The impact of Black athletes across the history of sports is an undeniable one, but also one that has not always been accomplished on equal footing. Of the many highs that have been accomplished, there have been just as many –if not more— that have also had to overcome the rules of the times they were accomplished in. This is a look back at many significant firsts, highlights, and noteworthy moments accomplished by Black athletes across the sporting spectrum, as well as the conditions that secured their significance.

 

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1884: First African-American MLB player (all-time): Moses Fleetwood Walker

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Technically, William Edward White was the first Black man to play professional baseball in 1879, but he did so while passing as white. However, it was Walker who did so outright as an African-American, playing catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884. He faced the intense racial scrutiny of the time and lasted only one season, becoming the last African-American to appear in the MLB for 63 years.

 

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1889: First Black Professional Soccer Player: Arthur Wharton

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Born in Jamestown of the Gold Coast (in modern-day Ghana), Wharton became the first Black professional soccer player in the English Professional League. Wharton was a goalie and occasional winger, who made 54 overall appearances across four professional seasons. In 2003, he was elected to the English Football Hall of Fame as a pioneer.

 

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1908: First Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion: Jack Johnson

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At the peak of the Jim Crow era in America, Johnson emerged as one of the nation’s biggest stars. In 1908, the Galveston, Texas, native beat Tommy Burns to claim the lineal world heavyweight title, via a stoppage in the 14 th round, to become the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, a title he would carry for the next eight years.

 

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1908: First Black Olympic Gold Medalist: John Taylor

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Although George Poage was the first African-American Olympian, when he captured two bronze medals in St. Louis four years prior, it was Taylor in 1908 who first reached the top of the podium. Hailing from Washington D.C. and the son of two former slaves, Taylor captured the gold running the third leg of the medley relays, covering 400 meters. In the same year, he would complete his degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

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1916: First Black Woman to Win a Major Sports Title: Lucy Diggs Stowe

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In 1917, while a student at Howard University, Diggs Slowe accomplished what would go on to become a milestone in both African-American and female sports as a whole. In winning the American Tennis Association’s first tournament, she became the first African-American woman to win a major sports title. Diggs Slowe is also notable in Black history for being one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the oldest African-American sorority in American history.

 

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1920: First Black Pro Football players: Fitz Pollard & Bobby Marshall

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Pollard had a habit of making history throughout the early days of his career. In college, he became both the first African-American football player at Brown and the first to be named to the Walter Camp All-American team. In 1920, along with Bobby Marshall, he became one of the first two African-Americans in the NFL. In his second season, Pollard led the Akron Pros to their first championship and the following season was named their co-head coach, becoming the first African-American coach in pro sports history and was still an active player.

 

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1929: First Black Sportscaster: Sherman “Jocko” Maxwell

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Known mainly by his nickname, ‘Jocko’, Maxwell is widely believed to be the first Black sportscaster in history. He began as a 22-year-old at WNJR in New Jersey and throughout the 1930s interviewed many of the biggest stars in sports. He also was the public address announcer for the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles and would go on to become a prominent scholar on Black baseball. Despite his many accomplishments, there were many times when Maxwell was not paid for his work by white broadcast outlets.

 

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One of the great trailblazers in American history, Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, broke the long-standing color barrier in professional baseball. While his presence in the game changed everything about American sports permanently, his impact within it produced an additional string of substantial firsts as well. He would become baseball’s inaugural winner of the Rookie of the Year award, the first black All-Star, and MVP in 1949, and later, the first Black Hall of Fame inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

 

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1947: First Black College Basketball All-American: Don Barksdale

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Barksdale was no stranger to knocking down barriers in basketball. In 1947, during his only season at UCLA, he became the first African-American named to a college basketball All-American team. The following year, he became the first Black player to compete as an Olympian for the United States in basketball, going undefeated in the process. In his second NBA season with the Baltimore Bullets, Barksdale became the first African-American All-Star selection.

