Monday, March 8, 2021

Barrier Breakers: 1958 Ozzie Virgil - Detroit Tigers


Ozzie Virgil Sr. was the first Dominican to play in the majors and the first black player on the Tigers.  But the Tigers were not his first team.  He played for the NY Giants in 1956 and 57.  A true utility player, he played every position in the majors except pitcher, first base and centerfield.  In addition to the Tigers and NY Giants, he played for the KC A's, Pirates, Orioles and the SF Giants.  His son, also named Ozzie Virgil, played portions of 11 seasons as a catcher in the majors. That included 2 all star seasons, one with the Phillies and one with the Braves.

Ozzie Sr. actually had Topps cards in 1957 and had a 1958 card too.  It had him airbrushed into a SF Giants cap even though he didn't make the move out west with the Giants.  He was traded to the Tigers in January of 1958. In all Ozzie Sr. appeared on 7 Topps cards (1957, 58, 59, 61, 62, 65 & 67).  He was "Ossie" on all but the 1959, 1962 and 1967 cards where he was "Ozzie". I'm not sure why Topps switched back and forth on his name, but I decided to keep him as "Ossie" on this fake card. It was his name on the 1958 airbrushed San Francisco card.

The Tigers were the second to last team to integrate.  The ownership of Walter Briggs and Walter Briggs Jr. from 1935-1956 steadfastly refused to hire black players.  Another name that keeps coming up is Bucky Harris.  In my last post, I mentioned him as the manager of the Senators who saw a "hitch in the swing" of Carlos Paula, their first black player.  He spent most of 1954 in the minors despite receiving rave reviews in spring training.  He went on to lead their farm team in Hits, Doubles and Triples before being called up in September.  When Harris left the club in 1955 Paula was a starter. Harris resurfaced in Detroit as manager in 1955-56, after being fired by the new ownership he became assistant GM for the Red Sox, the last team to integrate.

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