The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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An MLB All-Star Team with Negro Leagues Heritage

February is Black History Month and therefore it is a good time to review some of the history of Major League Baseball involving significant African American contributions. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Negro Leagues.

 

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, he had previously played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.  He ushered into the majors other African American players whose careers started in the Negro Leagues.  Several of them became all-stars, winners of MVP and Cy Young Awards, and Hall of Famers.  They helped pave the way for many black players, managers, and coaches who followed in their footsteps.

 

The Negro Leagues experienced a significant decline after several of its stars in their prime years pursued careers in the majors beginning in 1948.  With a few exceptions, most of its legendary stars were past their prime and the dream of eventually playing in the majors had passed them by.  However, a younger group of black players seized the opportunity to leverage their talents and set out to prove themselves in the big leagues.

 

Here’s a mythical all-star team of major-leaguers whose careers began in the Negro Leagues.

 

First Base – Luke Easter played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948, winning the Negro League World Series in 1947.  He played in six seasons for the Cleveland Indians, beginning in 1949 at age 33.  His best season with the Indians was 1950 when he had a slash line of .280/.373/.487, with 28 HRs and 107 RBIs.  He finished second in the AL in home runs (31) in 1952.

 

Second Base -- Jackie Robinson played only one season with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 (.414/.460/.569) before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946.  He made his major-league debut in 1947, becoming the first Negro player in the modern era.  He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947 and won the NL MVP Award in 1949.  A six-time all-star, he helped the Dodgers get to the World Series six times between 1947 and 1956, winning in 1955.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  His Number 42 has been retired by every current major-league team.

 

Shortstop – Gene Baker played one season for the Kansas City Monarchs at age 23 in 1948 and then went straight into Organized Baseball at the Triple-a level in the Chicago Cubs organization.  He and Ernie Banks were the first black players for the Cubs in 1953.  He was a versatile infielder, holding down a full-time job with the Cubs from 1954-1956.  He finished his major-league career with Pittsburgh in 1962.  His slash line was .265/.321./.385 with 39 home runs and 227 RBIs.  Baker is the least well-known player on this mythical all-star team but was a trailblazer for blacks in other aspects of the game.  He eventually become the first black manager in Organized Baseball and the second black coach in the majors.

 

Third Base – Jim Gilliam began playing in the Negro Leagues at age 17 in 1946.  He played sparingly with the Baltimore Elite Giants for five years before being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.  After two impressive seasons with Triple-A Montreal, he got a promotion to the big leagues in 1953.  He was the National League Rookie of the Year and remained a regular with the Dodgers, contributing to seven World Series, until his retirement in 1966.  His slash line was .265/.360/.355.  He was an All-Star in 1956 and 1959 and finished in the Top 5 of the MVP voting in 1956.

 

Outfield – Monte Irvin was a celebrated multi-sport amateur player in New Jersey before signing with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues in 1938 at age 19.  He became one of the league’s stars leading Newark to a Negro League World Series title in 1946.  He signed with the New York Giants in 1949 when he was thirty years old; but by then segregation had robbed him of his prime years.  However, in his first full season in 1951 showed how good of a player he was, when he hit .312, 24 homers, and 121 RBIs.  He was with the Giants when they won the 1954 World Series.  He retired in 1957 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee in 1973.

 

Outfield – Larry Doby began his professional career as a shortstop with the Newark Eagles at age 18 in 1942.  He was a teammate of Monte Irvin’s in 1946 when they won the Negro League World Series.  He became the first black player in the American League in 1947, shortly after Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers.  He went on to become a seven-time All-Star as an outfielder.  He led the America League with 32 HRs and 126 RBI in 1954, when he finished second in the MVP voting and helped the Cleveland Indians to the AL pennant.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veterans Committee.

 

Outfield – Willie Mays played the 1948 season with the Birmingham Black Barons before signing with the New York Giants organization in 1950.  After hitting .477 in 35 games with Minneapolis in 1951, he earned a promotion to the Giants, with whom he hit 20 home runs and captured National League Rookie of the Year honors.  He went on to log 22 major-league seasons that included a slash line of .302./.384/.557 to go along with 660 home runs and 1,903 RBIs.  He was a two-time NL MVP and a 20-time All-Star.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

 

Catcher – Roy Campanella first played in the Negro Leagues at age 15 with the Washington Elite Giants in 1937.  In 1946, the same year Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers, Campanella was also signed by them, but played at the Class B level.  He made his major-league debut in 1948 and established himself as one of the best catchers in the 1950s.  He was a three-time NL MVP before retiring in 1957.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

 

Starting Pitcher – Don Newcombe played for the Newark Eagles in 1944 and 1945 before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a 20-year old in 1946, when he was a teammate of Roy Campanella.  Newcombe won 52 games in the minors before being promoted to the big-league Dodgers in 1949.  He won 17 games on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year.  He was a 20-game winner in 1955, and in 1956 he won both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, when he finished with a 27-7 record and 3.06 ERA.  He was the third black pitcher in the majors behind Dan Bankhead and Satchel Paige.

 

Relief Pitcher – Satchel Paige was a rare Negro League player who made his major-league debut well after his prime playing days.  He had played 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues when he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at age 41.  Remarkably he still managed to play five seasons as a reliever with the Indians and St. Louis Browns, including two All-Star seasons at age 45 and 46.  He was 58 years old when he pitched for the Kansas City A’s in a promotional stunt.  Paige was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Negro League Committee.

 

Utility – Minnie Minoso was a Cuban-born player who played for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues in 1946-1948.  He made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and later became the first black player for the Chicago White Sox in 1951, when he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year.  He was a seven-time All-Star and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting in four seasons.  He played all the outfield positions as well as third base during his career.  Minoso made two pinch-hit appearances as a 54-year-old for the Chicago White Sox in 1980.  In 2003 as a 78-year-old, he made a batting appearance for the independent St. Paul Saints.

 

Manager – Larry Doby has two spots on this mythical all-star team.  In addition to his Hall of Fame playing career, he managed the Chicago White Sox for part of the 1978 season. He took over for Bob Lemon after 74 games, and the team finished 37-50 under him.  Doby was the second black manager in the majors (not in an interim status), following Frank Robinson with the Cleveland Indians in 1975-1977.

 

Coach – Elston Howard was an all-star major-leaguer before becoming a coach for the New York Yankees.  He began his professional playing career with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1948 as a 19-year-old, before signing with the Yankees organization in 1950.  When he made his major-league debut in 1955, he was the first black player for the Yankees.  He was an American League All-Star for nine seasons and league MVP in 1963.  He served as a coach for the Yankees from 1969 to 1979 and was the first black coach in the American League.

 

Coach – Buck O’Neil was the first black coach in majors with the Chicago Cubs in 1962.  He had a long career in the Negro League from 1937 to 1950, primarily with the Kansas City Monarchs.  He later served as manager of the Monarchs.  By the time baseball was being integrated, he was well past his prime to play Organized Baseball.

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