arm strength with good hands and quick feet,
and by studying the tendencies of opposing hitters and baserunners. How good
was Michael defensively? I’d call him a poor man’s Mark Belanger. Like Michael,
Belanger was tall and thin, and overmatched at the plate. But Belanger was
arguably the best defensive shortstop of his era, so it’s no insult to put Michael
in a slightly lower class of fielders.
Michael served the Yankees well as their starting shortstop
from 1969 to 1973, but age and injuries began to catch up with him in 1974. At
the age of 36, Michael received his unconditional release. He eventually signed
with the Tigers, where he played sparingly in 1975, before being returned to
the unemployment line. In February of 1976, Stick signed with the dreaded Red
Sox, but he could do no more than earn a minor league assignment. In May, the
Red Sox released Michael, who never did appear in a game for Boston.
With his playing career over, Michael quickly embarked on
his second life in baseball. George Steinbrenner, remembering him as one of the
original Yankees from his first year as ownership, gave him a job as a coach.
From there Stick became a front office executive and then a two-time Yankee
manager, serving separate stints in 1981 and ’82. Like all Yankee managers of that era, Michael
was fired. He left the organization to manage the Cubs, where he clashed with his
new boss, Dallas Green.
After a brief respite from the reign of Steinbrenner,
Michael eventually returned to the Bronx. In
1990, the Yankees, by now a struggling team and a near laughingstock, made one
of the most important moves in franchise history. They hired Michael as general
manager. I was working as a sports talk show host at the time; I remember being
very critical of Michael, who seemed unwilling to pull the trigger on big
trades. Well, Michael knew a lot more about constructing a ballclub than I did.
He set out to rebuild the Yankees’ farm system, while resisting the temptation to
trade what few prospects the organization had for quick-fix veterans.
Under Michael’s stewardship, the Yankees drafted or signed
the following players: Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and a fellow
named Mariano Rivera. That’s probably enough of a testament to Michael, but let’s
consider that he also signed Wade Boggs and Jimmy Key as free agents.
When Michael did decide to make a trade, he made a splash.
In November of 1992, Michael executed one of the most pivotal moves for the
franchise’s future. He sent Roberto Kelly, one of the team’s two young center
fielders, to the Reds for Paul O’Neill. It was a controversial deal, to say the
least. Kelly was two years younger than O’Neill, a good player certainly, but
one who was already 30 and had appeared to reach his ceiling. Michael knew what
he was doing. He realized that Kelly, who lacked patience at the plate and
passion in the field, was not as good a player as Bernie Williams, the team’s
other center fielder. He also sensed that O’Neill could blossom as a
left-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium playing for Buck Showalter. Stick was
right on both counts.
With those vital pieces in place–including a catcher, a
shortstop, a right fielder, a starting pitcher, and a closer–Michael left a
championship nucleus for Bob Watson and Brian Cashman when he stepped down as
Yankee GM in 1995.
Dazed and rejected no more, Stick Michael proved himself to
be a pretty smart guy.
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The calendar has yet to turn from April to May, but the
calls for Jerry Manuel’s head have already begun to sound in New York. A second straight loss to the
previously slumping Marlins has created a sea of discontent, with much of the
focus centered on some bizarre strategy by Manuel in the ninth inning of
Wednesday afternoon’s loss to Florida.
With two outs and the bases loaded and the Mets down by a run, Manuel called
back Ramon Castro, who had banged out two hits in four at-bats. He summoned
backup catcher Omir Santos from the bullpen to pinch-hit, then watched him hit
a soft pop-up to end the game.
While the hue and cry for a change in managers is silly at
this early stage of the season, Manuel left me scratching my head with this
decision. Castro is a much better hitter than Santos, a career minor leaguer who has always
had a reputation as a good-field, weak-hit catcher. A few good games with the
Mets this past week should not have erased that reputation, nor should it have
fooled Manuel into thinking that Santos
posed more of an offensive threat than Castro. Bad move.
If Willie Randolph had pulled such a managerial rock, the New York media would
have roasted him. Manuel, who is a genuinely good guy and a great interview,
will probably be given a pass by most of the writers, but the fan base is beginning to lose patience with the Mets’ continuing ineptitude. In the meantime, expect
everyone to turn up the heat on David Wright, who looks lost at the plate and
in the field. Another target can be found in the Mets’ bullpen, which
was directly responsible for the one-run loss to the Marlins. J.J. Putz walked
the first two batters of the eighth inning, setting the stage for Florida’s comeback
rally. A few more outings like that, and we’ll start to hear speculation on
when Billy Wagner might be able to return this summer from Tommy John surgery.
It’s easy to forget that Wagner remains under contract to the Mets; just imagine a
three-man crew of Wagner, Putz and Francisco Rodriguez putting out fires in the
eighth and ninth innings of late-season games…
In anticipation of the new month of May, we’ll be changing our
baseball card image (which currently honors the late Dock Ellis) this weekend.
Feel free to submit nominations for a new card, either by posting a
recommendation here or by sending me an e-mail at email@example.com. Topps cards are
preferred, but we’ll consider Upper Deck, Fleer, and Donruss cards, as well.
Heck, if the suggestion is a good one, we’ll consider just about any company…
On a promotional note, my 2006 book, The Team That Changed Baseball, is now out in paperback. The book
tells the story of the 1971 Pirates, who fielded major league baseball’s first
all-black lineup on the way to winning the world championship over the heavily
favored Orioles. For more information, or to purchase a copy (hint, hint),
please visit the website www.westholmepublishing.com.
My thanks to publisher Bruce Franklin for his continued support and faith in
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What in the name of Omar Moreno is going on in Pittsburgh?
With Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Pat Maholm making like Bert Blyleven,
Jim Bibby, and John Candelaria, the Pirates find themselves on a PNC
Park roll. They just completed a
stunning three-game sweep of the Marlins on Wednesday, a happening that becomes
all the more remarkable considering that Florida
entered the series a major league best 11-1. The Pirates are the hot and
fashionable team National League team now, with a record of 9-and-6, just a
half game off the pace in the NL Central.
The Pirates are managing to play exceedingly well in a
division in which just about every team was considered better than the Bucs. First
and foremost, they’ve turned around their fortunes with improved starting
pitching. Last year, the Pirates’ rotation teetered on the atrocious. Now they
have confidence that Maholm can be an ace, and have reason to think that
ex-Yankees Ohlendorf and Karstens can be contributors at the back end of the
rotation. All three hurlers pitched well in shutting down the Marlins’ offense,
which is among the most potent and diverse in the National League. The bullpen
has also chipped in heavily. The late-inning lefty-righty punch of John Grabow
and closer Matt Capps has yet to give up an earned run this season.
Offensively, the Pirates have lived up to expectations, highlighted by a
nucleus of Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Doumit.
Can the Pirates keep up the pace? Well, perhaps for a few
weeks, but there are indications that their early-season play may not be
sustainable. Ohlendorf and Karstens fit better long term as relievers, not as
starters. Grabow and Capps will start to give up runs eventually; they’re
capable relievers, but they’re not the latest incarnations of Grant Jackson and
Kent Tekulve either. Three of Pittsburgh’s
hitters–Morgan, LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez are all hitting over .300–a
circumstance that figures to change as the season ages. And now the offense is
the facing the predicament of losing Doumit for as many as ten weeks with a
broken right wrist.
