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 popped 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.