 

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1948: First Female Black Olympian: Alice Coachman

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Coachman was a dominant amateur competitor, winning 10 consecutive national championships in the high jump from 1939 to 1948. She also captured national championships in the 50- and 100-meter dash, along with the 400-meter relay while a student at the Tuskegee Institute. At the 1948 Olympic Games, she captured the gold in the high jump and became the only American woman to medal at the games. It was an overdue honor, as the cancellations of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to World War II caused her to miss the chance at both international competition and a much larger place in history.

 

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1950: First African-American NBA players

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The integration of professional basketball was simultaneously accomplished by three individuals. In the 1950 NBA Draft, Chuck Cooper, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, and Earl Lloyd were all selected and broke into the league in different capacities. Cooper was the first African-American player drafted, going as the first pick in the second round. Due to the season’s schedule, Lloyd was the first to play in a game for the Washington Capitals, while Clifton was the first to sign a contract that season.

 

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1950: First Black Female Tennis Player: Althea Gibson

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Gibson was one of the first women to cross the color barrier in professional sports and became the first Black woman to win a Grand Slam title in tennis when she was victorious in the 1956 French Open. Gibson was also the first Black woman to be ranked #1 in the world in 1957. She would go on to capture a title at each of the Grand Slam tournaments for a total of 11 Grand Slam championships overall. She also competed on the LPGA Tour in 1964, becoming the first woman ever to compete professionally in both tennis and golf.

 

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1956: First Cy Young Award Winner: Don Newcombe

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On the heels of a 27 win season that also saw him named National League MVP, Newcombe became the inaugural winner of the award that has become synonymous with pitching excellence. He would become the first (and one of only two) pitchers to win Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year honors in his career. Seven years earlier, he became the first African-American starting pitcher in a World Series game.

 

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1958: First African-American NHL player: Willie O’Ree

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While Art Dorrington was the first black player to sign an NHL contract in 1950, it was O’Ree who first made it to the ice. On Jan. 18, 1958, O’Ree debuted for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first Black player in the league’s history. In his career, O’Ree would play 22 years between the NHL and minors.

 

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1960: First Black Female To Win Multiple Medals: Wilma Rudolph

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At the 1960 Olympic Games, Rudolph became the first woman to capture multiple medals. She individually captured the gold in both the 100 and 200-meter dash and added a third gold as a member of the 4 x 100 relay team. Counting the 1956 Games, Rudolph captured four medals overall and retired as the world record holder in all three of her Gold medal events.

 

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1961: First Black Heisman Trophy Winner: Ernie Davis

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It took 26 years for an African-American to lay claim to a Heisman Trophy, and it was Davis who did so. Following in the footsteps of the great Jim Brown, Davis was twice selected as a consensus All-American, running for a total of 2,386 yards and 20 touchdowns. Davis was selected first in the 1962 NFL Draft and fourth overall in the 1962 AFL draft but was diagnosed with leukemia before playing and died a year later.

 

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1961: First Black PGA Player: Charlie Sifford

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During the segregation era of golf, Sifford won the National Negro Open four consecutive times during the 1950s. Sifford fought his way ahead into a full-fledged PGA competition, including a victory at the 1957 Long Beach Open versus PGA Tour competition. In 1961, he finally joined the PGA Tour and six years later captured the 1967 Greater Hartford Open, becoming the first African-American victor in PGA history.

 

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1963: First Black Driver to win NASCAR event: Wendell Scott

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After competing in local circuits in the Virginia area, Scott gained his NASCAR license in 1953, becoming the first black racer to compete within the promotion. He debuted on the Grand National Series level in 1961 and in 1964 won the Jacksonville 200, becoming the first African-American to win at NASCAR’s highest level. He led the race for 27 laps but still had to protest for his win, as the checkered flag was not initially raised to recognize his victory.