Putting the negativity aside, the Pirates have succeeded in
avoiding the kind of cruel start that has doomed them in recent years. They
have some young talent that has a chance to blossom, especially in the form of
Doumit, Morgan, McLouth, and Maholm. For the first time in years, Pirates fans
have hope. And that, for a flailing franchise, is worth something…
The Yankees may have found a doable role for Melky Cabrera.
A full-fledged flop as the Yankees’ center fielder in 2008, Cabrera has emerged
as an early supersub stud in New York.
Receiving only his second center field start of the new season on Wednesday,
Cabrera switch-hit home runs–including a game-ending blast in the bottom of
the 14th. Cabrera now has four home runs on the season, despite irregular
playing time and a reputation as a singles hitter.
Based on the bulk of his major league career, Cabrera
doesn’t hit well enough or with sufficient power to play every day. But his
line-drive swing, good defensive skills, and strong throwing arm play well in a
reserve role. He can play center field one day, as he did on Wednesday, or
right field another day. He can come in as a late-inning defensive specialist,
especially in the outfield corners. He can also pinch-run. In other words, he’s
a good player to bring off the bench–an area where the Yankees could use the
If his struggles continue in left field, the New
York media will start referring to him as
“Murphy’s Law.” Daniel Murphy has made just about every mistake that
can be made in the outfield. He’s dropped a fly ball, made a throwing error,
missed the cutoff man, even fallen down on the job, and generally brought back
memories of Dave “King Kong” Kingman trying to play left field at
Shea Stadium. Two of Murphy’s miscues have led directly to Mets losses, which
has led to early calls of panic from some members of the team’s rabid fan base.
Let’s not give up on Murphy too quickly. He’s still learning
to play the outfield fulltime after dabbling in a variety of positions,
including second base. He’ll get better with more repetitions and he’ll be
helped by playing next to a Gold Glove center fielder like Carlos Beltran.
Besides, Murphy’s bat is too good (maybe good enough to win a batting title in
the future) to sit him on the bench or plant him in Triple-A Buffalo. A better
plan would be to platoon Murphy with Gary Sheffield, who also needs at-bats. That
way, the Mets would take some pressure off Murphy and limit their defensive
foibles to left field, while giving Ryan Church a chance to play right field
every day. That’s a far more workable solution, one that would not involve
tossing the towel on the talented Mr. Murphy.
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Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.
“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.
“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison. The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.
“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).
“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”
“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.
“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.
“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.
“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse. It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.
“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.
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In commemoration of Jackie Robinson Day, we present an excerpt from my original manuscript The Team That Changed Baseball: The 1971 Pirates. Since this chapter did not make the final cut for the book, it is published here for the first time ever.
Robinson’s entrance into the National League in 1947 did not signal the end of
racial bigotry in major league baseball. Nor did it lead to a stampede rush to
sign all of the best black and African-American talent available to major
league general managers and owners. Rather, the process of true racial
integration in baseball took place much more slowly–over a period that spanned
nearly two and a half decades. As a result, the major leagues could not boast
of a single significantly or truly integrated World Championship team during
the 1940s, fifties, or sixties.
On April 15,
1947, Robinson officially ended the practice of the color line when he made his
debut at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Team president Branch Rickey had
promoted Robinson from the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Montreal
Royals, where he had played in 1946. In
August, Dan Bankhead joined Robinson on the Dodgers’ roster to become the
majors’ first African-American pitcher. Earlier in the season, during the month
of July, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck made news when he signed outfielder
Larry Doby, who became the first African-American player in the existence of
the American League. That same month,
the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Willard Brown and Hank Thompson
from the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the best teams in the Negro Leagues. The five new African-American players joined
a handful of Latin Americans, including Mike Guerra and Jesse Flores of the Philadelphia
Athletics, who already held jobs in the major leagues.
Baseball’s integration proceeded at a snail’s pace over the
next three seasons. In 1948, the Dodgers
promoted former Negro Leagues star Roy Campanella, who became the first
African-American catcher in 20th century major league history. Only one other black player, venerable
pitcher Satchel Paige, debuted in 1948. Paige signed a contract with Veeck’s
Indians, drawing the wrath of such publications as The Sporting News, which railed against the wisdom of adding a
fortysomething hurler well past his prime.
Meanwhile, the Washington Senators, one of the most progressive teams in
their pursuit of Latinos, added two Cubans to their roster: shortstop Angel
Fleitas and pitcher Moin Garcia. The
Senators, who employed full-time scout Joe Cambria in Cuba, had
signed a number of Cuban players in 1944 and ’45, but by now, they had
disappeared from the roster. (Prior to Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the
major leagues in 1947, a number of Latin Americans–generally light-skinned–had
played in the majors. Although some
baseball historians have argued that some
of these Latinos were also black in color, and that some so-called Cubans were
actually African Americans, none of the pre-1947 teams could be considered
truly integrated. Major league teams
simply refused to sign black players who did not have Latino-sounding names, or
who did not at least contend they
were of Latin American descent. These
men continued to be barred because of baseball’s most significant unwritten
rule: the color line.)
Although some baseball historians have contended that racist
motivation prevented a faster rate of integration, one of the most significant
writers of the time cited a completely different reason. Wendell Smith, writing for the black
newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier,
believed that a shortage of black players in 1948 had slowed the pace of
integration. “The scouts are out there
snooting around like Scotland Yard detectives looking for talent,” Smith wrote,
“but having a difficult job uncovering it. The fact that Cleveland signed the 40-year-old Page
indicates that there is a definite shortage of talent, both white and Negro.”
Smith argued that the Negro Leagues had featured far more
talent during the 1920s and thirties.
“It was better talent than we have today,” wrote Smith in the Courier, “and plenty of it. That’s why there won’t be a large number of
Negro players in the majors for some time to come.” Smith believed that the
major leagues would have to wait several years for young black players to graduate
from American sandlots.
In ’49, only four African-American players were added to
major league rosters: Luke Easter and Minnie Minoso (Indians), Monte Irvin (Giants), and Don Newcombe (Dodgers). A few Latinos made their inaugural big league
appearances, including Mexican second baseman Bobby Avila with the Indians and
Cuban pitcher Enrique Gonzalez of the Senators. In 1950, the influx of new African-American
players featured only one addition, Sam Jethroe, who debuted with the Boston
Braves. As Wendell Smith reiterated in
the Pittsburgh Courier that summer,
the wellspring of black players continued to run dry. “When Brooklyn
signed [Jackie] Robinson in 1947, there was a wealth of Negro talent,” Smith
contended. “Today, however, good Negro
players are hard to find.” The solution?
Smith called for black colleges to do a better job of developing players.
Among the Latino entrants, Venezuelan shortstop Chico
Carrasquel of the Chicago White Sox highlighted the newcomers, while the Senators
continued their Cuban infatuation, signing five pitchers from the island. None of the five Washington
newcomers had a major impact in 1950, however, as Washington finished 67-87, 31 games out of
The annoyingly slow pace of minority integration quickened
significantly in 1951, when eight African-American players entered the major
leagues, including a young superstar named Willie Mays. Integration seemed to
be enjoying its first major breakthrough thanks to an influx of young black
talent from the college and high school ranks.
