Monday, March 1, 2021

Barrier Breakers: 1959 Pumpsie Green - Boston Red Sox


Twelve years, three months and six days after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers, the Red Sox begrudgingly became the last MLB team to integrate.  Only under the ongoing investigation and charges of violating Massachusetts's Fair Employment Law, did the Sox relent. Pinky Higgins the Red Sox manager was quoted as saying "There’ll be no n* on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it.”  He was replaced by Billy Jurges exactly 2 weeks before Green was called up.

Enough about Yawkey's  Red Sox and what was referred to at the time as "Aryan Acres" and more about Pumpsie Green.  He platooned as a middle infielder his whole  career.  He batted an adequate .246. He played pro ball from 1951-1965.  But his MLB career was just from 1959-1963.  He was named to Topps Rookie All-Star team in 1959. He appeared on Topps cards from 1960-1964.

I have chosen to depict him on a 1959 Rookie Stars card.  In 2008 Topps gave him a 1959 style insert as part of that season's Heritage issue.  Although his career stats don't bear it out, his accomplishments and sacrifices has endeared him to fans everywhere.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Barrier Breakers: 1954 Nino Escalera - Cincinnati Redlegs

The Reds (or Redlegs as they were called at the time) were the second to last NL team to integrate.  On April 17, 1954 they debuted two black players.  Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon,  Nino pinch hit to lead off the 7th inning with a single.  The very next batter was Chuck Harmon, also pinch hitting.  He pooped out. 

Nino hit a meager .159 in 1954 then returned to the minors until retiring in 1962.  The player that was one at-bat later, and the second black player on the Reds, hit a mildly better .238. Chuck Harmon would play for the Redlegs, Cardinals and Phillies until 1957.  He never rose above a utility player but did have a somewhat better career than Escalera.  He also had Topps cards in 1954, 55, 56, 57 and 58. Nino never had a card.
Allegedly, it was manager Rogers Hornsby that didn't want black players on the team.  The Hall of Famer managed the Reds in 1952 and 53. I understand that Hornsby's views were not far from the norm of that era. But by 1952, he hadn't managed a team above a 6th place finish in 20 years.  I had always felt the front office in Cincinnati was cowardly for believing that keeping Reds moniker would somehow confuse people into thinking they communist sympathizers.  My opinion of that era's management is even lower for allowing their manager's racial bias cloud his decision making.

On a more positive note,  by 1956, Cincinnati had more African American players than any other Major League team with 8. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Barrier Breakers: 1954 Curt Roberts - Pittsburgh Pirates


Curt Roberts played professional ball from 1947-1963.  He began as a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was signed by the Braves in 1951. In 1952 he was signed by the Pirates General manager Branch Rickey. He was promoted to the Big Leagues at the beginning of the 1954 season and became their everyday second baseman and the first African American on the Bucs.  After struggling in 1955 he was sent down to the minors. He reclaimed his job in 1956 only to lose it to future Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski.

In June of '56 he was traded to the A's as part of a three-player deal. Prior to the 1957 season he was dealt again to the Yankees as part of an eleven player swap. In all he played minor league ball for six different franchises; Braves, Pirates, A's, Yankees, Dodgers and White Sox, but he never made it back to the Majors after the 1956 season.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Barrier Breakers: John Kennedy, Philadelphia Phillies

It's been a while since I posted to this series.  The truth is I was hoping to find a better photo to use.  As it is, I colorized this black and white photo of John Kennedy and superimposed him into Connie Mack Stadium. I'm not really happy with the final product but at some point I need to quit tinkering and move on.

Although John Kennedy broke the color barrier with the Phillies, his career was brief.  He played in just five MLB games. Three times he came in as a pinch runner, twice as a defensive replacement late in the game.  In all he had just two plate appearances. He struck out and grounded out. The first black player to register a base hit with the Phillies was Tony Curry in 1960.  

It is odd that the Phillies were so late to integrate.  It may have been quite a bit different.  I had posted earlier about Bill Veeck who claimed in his 1961 autobiography that he tried to buy the Phillies in 1943.  He claimed his plan was to populate the team with top negro league players. Click Here to see that old post.

Because his career with the Phillies was so short, it was difficult to find a suitable photo. If anybody can find a better photo, I'd love to have a do-over.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Hammer


Today marks another passing of a legend.  Sometimes an over-used term, but not in this case.  Hank Aaron was a hero of my youth.  Unlike some other heroes, I never later learned of a dark side.  My opinion was not tainted over the years.  He was as great off the field as on.

I happen to be tinkering with another project, and had he makings of this card ready.  My project is how Topps got their All-Star cards wrong.  We've all noticed how Topps All-Stars didn't match the actual All-Stars or even The Sporting News All-Stars. So I'm working on correcting that.  In 1969, Hank Aaron was named a Sporting News All-Star, and was a starting outfielder in the 1969 All Star Game.  But Topps left him out of the subset.

I wanted to include this actual card here as well.  I started collecting in 1974 and this card contained two if my favorite players.  Great pictures, too.  It is a shame that they both recently passed.  

I've made countless Cards That Never Were of Hank Aaron.  Here are as many as I can remember at this time.  I'm sure that I'm leaving out a few.