 

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1966: First Black Umpire: Emmett Ashford

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Inspired by the journey of Jackie Robinson to the Majors, Ashford embarked on a lengthy climb towards the Major Leagues by umpiring throughout the minors for over a decade in the 1950s. In 1966, he finally was called up to the Majors, where his charismatic style behind the plate made him a hit with fans. In 1967, he became the first Black umpire to work an All-Star Game and in 1970 he earned the same distinction in the World Series, appearing in all five games.

 

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1966: First Professional Black Head Coach: Bill Russell

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Russell didn’t limit his dominance to just his on-court exploits with the Boston Celtics (where he was the league’s first Black MVP in 1958). In 1966, he became the first African-American head coach of a major professional sports team in the modern era, when he became the team’s player/manager. Two years later, he became the first Black man to coach his team to a championship.

 

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1967: First Black World Series MVP: Bob Gibson

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During the 1967 World Series, Gibson pitched Games 1, 4, and 7 for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox. He was utterly dominant along the way, allowing only three runs over 14 hits across three complete-game victories. He ran up a total of 26 strikeouts against only five walks, threw a shutout in Game 4, and even hit a home run in Game 7. All after rallying from a mid-season broken leg from a ball hit off of him in July.

 

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1968: First Black Tennis Grand Slam Winner: Arthur Ashe

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In 1968, Ashe was the first African-American male to become the world’s top ranked tennis player. In the same year, he became the first African-American man to win a Grand Slam singles title at the U.S. Open. He would later gain the same distinction at the Australian Open (1975) and Wimbledon (1975). He remains the only African-American male to hold these distinctions.

 

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1968: First Black Quarterback (Modern era): Marlin Briscoe

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While the Black quarterback has finally gained some level of deserved normalcy and prominence in the game, Briscoe was decades ahead of his time. In 1968, he became the first black player in modern football history to start at quarterback, when he did so for the Denver Broncos of the AFL. Briscoe threw 14 touchdowns over five starts on the season and added an additional three scores on the ground. Despite his early success, the ’68 season marked his only as a professional QB before being moved to wide receiver.

 

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1970: First NBA MVP Sweep: Willis Reed

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In route to leading the New York Knicks to the first of two consecutive NBA Championships, Reed became the first player in league history to win three MVPs in one season. He won All-Star Game MVP with 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Eastern Conference. He then won regular season MVP after averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds per game and leading the Knicks on an 18-game win streak. Finally, he capped the year with NBA Finals MVP after twice topping 35 points and heroically rallying from a severe thigh injury to finish the series.

 

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1972: First Black General Manager: Wayne Embry

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After completing an 11-year, Hall of Fame career in the 1960s, Embry turned his attention towards executive leadership. He played a major role in bringing Oscar Robertson to Milwaukee to team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which resulted in a title for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971. Subsequentially, he promoted to General Manager the next season, making him the first African-American to hold the position in pro sports. He later became the first Black team president and COO with the Toronto Raptors.

 

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1975: First Black MLB Manager: Frank Robinson

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Although Buck O’Neill became the first black coach in MLB history in 1962 with the Chicago Cubs, Robinson took it a step further. After a ground-breaking career where he became the first player to be named MVP in both the National and American Leagues, Robinson set his dogged determination on making additional history in the dugout. In 1975 he became the first African-American manager in MLB history when he took over the helm for the Cleveland Indians.

 

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1984: Black Stanley Cup Champion: Grant Fuhr

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A superstar goalie for the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s, Fuhr is responsible for a number of notable firsts for blacks in the NHL. Most notably, he became the first Black player to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup in 1984, the first of five times he would win sport’s greatest trophy. Fuhr is also the first Black goalie in NHL history, the first black recipient of both the Vezina and Jennings Trophies for excellence in the net, and first the black inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

 

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1989: First Black NFL Head Coach: Art Shell

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When the Los Angeles Raiders named Shell as their head coach in 1989, he became the first African-American to hold the role in the modern NFL. He was preceded only by Fritz Pollard, who was co-head coach of the Akron Pros in 1921. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection as a player and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Shell was named AFC Coach of the Year in 1990 when he guided the Raiders to a 12-4 record and the AFC West championship.