“There are now 13 Negroes playing in the majors and twice that many in
the minors,” wrote Wendell Smith in the Pittsburgh
Courier. “In practically every
league, whether major or minor, it is possible to find an outstanding Negro
player.” In addition, five Latin
Americans joined big league clubs, although Ray Noble of the New York Giants
and Luis Marquez of the Boston Braves were also included on the list of players
who could be called blacks. At one point
or another during the season, the Indians featured four black players (Easter,
Doby, Minoso, and newcomer Bobby Avila). The Dodgers carried four African
Americans in Robinson, Campanella, Newcombe, and Bankhead, but no Latinos. The Giants also carried four black players:
Irvin, Mays, Artie Wilson, and Noble, who was also Cuban. The Senators added two more Cubans–Cisco
Campos and Willie Miranda–while dropping two of their Latino pitchers. The St. Louis Browns promoted pitcher Tito
Herrera, of Mexico.
In 1952, the Dodgers added two more black players, Joe Black
and Sandy Amoros (a Cuban), but dropped Dan Bankhead from the roster. Amoros
played in only 20 games, so, in essence, the Dodgers’ total number of black
players remained at four. (Don Newcombe missed the season while serving in the
military.) The Boston Braves signed Buzz
Clarkson and George Crowe, who along with Sam Jethroe, made for a total of
three black players. Washington
imported hurlers Miguel Fornieles and Raul Sanchez from Cuba, adding
the duo to holdovers Connie Marrero, Julio Moreno, and Sandy Consuegra on the
While the influx of new minority talent in 1952 ranked as
fairly unimpressive, the minor league picture brought some hope for the
future. A survey by the Pittsburgh Courier showed that the St.
Louis Browns led all organizations with 22 black players in their farm
system. The Boston Braves ranked second
with 14 black athletes in the minor leagues, while the Pirates followed suit
with 12 and the Senators with nine.
In 1953, major league teams reached double figures in black
newcomers, adding 11 to their rosters.
The Chicago Cubs jumped into the integration business in that season,
promoting Gene Baker and Ernie Banks from the minor leagues. The Indians added Al Smith and Dave Hoskins,
the Milwaukee Braves signed Billy Bruton and Jim Pendleton, and the Dodgers
promoted Junior Gilliam. Yet, racism
still existed in terms of unstated and unpublicized quotas. While the total
number of minorities was rising in the minor leagues, individual ballclubs
continued to resist the idea of having too
many black players on their
team. As baseball columnist Dick Young
wrote in a 1971 edition of the New York
Daily News: “We are talking about 1953.
Black ballplayers had been in the majors for only seven years, and there
was still a quota system. I think the
stylish maximum for that year was four. At least the Dodgers had four, and whatever
the Dodgers had was accepted as the maximum.
Don’t laugh. That was very
serious business in those days. ‘If you have more than four of them on the
field,’ I used to hear, ‘the people will quit on the club. They’re not ready for it.’ ”
The quota system may have cost Brooklyn
the services of the dark-skinned Roberto Clemente. Since the Dodgers already
had three black position players and one African-American pitcher, they may
have been reluctant to sign Clemente to a major league contract. Teams simply did not want more black players
than whites in their everyday lineup. Instead, the Dodgers signed Clemente to a
minor league deal in February of 1954, meaning they would have to expose
him to a draft of other major league teams after the season. That’s when the
Pirates swooped in, taking Clemente with the first choice.
In addition to the quota system, other problems existed. No
teams, including the Dodgers, made much progress in bringing Latinos to the
major leagues in 1953. The Pirates did
sign their first two Latin Americans, both outfielders: Felipe Montemayor of Mexico and Carlos Bernier of Puerto
Rico. The Giants added a
black Puerto Rican, Ruben Gomez, to their pitching staff. Hardly a new wave of
Prior to 1954, only a few major league teams (the Dodgers,
Braves, Giants, Indians, and White Sox) had shown any real interest in signing
and promoting black players to the big leagues.
In fact, most of the 11 remaining teams had yet to debut a black player
at the major league level. Thankfully,
that trend began to change in 1954, when the St. Louis Cardinals (Tom Alston),
Cincinnati Reds (Nino Escalera), and Senators (Carlos Paula) all debuted their
first black on-the-field performers. The Senators also signed right-hander
Camilo Pascual, who would become the best of their Latino pitchers, but
retained only one Latino holdover from the previous season, Connie Marrero. The
Cardinals also added Mexican left-hander Memo Luna, albeit for one game. Future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron joined the
Milwaukee Braves in 1954, as did an obscure African-American player named
Charlie White. But since George Crowe
and Buzz Clarkson had already been dropped from the Braves, the club’s total
number of black players remained stagnant.
All in all, 14 black players, several of whom were also of Latino
descent, made their major league debuts in 1954.
Baseball’s rate of African-American integration remained
relatively steady over the balance of the decade, while the number of Latino
entries increased, and then dipped. In
1955, 12 black players made their major league debuts, including a black
Latino, the Pirates’ own Roberto Clemente.
In terms of Latino talent, three Puerto Ricans (including Clemente),
eight Cubans, and three Panamanians joined major league clubs that season. Thirteen blacks entered the majors the
following season, including Curt Flood with the Cardinals, Bill White with the
Giants, and Frank Robinson with the Reds.
Only seven Latinos debuted that season, including Venezuelan Luis
Aparicio. The 1957 season saw the number of black entrants drop slightly–to
10–and featured no major stars. The
number of new Latino players plummeted to three. The class of 1958 black newcomers totaled 13,
including African Americans Jim “Mudcat” Grant (Indians), Vada Pinson, (Reds)
and Leon Wagner (San Francisco Giants), and Latino standouts Felipe Alou and
Orlando Cepeda (also with the Giants).
Alou and Cepeda represented the best of the eight Spanish-speaking
The Giants were now challenging their fellow West Coast
transplants–the Los Angeles Dodgers–for superiority in the chase for black and
Latino talent. The additions of Wagner,
Alou and Cepeda to a team that already featured Willie Mays, Bill White, Andre
Rogers, and Ruben Gomez gave San
Francisco an impressive mix of players. But the Giants were not yet a championship
team. The Giants’ 80-74 record put them
12 games out in the 1958 National League pennant race.
In 1959, major league clubs added a record number of 16
black newcomers, most of whom joined National League teams. The new wave of black stars was laden with
impressive talent, including future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (Cardinals),
Willie McCovey (Giants), and Billy Williams (Cubs), All-Stars like Tommy Davis
and Maury Wills (both Dodgers), and solid journeymen performers in Jose Pagan
(Giants) and Earl Wilson (Red Sox).
Pagan, a native of Puerto Rico, and
Cubans Mike Cuellar (Reds) and Zoilo Versalles (Senators) highlighted the class
of five Latinos who debuted in ’59.
While the Giants continued their aggressive integrative efforts by
adding both McCovey and Pagan, they also dispatched Bill White (to the
Cardinals) and Ruben Gomez (to the Phillies), leaving them with the same number
of minorities as the previous year. The
Giants remained third in the National League standings, but did close the gap
to within four games of the first-place Dodgers.
