Today, MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the man who broke baseball's color barrier amid tough circumstances in 1947. Perhaps no other man had such a far-reaching effect on the game, and especially future players. But Robinson’s influential life stretched far beyond the game of baseball.
And while Robinson was the first, there were others who came closely behind. Men who endured insults, humiliation and ridicule as well as Robinson, but persevered so that other players previously denied the opportunity to play in the major leagues could enjoy that privilege.
There were few signs in 1947 that this “experiment” by Dodgers owner Branch Rickey would not be a success. So why did it take other teams so long to catch on?
After Robinson had played three complete seasons, just four of the 16 major league teams were integrated. When Robinson was a seven-year veteran, only half of the major league teams had followed the Dodgers’ lead.
Robinson retired after a 10-year career at the end of 1956, and the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox had yet to enlist a player of color at the major league level. It wasn’t until midseason 1959—12 years after Robinson’s debut, and more than two years after his retirement—that Pumpsie Green took the field for the Boston Red Sox, the last team to hold out.
Every April 15, MLB reminds us of some dark times in our nation’s history. But after the heroic stances by Robinson and others, the game—and our country—are much better.
How Each Team Integrated
Jackie Robinson—Brooklyn Dodgers, NL—April 15, 1947
The multi-sport star out of UCLA played first base and hit second for the Dodgers. In his debut, he scored the go-ahead run in the Brooklyn’s 5-3 win over the Boston Braves.
Larry Doby—Cleveland Indians, AL—July 5, 1947
The Hall of Famer struck out as a pinch-hitter at Chicago in his first appearance. Unlike, Robinson, Doby didn’t make a single start in the 29 games of his first season in 1947.
Hank Thompson—St. Louis Browns, AL—July 17, 1947;New York Giants, NL—July 8, 1949
Was 0-4 with an error at second base in his debut with St. Louis. Two years later, he became the first African-American to play for the Giants leading off in the same game that Monte Irvin pinch-hit.
Monte Irvin—New York Giants, NL—July 8, 1949
Drew a walk as a pinch-hitter in his first game, struck out as a pinch-hitter in his second game.
Sam Jethroe—Boston Braves, NL—April 18, 1950
Whiffed in his first at-bat, but later drove in the go-ahead run and homered in his debut, a game in which Hank Thompson of the Giants also went deep.
Minnie Minoso—Chicago White Sox, AL—May 1, 1951
The Cuban Comet made his debut with Cleveland in 1949 and was traded to the White Sox after eight games in 1951. He was 2-4 in each of his first two games with the Sox.
Bob Trice—Philadelphia Athletics, AL—September 13, 1953
Threw eight innings and didn’t walk anyone, but gave up five runs on eight hits including two homers in the loss to St. Louis. Don Larsen earned the win and took Trice deep in the eighth inning.
Ernie Banks—Chicago Cubs, NL—September 17, 1953
Mr. Cub went hitless and made an error in his debut, but drove in two runs in a win over the Cardinals in the next game. Soon became an all-time favorite in Chicago sports.
Curt Roberts—Pittsburgh Pirates, NL—April 13, 1954
The second baseman tripled off Robin Roberts in his first at-bat. Fluent in Spanish, he is credited with helping Roberto Clemente adjust to life in the majors.
Tom Alston—St. Louis Cardinals, NL—April 13, 1954
Thomas Edison Alston appeared in 66 games for St. Louis in 1954, but just 25 games total over the next three seasons. He was hitless in four trips in his debut.
Nino Escalera—Cincinnati Reds, NL—April 17, 1954
The Puerto Rican singled as a pinch-hitter one batter before Chuck Harmon was called on to bat for the pitcher.
Chuck Harmon—Cincinnati Reds, NL—April 17, 1954
Popped out to first in his debut, but played in 289 major league games, mostly at third base.
Carlos Paula—Washington Senators, AL—September 6, 1954
Struck out in his first at-bat, but doubled in a pair of runs his next time up.
Elston Howard—New York Yankees, AL—April 14, 1955
Howard entered the second game of the season in left field late in the game and singled home Mickey Mantle in his first at-bat. The 1963 AL MVP averaged .296-17-74 from 1958-64 and earned two Gold Gloves.
John Kennedy—Philadelphia Phillies, NL—April 22, 1957
Kennedy pinch-ran for Solly Hemus in his debut. The shortstop played in just five games in the majors, three of them as a pinch-runner.
Ozzie Virgil, Sr.—Detroit Tigers, AL—June 6, 1958
After debuting with the Giants in 1956, Virgil was traded to Detroit in January 1958. He was called up from the minors and was the regular third baseman for a couple of months. He hit safely in his first eight games with the Tigers.
Pumpsie Green—Boston Red Sox, AL—July 21, 1959
Pinch-ran for Vic Wertz in the eighth inning of his debut, finishing the game at shortstop. He had no chances in the field and was on deck when the game ended. He started at second the following day and essentially became the regular second baseman for the remainder of the season.