 

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1992: First Black Manager to win World Series: Cito Gaston

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In 1992 Gaston guided the Toronto Blue Jays to the first of two consecutive World Series championships. In the process, he became the first African-American manager to ever win a World Series. Between two terms of managing the Blue Jays between 1989 to 1997 and again from 2008 to 2020, Gaston won 894 games. Gaston has the rare distinction of winning the World Series in every season he reached the postseason in his career.

 

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1997: First Black Golf Major Champion: Tiger Woods

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Years after the contributions of Charlie Sitton and Lee Elder, it was a 21-year-old Woods who finally reached the mountaintop for Black golfers. Woods dominated the field at 1997 Masters, shooting -18 under par for the tournament and winning by a margin of 12 strokes, both setting all-time records. In the process, Woods’ first Major title was the first by a Black golfer in the 63-year history of the tournament and 81-year history of the PGA. It also helped to propel Woods to become the first –and only— Black golfer to ever be ranked #1 in the world shortly thereafter.

 

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1997: First Black UFC Champion: Maurice Smith

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Already a world champion kickboxer for multiple international federations, Smith made his way to the young Ultimate Fighting Championship promotion in 1997. At UFC 14, Smith surprisingly defeated heavyweight championship Mark Coleman via unanimous decision to claim the division title. In the process, Smith because the first striker to ever defeat a wrestler of Coleman’s stature in the UFC, further expanding the possibilities of the style clashing –yet blending— combat style MMA has developed into.

 

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2002: First Black Owner: Robert Johnson

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Although there have been many great Black executives and owners in sports history, such as Rube Foster and Effa Manley, it was Johnson who made a massive leap forward in the big-money era of professional sports. The founder of BET and first Black billionaire, Johnson bid for and was awarded rights to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. He was over the team for eight years as majority owner, before selling to Michael Jordan –the second majority-black owner in NBA history— in 2010.

 

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2002: First Black Winter Olympics Medalist: Vonetta Flowers

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While African-American athletes have long made their marks on the summer games, the Winter Olympics have been slower to see such crossover impact. Flowers carved out her own place in history after transitioning from the world of track and field to bobsledding. Along with Jill Bracken, she captured gold in the two-woman bobsled event in 2002, becoming the first African-American to ever win gold at the Winter Games.

 

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In February of 2002, Williams ascended to #1 in the Women’s Tennis Association, making her the first African-American woman to do so in the Open era (since 1968). Eight years later, along with her sister Serena, she became a part of the first Black Doubles pairing to reach #1 in the world. The duo has won 14 Grand Slam Women’s doubles titles and remains undefeated in Grand Slam finals together.

 

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2003: First Black Tennis player to hold all Grand Slam titles: Serena Williams

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Following her victory in the 2003 Australian Open, Williams held all four Grand Slam titles in women’s tennis – not only in history but also simultaneously. The feat was dubbed the ‘Serena Slam’ and it also completed her rounding out the feat. She defeated her older sister Venus to claim the title, but also teamed up with her to win the women’s doubles championship at the same tournament. To date, Williams’ 23 career individual Grand Slam titles are the most in history in the Open Era.

 

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When Hamilton signed with McLaren in 2007, he became the first black driver in the 57-year history of the Formula One. He quickly embarked on what would become a record-shattering career, capturing his first pole position and victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in the sixth F1 race, and hasn’t slowed from there. To date, Hamilton has won 7 Formula One Championships and 95 races in his career, both all-time records.

 

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2012: First Black All-Around Gymnastics Champion: Gabby Douglas

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At the 2012 Olympics in London, Douglas became the first African-American to be crowned Individual All-Around Champion in the gymnastics competition. In addition to her individual gold, she also captured the team gold as well as a member of the popular “Fierce Five” women’s team. This made her the first American in history to conquer both competitions in a single Olympics.