The Reds also showed some aggressiveness in adding
minorities to their roster, including Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson to the
everyday lineup, and Cuellar, Luis Arroyo, Don Newcombe, and Orlando Pena to
the pitching staff. But of that group,
only Robinson, Pinson, and Newcombe enjoyed a high level of impact, and the
Reds, as a team, enjoyed little success. In 1959, Cincinnati finished in a fifth-place tie, 13
games behind the Dodgers.
In 1960, both the Reds and Giants regressed in the
standings, although they continued to recruit and promote minority talent. Dominicans Matty Alou and Juan Marichal
debuted for the Giants in 1960, while the Reds added Latinos Leo Cardenas, Elio
Chacon, Tony Gonzalez, and several other lesser players to their team. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Cardinals improved from
second-division status to finish a strong third in the National League. Although the Cardinals had not yet reached
championship level, their everyday lineup now boasted three minorities: Bill
White, Julian Javier, and Curt Flood.
The bench included George Crowe and Leon Wagner, and the pitching staff
featured a talented but ineffective Bob Gibson. While the Cardinals, Dodgers,
Giants and Reds continued to lap their competitors in the integration race,
American League teams lagged well behind in the promotion of black and Latino
players to the major leagues.
Although baseball had stepped up its level of integration in
the mid-1950’s, none of the pennant-winning or championship teams from 1947 to
1960 could be considered heavily, or substantially integrated. In 1947, and from 1949 through ’53, the New
York Yankees won the World Series. The
Yankees, however, did not debut their first black player until 1955, when
Elston Howard earned a promotion from the minor leagues. In four of those World Series, the Yankees
defeated the Dodgers, who had unquestionably led the way in the effort to
integrate major league baseball with black players. Despite their impressive pioneering spirit,
the Dodgers numbered no higher than five black players on any of those National
League pennant winners. Although the
presence of five black athletes on a 25-man roster (or 20 per cent) was
probably considered progressive at the time, it would hardly be considered a heavily integrated roster in the
contemporary context. The Dodgers had
also signed very few Latino players during that span of years.
In 1948, the Indians defeated the Boston Braves four games
to two in the World Series. The Indians
boasted only two black performers, Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige,
while the Braves featured nary a single African American or Latin American on
the roster. The 1948 Dodgers, losers to
the Indians in the World Series, included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella,
Latino outfielder Luis Olmo, and Don Newcombe.
The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, who lost four straight games to the
Yankees in the Series, possessed no black or Latino players.
That brings us to 1954, when the Giants and Indians squared
off in the Fall Classic. With Paige no
longer on the team and Luke Easter reduced to six at-bats during the regular
season, only Doby and Dave Pope contributed significantly as minorities to the
Indians’ cause. A Puerto Rican pitcher,
Jose Santiago, pitched in only one game during the regular season. Meanwhile,
the Giants found themselves down to two African Americans: Mays and Irvin, and
one Latin American, right-hander Ruben Gomez, who won 17 games.
The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers made several major inroads on the
integration path. For the first time, a
World Championship team featured as many as four black players in the regular
lineup: Junior Gilliam at second base, Jackie Robinson at third base, Sandy
Amoros in left field, and Roy Campanella behind the plate. The team’s best starting pitcher, Don
Newcombe (20-5, 3.19), became the first black hurler to post two 20-win seasons
in the major leagues. Yet, the Dodgers,
after trading pitcher Joe Black in mid-season, carried no other
African-American players on their pitching staff. Similarly, there were no
black players on the bench. In total,
black players represented less than 20 per cent of the Dodgers’ roster.
In 1956, the Dodgers again faced the Yankees in October, but
lost to New York
in seven games. Gilliam, Amoros,
Robinson and Newcombe continued to play key roles for the Dodgers, while Elston
Howard represented the Yankees’ sole black contributor. In ’57, the pennant-winning Yankees added
Harry Simpson to the roster, while the World Champion Milwaukee Braves used two
African-American regulars, Hank Aaron and Billy Bruton. The two teams met again in ’58, with the
Braves adding only Puerto Rican left-hander Juan Pizarro to their pitching
staff, and the Yankees trading away Simpson in mid-season.
In 1959, the Dodgers won their first World Championship
while in Los Angeles,
but by this time their roster composition had changed drastically. Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe had already
retired, and Sandy Amoros totaled only five games and five at-bats during the
regular season. On the plus side, Maury
Wills and Tommy Davis made their major league debuts in 1959, although Davis received just one
at-bat, while Wills served primarily as a utilityman. The Dodgers’ opponent in the World Series,
the Chicago White Sox, carried only two black veterans for part of the season,
Harry Simpson and Larry Doby.
In 1960, the Yankees returned to the World Series and faced
the upstart Pirates. New York carried two African-American
players in Elston Howard and Jesse Gonder, and two Latin Americans in Hector
Lopez and Luis Arroyo. The Pirates featured Roberto Clemente in their starting
lineup; Gene Baker, Joe Christopher (a native of the Virgin
Islands) and R.C. Stevens off the bench; Cuban outfielder Roman
Mejias; and Benny Daniels and Diomedes Olivo on the pitching staff. The racial makeup of the ’60 Pirates was far
different from the composition of their teams in the early 1970s.
Baseball entered a new era in 1961, when the American League
expanded by two teams. The National League followed suit with two expansion
clubs in 1962. In theory, the four new teams would provide additional
opportunities for minority players to make major league rosters.
In the early 1960s, the Dodgers once again set the trend for
signing, developing and promoting black stars to the major leagues. Maury
Wills, Junior Gilliam, Tommy and Willie Davis, and John Roseboro formed a large
percentage of the starting lineups employed by manager Walter Alston. Yet, the Dodgers’ pitching staff, with no
black Americans and only one Latino on the 1963, ’65, and ’66 staffs, lagged
behind the progressiveness the organization had displayed in the development of
minority position players.
The Giants of the early 1960s featured a number of black and
Latino standouts. The 1962 team, which
included eight minorities, won the National League pennant before bowing to the
Yankees in the World Series. In 1963,
the Giants maintained their minority corps of Orlando Cepeda, Jose Pagan,
Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, and Juan Marichal, and added players
like Jim Ray Hart, Jesus Alou, and Jose Cardenal to the mix. So with such an array of talent, why did the
Giants fall off to 88-74, 11 games behind the league-leading Dodgers? The cause, in part, may have been the
handling of the team’s racial makeup by San
The front office discouraged Latino players from associating with each
other. Manager Alvin Dark banned the
speaking of Spanish in the clubhouse and on the field, a decision that made
Latino players even less comfortable in unfamiliar environs. “Alvin Dark segregated the team,” recalls
Orlando Cepeda. “He [divided] the
whites, the blacks, and Latins. We had
to strike against that, you know, being black and being Latin.”
Cepeda says that Dark regularly blamed Giant losses on the
team’s minority stars, including himself, Mays, and McCovey. Such criticism affected the team’s morale and
performance. The Giants eventually traded off many of their best Latino and
black players, including Cepeda (to the Cardinals), Cardenal (Angels), Pagan
(Pirates), Matty Alou (Pirates), and Felipe Alou (Braves) in a series of
disastrous deals. If not for those
regrettable decisions, the Giants might have become baseball’s first heavily
integrated championship team.
The compositions of teams like the Dodgers, Giants, and St.
