The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Black History Month: Former Algiers resident Herb Simpson a Black forerunner in minor leagues

Even though Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major-league baseball in 1947, some minor leagues in Organized Baseball were still being integrated for the first time in the early 1950s. New Orleans area native Herb “Briefcase” Simpson, a Black baseball player born in Harahan and raised in Algiers, was acclaimed as one of the pioneers in the integration of minor-league baseball.


Simpson began playing baseball for local Black semi-pro teams in the area before joining the Army during World War II.


After returning from military service, he played with several Black all-star barnstorming teams, including the Harlem Globetrotters baseball team owned by Abe Saperstein, who is also known for his Globetrotter basketball team. One of the other teams was the popular Seattle Steelheads, which Saperstein had owned.


After a year with the Chicago American Giants in the Negro Leagues in 1950, Simpson went into the minors. Negro Leagues historian Ryan Whirty said in a 2015 interview with WWL.com that “Simpson became the first Black player to integrate two different minor-league circuits” while playing for the Spokane Indians (Class A Western International League) and the Albuquerque Dukes (Class C West Texas-New Mexico League).


With Spokane in 1951 he batted .282. He got a call by the Dukes in 1952 to replace a first baseman who had broken an ankle. In three seasons with Albuquerque, he compiled batting average of .324 from 1952 through 1954. Simpson told the Times-Picayune in 2010 that he had to endure the evils of segregation, often eating at separate tables and securing separate lodging from the rest of the team. But he said he was always backed by his teammates who, once they got to know him, “started liking me just like everyone else.”


It was in the minors that he acquired his nickname “Briefcase.” A sportswriter once asked him if he was related to Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, another prominent Negro League player and later a major-leaguer. There was no relation, but because Herb was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, the sportswriter dubbed him Herb “Briefcase” Simpson.


After leaving the minors in 1954, he played for the local New Orleans Creoles and the New Orleans Black Pelicans until retiring in 1963.


Simpson was one of the players featured in the 2008 book When Baseball Went to War. His biography indicated that after infantry training in Wyoming and Oklahoma, he was assigned to a quartermaster corps and sent to England as part of the Allied buildup of troops prior to the Normandy landing. While waiting for the invasion, he joined an all-white team that played in what was called the “battle leagues.”


The Seattle Mariners recognized Simpson on numerous occasions when the club celebrated Black baseball heritage at home games.


After his playing days, he lived in Algiers and remained involved with many civic, religious, and charitable organizations. Whirty said, “Herb played for the love of the game, and he enjoyed every minute of it, just like he enjoyed every minute of his life.” He added, “Herb wasn’t just a great baseball player and a sports trailblazer, but he was also a gracious, humble man who served his community and became a local ambassador for the fading memories of the Negro Leagues.”


Simpson died in 2015 at age 94.

 

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