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The plight of the African-American experience in America has been tightly intertwined with and displayed through the lens of the national pastime. Whether it be the fight to break through the ranks or continuing to raise the profile of both heroes and the game itself, it is impossible to tell the tale of Major League Baseball without including the story of its exclusion of African-Americans along the way.

Black History Month is upon us, and with spring training primed to get started later in the month, it is the perfect time to take a look back at the rich history of the intersection of the sport and the culture. The story of blacks in baseball is a triumphant one that remains relevant and unforgettable to this day.

 

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Moses ‘Fleetwood’ Walker: The first black player in baseball history

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Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947, but Moses “Fleetwood” Walker, who played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, was the first African-American professional baseball player. In fact, Walker and his brother, Weldy, were the impetus for the color line to be drawn in 1884, which Robinson then broke in ’47.

 

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1947: Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier

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The most egregious case of collusion in the history of sports was Major League Baseball’s “gentlemen’s agreement” among owners to exclude players of African descent from the game. Although some lighter-skinned Hispanic and Pacific Islander players could pass into the game during the early 1900s, the hard-line drawn against African-Americans stood firm and was staunchly upheld by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis throughout his 23-year reign over the game. In the second year of his successor, Happy Chandler’s, tenure though, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Negro Leaguer and former UCLA star Jackie Robinson to a contract. The following spring, on April 15, Robinson made an indelible mark in history when he suited up in an MLB game and changed the course of everything that would follow.

 

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1947: Larry Doby integrates the American League

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Robinson was not on his own for long. The Cleveland Indians followed suit by becoming the first AL team to integrate its ranks when they signed outfielder Larry Doby. The Indians were owned by Bill Veeck, who pushed for integration as early as 1942 but was blocked by Landis. On July 3, Veeck purchased Doby’s rights from the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League, and two days later he made his MLB debut. Doby would go on to become the first African-American player to lead a league in home runs when he connected for 32 in 1952, in addition to becoming a seven-time All-Star.

 

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1948: Satchel finally makes his way to the majors

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Leroy “Satchel” Paige was the greatest pitcher the Negro Leagues ever saw and is regarded as perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, regardless of league. The stories of his feats on the mound are legendary, but due to the color barrier, Paige’s best form never graced an MLB mound. However, the ageless wonder did finally get the chance to suit up in the majors in 1948 when he had his “rookie” year for the Cleveland Indians — at 41 years old. Over six seasons spent mostly as a reliever, he converted 33 saves and held a 3.29 ERA before playing his final game at age 58 in 1965.

 

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1949: First black pitcher and batter face off

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1949 became the first time that a black pitcher faced a black batter in a major league game. Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers faced off against Hank Thompson of the New York Giants on July 8. Thompson hit leadoff for the Giants, and Newcombe recorded the out by inducing a pop-up to third base.

 

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1951: Monte Irvin’s star carries over

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Irvin was one of the final stars of the final years of the Negro Leagues, and his star turn continued into the majors as well. Irvin finished third in MVP voting in 1951, leading the NL with 121 RBIs. He made his All-Star debut the following year before guiding the New York Giants to the 1954 World Series title alongside outfield mate and fellow Negro League alumnus Willie Mays.

 

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1954: “The Catch”

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Speaking of Mays and the 1954 World Series, Game 1 was host to one of the most — if not the most — iconic plays in baseball history. In the eighth inning with two runners on, on a dead sprint chasing a deep drive by the Indians’ Vic Wertz, Mays made a seemingly impossible grab with his back turned to the infield. In the process, he not only robbed Wertz of a hit that would have pulled Cleveland ahead, but he also unleashed a laser-fast throw back into the infield that froze the runners on base. It was an incredibly comprehensive display of the amazing athleticism that keeps Mays on the shortlist of greatest defenders of all time.