Louis Cardinals throughout the 1960s displayed the National League’s
superiority in the quest to fully integrate the major leagues. As Frank Robinson, a veteran of both the
American and the National leagues, pointed out in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine, the NL had outdone the AL from the start in the
effort to integrate. “The National
League was the first to sign black players and it has remained ahead all of
these years,” Robinson told sportswriter Bill Libby. “And so many outstanding players are black
that it’s hard to have an outstanding team without your share of black
players.” As a result, the quality of play in the National League had surpassed
that of the American League by the mid-1960s.
“It seemed like the National League teams were willing to sign any
promising prospect, regardless of color,” said Robinson, “while the American
League was only interested in the outstanding, ‘can’t-miss’ black prospect.”
In 1969, the major leagues expanded by four teams, and
re-aligned into four divisions, with East and West factions in both the
American and National leagues. Both divisional winners, the Baltimore Orioles
and Minnesota Twins, exhibited some of the typical progress enjoyed during the
sixties, when several teams made strides in integrating their rosters. But neither club’s level of integration was
particularly astounding. The Orioles, winners in the American League East,
featured Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, Don Buford, and Elrod Hendricks in the
starting lineup; Dave May, Chico Salmon, and Curt Motton off the bench; and
Mike Cuellar and Marcelino Lopez on the pitching staff, That gave the Orioles a
total of nine minorities. The champions
of the American League West, the Twins, numbered five African-American and
Latino starters in their lineup: Rod Carew, Leo Cardenas, Tony Oliva, Cesar
Tovar, and John Roseboro. Off the bench,
the Twins’ roster included Jim Holt and Herm Hill, while the pitching staff had
only one black contributor, Tom Hall.
In the National League, the eventual World Champion New York
Mets featured Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Donn Clendenon, Ed Charles, and Amos
Otis as black position players, but only one African-American pitcher, Al
Jackson, managed to play a full season in the majors. Another African American, left-hander Jesse
Hudson, pitched in only one game. In the West, the Atlanta Braves featured a
nearly all-black infield, with Orlando Cepeda, Felix Millan, and Sonny Jackson,
and an all-minority outfield of Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, and Tony
Gonzalez. In fact, it seems that only
the lack of an African-American or Latino catcher prevented the Braves from
fielding the major leagues’ first all-black starting lineup. The Braves’ bench featured Rico Carty, Gil
Garrido, Tommie Aaron, Ralph Garr, Oscar Brown, and Dusty Baker. Yet, the numbers on minorities on the bench,
which appear impressive at first, are deceiving. Of that group of reserves,
only Carty had any significant impact.
Garr, Brown, and Baker, all young players recently promoted from the
minors, played very briefly that season. And in contrast to their everyday
lineup, the Braves’ pitching staff was completely white.
In 1970, the Orioles repeated as American League Eastern
Division champions, and returned all of their African-American and Latino
players from the previous summer. The
Orioles added rookie outfielder and future star Don Baylor, giving them a total
of 10 minorities. But, of that group,
Curt Motton had little impact off the bench, Dave May accumulated only 31
at-bats before being traded during the season, and Baylor played in only eight
games, batting just .235. Out West, the
Twins repeated as divisional winners, after adding Latino utilityman Minnie
Mendoza and dropping veteran catcher John Roseboro. The pitching staff included only two
minorities in Tom Hall and Luis Tiant.
In the National League, the Reds captured the West, kicking
off what would become one of their most successful decades in franchise
history. The starting lineup featured
two American blacks, Lee May and Bobby Tolan, and two Latinos, Tony Perez and
Dave Concepcion. Off the bench, the trio
of Hal McRae, Angel Bravo, and Pat Corrales (an American-born Mexican) provided
quality play. The pitching staff
included an African-American starter, Wayne Simpson, who won 14 games, and a
Latino reliever, Pedro Borbon, who struggled in 12 appearances. All in all, the 1970 Reds featured a decent
level of integration, but nothing that could be considered eye-popping.
In 1970, the Pirates won the first of three straight
National League Eastern Division titles.
Danny Murtaugh’s regular lineup included Manny Sanguillen, Willie
Stargell, Matty Alou, and Roberto Clemente, while the bench boasted a number of
black and Latino contributors: Al Oliver, Jose Pagan, Johnny Jeter, Dave Cash,
Gene Clines, and Jose Martinez. Dock
Ellis headlined a starting rotation that also included Bob Veale. In the bullpen, Mudcat Grant, Orlando Pena,
Al McBean, and Eduardo Acosta each pitched for the Bucs during the season.
In total, 15 minorities played for the Pirates in 1970. So why not consider them the first heavily integrated championship team in
history? While Sanguillen, Stargell,
Alou, and Clemente all had an impact as starters, the Pirates did not feature
an African American or Latino who played the infield as a regular throughout
the season. Dave Cash had not yet overtaken
Bill Mazeroski at second base, and Jackie Hernandez had not yet joined the
team. Of the bench players, neither Martinez nor Jeter
enjoyed much success, while Gene Clines spent most of the season in the minor
leagues. Of the relievers, only Mudcat
Grant pitched effectively, and he actually spent less than half the season in Pittsburgh. Important role players like Vic Davalillo,
Rennie Stennett, and Ramon Hernandez had yet to make their Pittsburgh debuts. Furthermore, the Pirates of 1970 were not a
championship team in the classic sense. They won the division with a record-low 89
wins, but failed to win the National League pennant, losing to the Reds in
three straight games.
In 1971, the Orioles repeated as American League champions,
but their level of integration had once again remained stagnant, what with the
addition of Grant Jackson and the subtraction of Marcelino Lopez from the
pitching staff. In the West, the Oakland A’s won the first
of five straight division championships with an interesting mix of black,
Latino, and white players. Campy
Campaneris and Reggie Jackson served important roles as starters, while Tommy
Davis and former Pirate Angel Mangual headlined a productive bench that also
included George Hendrick, Felipe Alou, Frank Fernandez (an American-born
Spaniard), Dwain Anderson, and Ramon Webster.
On the pitching staff, Vida Blue, Diego Segui, Blue Moon Odom, and
Mudcat Grant all contributed to a team that piled up 101 victories during the
regular season. In total, 13 African
Americans and Latinos made appearances for the A’s that season. On the down side, the ’71 A’s featured only
two African-American or Latino regulars in their lineup; Felipe Alou batted
only eight times before being traded to the Yankees; and Hendrick, Fernandez,
Anderson, and Webster had no impact. The
’71 A’s, much like the Pirates of 1970, lost the playoffs in three straight
games, falling to a superior team from Baltimore.
The San Francisco Giants claimed the National League West in
1971, and featured a number of African-American and Latino standouts, including
Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Tito Fuentes, and Juan Marichal. A young George Foster, veteran third
baseman-outfielder Jim Ray Hart, and three obscure players (Bernie Williams,
Frank Johnson, and Jimmy Rosario) saw playing time off the bench. Of that
group, however, Foster batted only 105 times before being traded to the Reds in
the infamous Frank Duffy deal, and Hart played in only 31 games because of
injuries. Furthermore, the pitching
staff, outside of Marichal, contained no minority hurlers.
