Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 18, 2013

Jackie was the first — but not the only one in 1947


Robinson was carefully selected for his pioneering role. Thompson and Brown were not — unless they were being set up to fail.

Thompson, 21 at the time, was an alcoholic with a history of arrests. Brown, who had been a legitimately great player in the Negro Leagues, was 32 and on the downside of his career — and he had a reputation among his Negro League peers for laziness.

Both men were released in August after playing less than two dozen games.

Thompson soon resurfaced in the majors with the New York Giants (he and Monte Irvin were that team’s first blacks), for whom he played in two World Series. Brown spent the rest of his playing days in the Negro Leagues.

Brown was the first black to homer in an American League game. The story goes that he did so with the bat of white teammate Jeff Heath, who promptly broke the bat against a wall.

That may not be as obvious a case of racial animosity as it sounds. Thompson years later said that Heath was one of the few Brownies who welcomed the two blacks to the club. Heath was, apparently, quite superstitious about his bats; he wasn’t so much upset that a black man had used the bat as that anybody had. The behavior still seems odd.

Brown was selected for the Hall of Fame in 2006 by the special Negro League Committee.

-- Dan Bankhead, Brooklyn Dodgers, debut Aug. 26.

Bankhead was the first black pitcher in the majors. He didn’t pitch much for the Dodgers in 1947 — just four games and 10 innings of relief work with an ERA of 7.20. He was on the World Series roster, but was merely used as a pinch runner.

He spent the 1948 and ’49 seasons in the minors (part of that time with the St. Paul Saints) and returned to the majors in 1950 and ’51, without notable success. He had a career ERA of 6.52.

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