Black History Month: Saluting MLB Pioneers5 min read

Giving credit where credit is due

In celebration of Black History Month, PSA would like to honor and acknowledge those ballplayers who broke the color barrier for each of Major League Baseball’s first 16 teams – eight American League teams and eight National League clubs – prior to the league’s expansion in 1960. While we all know it started in 1947 with Jackie Robinson’s historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, there were plenty of other heroic players of color who helped solidify integration in the major leagues. These are those men. The PSA-graded cards shown below were selected to represent different junctures during their respective MLB careers. The average Auction Prices Realized (APR) for these cards, specific to their PSA grades, accompany each write-up.

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers (April 15, 1947)

A second baseman for much of his career, Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier by starting at first base for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He had played just one season in the Negro leagues, for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945, where he batted .387. Dodgers GM Branch Rickey then recruited Robinson to join the Dodgers International farm club, the Montreal Royals, where he played in 1946. Robinson was promoted to the show in ’47 and thus made history on Opening Day at Ebbets Field. He spent 10 seasons in Brooklyn, batted .311, was named ROY in 1947, NL MVP in ’49, and played in six World Series, finally helping “Dem Bums” win it all in 1955. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1972. The PSA NM-MT 8 example shown has an average APR of $12,479.78.

Larry Doby, Cleveland Indians (July 5, 1947)

Exactly 11 weeks after Robinson played his first game with Brooklyn, Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League with the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947. A seven-time A.L. All-Star, Doby twice led the league in home runs (1952 and ’54) and also won the RBI title in ’54 with 126. One of his most notable accomplishments was helping the Tribe win the World Series in 1948 by going 7-for-22 (.318) against the Boston Braves in the Fall Classic. He played 10 MLB seasons in Cleveland (13 overall) and posted a .283 batting average. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1998 via the Veteran’s Committee. The PSA MT 9 example shown above has an average APR of $10,000.

Hank Thompson, St. Louis Browns (July 17, 1947)

Hank Thompson is the only man in history to break the color barrier for two different major league teams. A left-handed hitter with power, he spent his four-year Negro league tenure playing at the hot corner for the Kansas City Monarchs. He first stepped onto a big-league diamond as the starting second sacker for the St. Louis Browns on July 17, 1947. Three days later, he started at second with teammate Willard Brown in center field to mark the first time two Black players appeared in the same MLB lineup. Amazingly, two years after that, he made history again with the New York Giants (see Monte Irvin blurb below). In his nine-year MLB career, Thompson hit .267 and cracked 129 home runs. The PSA NM-MT 8 example shown here has an average APR of $3,690.

Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin, New York Giants (July 8, 1949)

Monte Irvin, a left fielder and first baseman, was a Negro league legend who batted .354 over nine seasons for the Newark Eagles before getting a chance to play in the major leagues. Incredibly, on his momentous day of July 8, 1949, he teamed with starting second baseman Hank Thompson to help jointly integrate the New York Giants. Irvin’s appearance that day consisted of pinch-hitting in the eighth inning and drawing a walk. Irvin went on to play eight years in the Majors, hitting .293 and launching 99 homers, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. The PSA MT 9 example shown has an average APR of $8,274.

Minnie Minoso, Chicago White Sox (May 1, 1951)

Orestes “Minnie” Minoso played 17 seasons in the majors. His incredible career, however, actually spanned five decades as he played nine games for the Indians in 1949 and made a pair of plate appearances for the White Sox in 1980, at the age of 54! In between he made history for the Chisox by starting at third base against the Yankees in a 8-3 loss at home on May 1, 1951. Despite the defeat, he went 2-for-2 that day and knocked in a pair of runs. Primarily a left fielder, Minoso was a defensive standout who could also hit. He finished his MLB career with a .298 average, 186 home runs, and led the league in triples and stolen bases three times each. The PSA NM-MT 8 example shown has an average APR of $334.58.

Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs (Sept. 17, 1953)

Ernie Banks spent his entire 19-year MLB career playing for the Chicago Cubs and aptly earned the nickname “Mr. Cub” by virtue of his longevity and unbridled enthusiasm for the game. “Let’s Play Two” was his well-known mantra. He made history on Chicago’s North Side by starting at shortstop against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Sept. 17, 1953. Though slight of build, Banks could hit for power and smashed 512 home runs and won a pair of NL MVP Awards (1958 and ’59). Sadly, despite his best efforts, Banks ended his major league career with the Cubs without ever going to the postseason. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1977. The PSA MT 9 example shown has an average APR of $958.67.

For purposes of brevity, here are the other players who helped integrate Major League Baseball for the 10 remaining teams through 1959. Each of these men deserve recognition for their heroic efforts: Sam Jethroe, center fielder, Boston Braves (April 18, 1950); Bob Trice, pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics (Sept. 13, 1953); Tom Alston, first baseman, St, Louis Cardinals (April 13, 1954); Curt Roberts, second baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates (April 13, 1954); Chuck Harmon and Nino Escalera, utility players, Cincinnati Reds (April 17, 1954); Carlos Paula, outfielder, Washington Senators (Sept. 6, 1954); Elston Howard, catcher, New York Yankees (April 14,1955); John Kennedy, shortstop, Philadelphia Phillies (April 22, 1957); Ozzie Virgil, third baseman, Detroit Tigers (June 6, 1958); and Pumpsie Green, infielder, Boston Red Sox (July 21, 1959).

 

Posted by Terry Melia

Terry Melia is a hobby veteran who has served in various PR and marketing roles for industry movers and shakers including The Upper Deck Company and SCP Auctions and is currently working as PSA's Public Relations Specialist.

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