Quite clearly, a number of teams–beginning with the Dodgers,
Cardinals, Giants, and Reds in the early 1960s–had enjoyed substantial progress
in populating their teams with high-quality Latino and African-American
players. These National League teams had
all succeeded in scouting and signing minority players, and promoting the most
talented ones to the highest professional level. During this time period, the starting lineups
in Los Angeles, St. Louis,
San Francisco, and Cincinnati served as evidence of the National
League’s willingness to bring the American black and Latino player to the
forefront. Yet, most of the minority
players on these–and other–teams played as regulars, particularly at first base
and in the outfield. For example, the
1967 World Champion Cardinals included only three minorities on their bench:
Alex Johnson, Dave Ricketts, and Bobby Tolan.
In general, very few African-American and Latino players made major
league rosters as utility players, lending credence to the theory that most
teams were operating under the following unwritten rule: If you were an African American or Latino in the fifties and sixties,
and weren’t considered a star, or at least good enough to make it as a starter,
you generally weren’t going to be included on the roster–at all. The utilityman, backup and pinch-hitting jobs
would fall to the white players, unless you, as a black player, had shown that
you were far and away a superior player.
Much like the tendency to keep black and Latino players from
having bench jobs, many clubs discouraged the development of minority pitchers
and catchers. Even the most progressive National League teams of the sixties
had lagged behind in their development of African-American and Latino pitchers. Black players like Bob Gibson and Don
Newcombe and Latinos such as Juan Marichal represented a minuscule percentage
of teams’ pitching staffs.
Unfortunately, very few organizations exhibited trust in the mental
capacities of African Americans and Latinos as pitchers. Therefore, those teams rarely recruited
minority amateurs as pitchers, but
sought to convert them to the so-called “athletic” positions of center field
and shortstop. Secondly, only the most
dominant minority pitchers gained advancement to the majors. Borderline black and Latino pitchers
competing for fourth starting spots and long relief roles often lost out to
white pitchers of similar abilities.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Jackie Robinson and
others, minority players had long since proven their worth to major league
teams, but only as everyday star players. Yet, most major league teams had
little interest in keeping African Americans and Latinos around in any other
capacity. In that way, some general managers and owners could maintain an acceptable
quota of dark-skinned players while still keeping the overall minority numbers
down. At the same time, they could continue to reinforce their own unfortunate
beliefs in the mental shortcomings of black and Latin American players.
Thankfully, those trends began to diminish by the late
1960s, when teams like the Pirates and Cardinals advanced their levels of
integration. By 1971, the idea of a racial quota received a severe blow when
the Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in major league history. That
occurred on September 1. Less than two months later, those same Pirates became
world champions of baseball.
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If ever a team needed a dramatic come-from-behind win on
Opening Day to rejuvenate the hopes of a sagging fan base, it was the
Pittsburgh Pirates. Down by two runs with two outs and a man on base in the top
of the ninth, the Pirates mounted a nearly miraculous rally. Facing newly
crowned Cardinals closer Jason Motte, Adam LaRoche kept the Pirates alive with
an RBI single. Eric Hinske, one of the team’s few veteran winter acquisitions,
followed with a double, putting runners on second and third. After Motte hit
Brandon Moss with a pitch, light-hitting Jack Wilson delivered a two-strike
double to the gap, clearing the bases to give the Bucs a 6-4 lead and setting
the table for one of the franchise’s most thrilling wins in recent memory.
The Pirates did little of tangible consequence over the
winter, adding only Hinske, backup outfielder Craig Monroe, and utility
infielder Ramon Vazquez as low-end free agent signings. With such little cause
for optimism, most Pirates fans have resigned themselves to another last-place
finish in the NL Central. That still might happen, unless the Reds or the
Astros fall back even further in a weakened division, but at least the long
suffering Steel City can take some solace in an
exhilarating Opening Day win against a division rival. Watch out, ’71 Pirates,
here comes Mashing McLouth and the LaRoche Brothers!…
While the Pirates have few burdens of high expectations, the
Yankees find themselves at the opposite end of the rainbow. Their high-priced
winter pickups failed miserably on Day One as part of an ugly 10-5 loss to the
ever-rebuilding Orioles. CC Sabathia failed to make it through five innings,
while walking five batters and failing to register a single strikeout. Mark
Teixeira didn’t fare much better; he went 0-for-4, topped off by an
eighth-inning at-bat in which he stranded the potential tying run on base.
Still, the Yankees found themselves in the game, down only 6-5, before watching
relievers Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Damaso Marte implode during a four-run
eighth. Hey, it’s only one game, but CC and Tex will surely be reminded of their
exorbitant salaries in Tuesday’s editions of the Post and Daily News. The
pressure will only grow if their Opening Day futility becomes a trend, and
that’s something the Yankees don’t need as they try to avoid repeating what has
become a bad habit in recent seasons–lousy play in April and May that puts the
team into early holes…
The Mets did much better than the Yankees in their opener,
clipping the Reds, 2-1, on a dreary, cold afternoon in Cincinnati. Jerry Manuel surprised the Mets
broadcasters, most of their fans, and yours truly by pulling Johan Santana
after only five and two-thirds innings. With Santana’s pitch count nearing the
dreaded 100 marker (he was at 99)–and bells, whistles, and alarms sounding in
the minds of the pitch-count preachers–Manuel called on ex-Mariner Sean Green
to quell a sixth-inning rally. Manuel decided to use the rest of the game as a
showcase for three of his newest relievers, with Green followed by more
heralded pickups J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The trio of bullpen
newcomers pinned the Reds down the rest of the afternoon, combining to pitch
three and a third innings of hitless relief. From the Reds’ perspective, Dusty
Baker will surely draw the wrath of the aforementioned pitch counters, as he
allowed ace Aaron Harang to throw 114 pitches in 39-degree weather. As long as
Baker remains in charge, Sabermetricians and second-guessers alike will have
plenty of material with which to attack Baker for his old-fashioned way of
With a new season upon us after an extraordinarily long and
bitter winter, you may have noticed a few subtle changes to our homepage here
at “Cooperstown Confidential.” For the first month of the 2009 season, we’ll honor
the memory of the fallen Dock Ellis by displaying his Topps rookie card from
1969. Hopefully, Dock was wearing curlers and smiling from above as he watched
his Pirates pull out a finish that would have made the “Lumber Company” proud.
In other changes, we’ve added links to some of our favorite baseball web sites,
including Baseball Think Factory and Bronx Banters. Lovers of film and TV will
notice the link to the incredible IMDB site, too. We’ll be adding more links as
the season progresses.
Other plans are in the works. We’ll be adding some few
features (including an historical piece on great nicknames), keeping tabs on
Keith Olbermann, and generally posting more often during the new baseball
season. Please let us know what you think of the changes, and feel free to make
suggestions about what you would like to see and read in this space. Let the
comments fly in 2009!
The events of September 1, 1971 have never received much media attention, paling in comparison to the coverage of Jackie Robinson’s historic entrance into the major leagues. Yet, the happenings in Pittsburgh on that date, 35 years ago, constitute one of the most significant milestones in the racial history of major league baseball.
That afternoon, while sitting in his office at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh prepared to oppose the Philadelphia Phillies and left-handed pitcher Woodie Fryman. Murtaugh filled out the following names on his lineup card:
Rennie Stennett, 2B
Gene Clines, CF
Roberto Clemente, RF
Willie Stargell, LF
Manny Sanguillen, C
Dave Cash, 3B
Al Oliver, 1B
Jackie Hernandez, SS
Dock Ellis, P
At first glance, Murtaugh’s lineup seemed to represent nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, the lineup appeared typical of ones that he would use against left-handed starters like Fryman, with the exception of the lefty-swinging Al Oliver at first base in place of the right-handed batting Bob Robertson. Upon further review, however, observers in the press box noticed that the lineup consisted exclusively of African-American and dark-skinned Latin American players. Baseball experts surmised that for the first time in the history of baseball, and 24 years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier, a major league team was employing an all-black lineup.
