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. 


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