Gene Clines, one of the players in the lineup that evening, initially believed that the Pirates had used an all-black lineup several years earlier. Willie Stargell, one of the senior members of the 1971 Pirates, corrected Clines’ speculation. “No, this is the first time,” said Stargell, the Hall of Fame outfielder-first baseman who died in 2001. “Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, [former Pirate manager] Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.”
Although Murtaugh’s decision to write out an all-black lineup drew relatively little attention from the fans and media, it was immediately noticed by some Pirate players in the clubhouse prior to the game. “We saw the lineup on the [clubhouse] wall… Oh yeah, we were aware,” recalled pitcher Steve Blass, the eventual winner in Game Seven of the 1971 World Series.
In 1971, the Pirates represented baseball’s most heavily integrated team, with black and Latino players accounting for nearly fifty percent of the club’s roster. The Pirates also featured one of baseball’s most harmonious teams, with friendships and gatherings often crossing racial lines. White players often socialized with black and Latino players, either at bars and restaurants after games, or at barbecues and parties organized by one of the team’s leaders, Willie Stargell. Considering the unity of the team, the players’ reaction to the all-black lineup was not surprising. “We had a loose group, [so] we were all laughing and hollering about it and teasing each other,” said Blass. “I thought that was a great reaction.”
Third baseman Richie Hebner, who sat out the game with an injury, said the players’ pre-game reaction to the lineup typified the kind of good-natured racial humor that was prevalent with the Pirates. Hebner said such humor was doled out purely for fun, and not intended to be taken seriously. “Some of the guys joked around the clubhouse, saying, ‘Hey, you white guys, you can take a rest tonight’… Back then, Ellis and Stargell would get on us [white players] and we’d get on them. You could do that,” Hebner recalled.
Other players, like Al Oliver, didn’t realize that the Pirates were actually using an all-black lineup until the middle of the game. “I had no clue,” Oliver said, “Because as a rule we had at least five or six [black and Latino players] out there anyway. So, two or three more was no big thing. I didn’t know until about the third or fourth inning. Dave Cash mentioned to me, he says, ‘Hey, Scoop, we got all brothers out here.'” Oliver pauses for a moment and laughs. “You know, I thought about it, and I said, ‘We sure do!’ “
The fact that Oliver even started the game was strange for several reasons. Why was Oliver, primarily a center fielder in 1971, playing at first base instead of usual starter Bob Robertson? Even more strangely, why was Oliver starting against a left-hander, when Murtaugh had benched him against many southpaws that summer? “That’s a good question,” Oliver replied. “That’s a good question, because to this day when people ask me who was the toughest pitcher I ever faced, it was Woodie Fryman.” One article indicated that Robertson sat out the game with a minor injury, but didn’t specify what the injury was. According to Oliver, Murtaugh may have been looking to light a fire under a slumping Robertson, who had gone 2-for-14 in his previous four games. “Bob Robertson normally would have played that day, but Dave Cash had told me within the last [few] years, and I never knew this, that Murtaugh was kind of disappointed in Bob for whatever reason. I don’t know what the exact reason was, but he was disappointed in Bob, so he sat him down. He played me that night at first base.”
Popular and patriarchal, Murtaugh had become a comforting, father-like figure for almost all of the Pirate players, regardless of skin color or nationality. In the past, he had not hesitated in giving significant amounts of playing time to black and Latino players, and now seemed to be showing pioneering courage in making out the first all-black lineup when he was under no pressure to do so. So why did Murtaugh write out the lineup the way he did on September 1, 1971? Given the decision to start Oliver over Robertson, was it possible that Murtaugh was looking for a way to put an all-black lineup on the field? Oliver doesn’t think so. “In my estimation, I think Danny was just putting the best team on the field, and he probably didn’t notice [the all-black lineup] until later. I didn’t know until the third or fourth inning.”
Steve Blass said Murtaugh was concerned with winning games–not with making social statements. “This was not a statement, nor a device,” Blass said. “The thing I remember about it, when he was interviewed afterwards, Murtaugh said, ‘I put the nine best athletes out there. The best nine I put out there tonight happened to be black. No big deal. Next question.’ ” Blass said Murtaugh handled the matter with the proper attitude and perspective. “He was aware of the repercussions that might come out of it,” said Blass. “But he didn’t have a problem with it.”
So, for the first time since the demise of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960s, a professional major league-caliber baseball team fielded a starting nine consisting exclusively of blacks. The results? The Phillies scored two runs against Dock Ellis in the first, but the Bucs countered with six hits and five runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Phillies added four more runs in the second, knocking out Ellis, who was replaced by long reliever Bob Moose. Down 6-5, the Pirates rallied for three runs in the second. Gene Clines singled and Roberto Clemente walked. After Clines stole third, Willie Stargell produced one run with a sac fly, and Manny Sanguillen added two more on a home run.
Bob Veale, also a black player, relieved Bob Moose in the third inning, and struck out the one batter he faced. Ironically, Luke Walker, a white pitcher from Texas, relieved in the fourth and emerged as the Pirate pitching star of the day. Walker held the Phillies to one run over six innings and picked up the win in a 10-7 victory for the Bucs. On offense, Clines, Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen, Oliver, and Rennie Stennett each collected two base hits, and Clines and Cash each stole a base. The all-black lineup had produced a win in its very first major league go-round. Unfortunately, only 11,278 fans were on hand at Three Rivers Stadium to witness this intriguing piece of baseball history.
At the time, most of the Pirates’ players and fans didn’t grasp the historical relevance of the first all-black lineup, but they have grown to appreciate its importance. “[In 1971], I didn’t even think anything about it,” Oliver said. “Nothing about it at all.” Once his playing career ended in 1985, Oliver took a step back and emerged with a different perspective about the night of September 1, 1971. “But now, of course, it means something. Once you’re out of the game, you look back and [you realize] you could be a part of baseball history. To me, that’s something that I feel good about, being part of baseball history.”
Bob Robertson never did make an appearance in the game, but like Oliver, has a similar perspective on its importance. “I think it’s a great thing that really happened there,” Robertson said. “That was the type of ballclub that we had. It didn’t make a difference if you were black, yellow, green, purple, whatever. We enjoyed each other’s company. We got along fine. We had a lot of respect for one another. I thought that was a great evening, to see that.”
According to some baseball historians, the all-black lineup of September 1,1971, remains significant because it exhibited how progressive the Pirate organization was in drafting and signing blacks and Latinos at all positions. In the past, major league teams had shown a willingness to sign many black infielders and outfielders, but had tended to avoid developing minority pitchers and catchers. Oliver agrees that the all-black lineup demonstrated the Pirates’ belief that blacks and Latinos could play the “thinking man’s” game behind the plate or on the mound. “I signed with the Pirates in 1964,” Oliver recalled. “In 1965, it was really my first spring training in Daytona Beach. The Pirates had signed, if you look at the catcher’s position, they had many [black] catchers. If you looked at the pitchers, there were many black pitchers that they had signed or drafted… I think what it came down to was that the Pirates were not afraid to draft black and Latin players because they were interested in one thing, in my opinion,” Oliver said, “And that was winning.”
In overview, the racial mix of the 1971 Pirates–culminating in the use of the all-black lineup–occurred as a product of the organization’s aggressive approach to seeking winning talent of any color, and the willingness to play blacks and Latinos at any position–first base, outfielder, catcher, utilityman, pitcher. “Obviously, we were looking for talent,” said Joe Brown, the architect of the ’71 Pirates, in an article that appeared in Baseball Digest in 1995. “We didn’t care where they came from or what color they were. If they happened to be black, so be it.” Unlike the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early fifties, the Pirates had not imposed a limit of four black players on their starting lineup. While other organizations had made progress in integrating parts of their major league rosters, the Pirates had taken a comprehensive, no-holds-barred approach in populating their entire roster with both African Americans and Latinos, top to bottom. The Pirates’ philosophy not only helped the team win the World Championship in 1971, but also sent the following indirect message to other major league organizations: expand the available talent pool to include black and Latino players, select the best players at each position regardless of color, and you will increase your chances of winning.
Prominent players from other teams took note of the composition of the Pirates’ roster. Frank Robinson, often mentioned as a candidate to become the major leagues’ first black manager, offered some admiring comments about the Pirates in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine. “Last year the Pirates may have had more black players than any team in baseball,” Robinson said. “They became the first team to start an all-black lineup in a game. And they won a world title.” Robinson described a direct connection between winning and the presence of minorities on a team’s roster. “Color shouldn’t matter anymore,” said Robinson, “except it’s clear if you have most of the top black players, you have a lot of top players, which gives you an edge in talent.”
Although it is difficult to prove conclusively, many of the subsequent championship teams of the 1970s seemed to have followed the lead of the Pirates. Evidence of such a trend cannot necessarily be found in any publicly attributable statements from baseball front office officials, but can be traced through their own tangible actions in assembling major league rosters. The Oakland A’s, who won three straight World Championships from 1972 to ’74, featured a changing, increasingly integrated roster. Having already developed a number of minority players, including Campy Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, and Vida Blue, by the time the Pirates won the 1971 World Series, Oakland would add a large number of African Americans and Latinos in ’72, ’73, and ’74. For example, the A’s acquired several minorities, while giving up mostly white players, in a series of trades engineered during the 1972 season. Oakland dealt onetime Cy Young winner Denny McLain to the Braves for Puerto Rican first baseman Orlando Cepeda, stole .300-hitting Dominican Matty Alou from the Cardinals for two marginal players, acquired outfielder “Downtown” Ollie Brown from San Diego for catcher Curt Blefary, and picked up Cuban utility infielder Marty Martinez from St. Louis for outfielder Brant Alyea. During the summer, the A’s promoted Venezuelan pinch-hitter Gonzalo Marquez and Panamanian speedster Allan Lewis from the minor leagues. After the season, the A’s sent pitcher Bob Locker to the Cubs for a black outfielder, Billy North, and dealt first baseman Mike Epstein to the Texas Rangers for a Mexican reliever, Horacio Pina.
During the ’73 campaign, Oakland purchased three accomplished Latino hitters (Rico Carty, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou) and promoted three other minorities (Manny Trillo, Jose Morales, and Tim Hosley) from the minor leagues. In 1974, the A’s recalled top prospect Claudell Washington from the Southern League, signed sprinter Herb Washington as the game’s first “designated runner,” and acquired pinch-hitter Jim Holt from the Twins. While Oakland’s controversial owner and general manager, Charlie Finley, had come under fire for various offenses during his reign in the Bay Area, critics would have been hard-pressed to knock his frequent acquisitions of black and Latino players during Oakland’s glory years of the early 1970s.
Although Cincinnati’s championship teams of ’75 and ’76 were not as heavily populated with minorities as the aforementioned A’s, the starting lineup of the “Big Red Machine” did contain six African Americans and Latinos. Infielders Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Dave Concepcion, and the entire starting outfield of George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, and Ken Griffey, Sr. comprised a large part of baseball’s best offense. In the months after the 1971 season, the Reds had acquired both Morgan and Geronimo in a trade that had seen them net three black players (Ed Armbrister being the other), while losing only one (Lee May). The Reds then promoted Griffey to the majors two years later. Only two white players, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, played on a regular basis during the 1975 and ’76 seasons. In ’76, the Reds’ pitching staff included the names of three Latinos: veteran Pedro Borbon and two newcomers, Santo Alcala and Manny Sarmiento.
In 1977, the Yankees moved to the top of the baseball world, and did so with black players like Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Roy White, Mickey Rivers, and Reggie Jackson in the starting lineup. Although White had come up with the Yankees in 1965, the other players had been acquired through trades and free agent signings since the 1971 season. The Yankees picked up Chambliss, Randolph, Rivers, and Dock Ellis in a series of excellent trades, while surrendering only one African American–Bobby Bonds–in return. Off the bench, post-1971 trade acquisitions like Cliff Johnson, Paul Blair, and Elrod Hendricks, along with recently promoted minor leaguer Dell Alston, performed creditably in the pinch. In 1977, the starting rotation featured a Latino, Ed Figueroa, and a Mexican-American, Mike Torrez (acquired in a trade for Dock Ellis), who combined for 30 victories.
In 1979, the Pirates won their second championship of the decade. Much like the ’71 team, the “We Are Family” Bucs did so with an intriguing mix of nationalities and colors. Willie Stargell, Rennie Stennett, and Bill Madlock comprised part of the infield’s makeup, while Lee Lacy, John Milner, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, and Panamanian Omar Moreno monopolized the playing time in the outfield. Manny Sanguillen, who had been traded and then re-acquired from Oakland, and another former Athletic, Matt Alexander, chipped in off the bench. Mexican right-hander Enrique Romo and African Americans Jim Bibby, Grant Jackson, and Dock Ellis (since returned to Pittsburgh) all contributed to the pitching staff. Except for Stargell and Stennett, all of the aforementioned players had been acquired or re-acquired in trades, or developed through the farm system since the 1971 World Series.
Although it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that the success of the integrated Pirates of ’71 directly influenced other successful teams of the seventies, it is quite possible that an indirect correlation existed. General managers in all sports, baseball included, have tended to adopt the following copycat philosophy: when they see other teams have success, they examine the reasons for that success and often incorporate similar blueprints for their own teams.
This much is certain: every World Championship team of the 1970s had at least one great star of minority descent, a player who not only excelled on the field but provided other black and Latino teammates with a leadership model, a point of reference. The A’s of the early seventies revolved around Reggie Jackson, the Reds of the mid-seventies leaned heavily on the talents and leadership of Joe Morgan, the Yankees of ’77 and ’78 also centered on Jackson’s presence, and the Pirates of ’79 fed off the ample influence of Willie Stargell. And let’s not forget Frank Robinson of the ’70 Orioles, and of course, Clemente with the ’71 Pirates. Black and Latino stars had not only made their marks in terms of sheer numbers, but also as full-fledged impact players on championship ballclubs.
Bruce Markusen is the author of the new book, The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, available from Westholme Publishing.