 

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1955: Campanella wins his third MVP

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A year after Jackie Robinson broke into the majors, a second future Hall of Famer joined him in Brooklyn. Roy Campanella was regarded as one of the finest catchers ever, as his three NL MVP Awards in the 1950s pay credit to. “Campy” picked up the honor in 1951 (making him the first black MVP winner), 1953, and 1955. He led the Dodgers to the 1955 World Series title and made eight straight All-Star appearances starting in 1949. He also became one of the first African-American athletes to appear in a national advertising campaign, which he did for Gillette shaving razors.

 

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1956: The first Cy Young winner

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The Dodgers boasted many of the great African-American talents in the early days of integration, and their ace Don Newcombe stood head and shoulders above many pitchers of the time. In 1956, Newcombe won the inaugural Cy Young Award when he led baseball with 27 wins on the season. He had already become the first black pitcher to reach 20 victories in a year when he did so in 1951.

 

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1959: MVP (times two) for Mr. Cub

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While his sunny disposition amid some perennially tough times has become legendary, Ernie Banks was better known in his time for his potent bat. After winning the 1958 NL MVP, Banks followed up with an encore MVP season a year later. In the process, he became the first black player to win consecutive MVP honors. Over the course of the two-year run, the legendary shortstop totaled a .308 average, .605 slugging percentage, 92 home runs, and 272 RBI.

 

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1959: Integration is finally complete

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Unwilling to fall behind the increased talent of integrated rosters, many MLB teams quickly adopted African-American players throughout the 1950s. However, there were a handful of teams that were still slow to integrate. The Detroit Tigers became the final American League team to integrate when Ozzie Virgil Jr. joined the club in June 1958. When Pumpsie Green suited up for the Boston Red Sox in July 1959, every MLB team had finally boasted an African-American player from its ranks — over 12 years after Robinson’s debut.

 

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1962: The first black player is the first black Hall of Famer

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While Robinson’s most noted career event was breaking the color barrier, his place in history was affirmed by far more than just being the first to have his name written on a lineup card. Robinson was named baseball’s first Rookie of the Year recipient and stolen base leader in 1947. He became the league’s first African-American MVP and batting champion in 1949. Along with Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, and Larry Doby, he was among the first four black MLB All-Star selections in 1949 and the first black player to appear in a World Series, which he did in six of his 10 seasons. For all of this and more, Robinson appropriately became the first African-American to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

 

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1962: Buck becomes the first black coach

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While he would go on to greater fame a few decades later when he provided a stunning oral history of Negro League baseball for Ken Burns’ famous documentary on the sport, Buck O’Neil made a notable impact of his own on MLB as well. In 1962, he became the first African-American coach in the league’s history when he joined the staff of the Chicago Cubs.

 

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1966: The first black umpire

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After a career that spanned several professional leagues along the way, including the Southwestern League when in 1951 he became the first African-American to umpire a predominantly white league, Emmett Ashford got the call to the big show. On April 12, 1966, Ashford became the first black MLB umpire and quickly became one of the most respected — and eccentric — umps of all time.

 

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1966: The first (and only) black Triple Crown

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Freshly jettisoned from Cincinnati, where he hit 324 home runs and was named 1961 MVP for the Reds, Frank Robinson put on a show in his first year with the Baltimore Orioles. His .316 batting average, 49 home runs, and 122 RBIs made him the first African-American hitter to complete the Triple Crown. His effort also helped push the Orioles to a World Series sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

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1968: Gibson dominates the summer of ’68

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There are few seasons that compare to the one Bob Gibson had in 1968 for the St. Louis Cardinals. The intimidating hurler posted a 1.12 ERA en route to winning the National League MVP and Cy Young. It was the lowest ERA for a starting pitcher since Dutch Leonard’s 0.96 54 years earlier and remains by far the best mark of the “live ball” era, which began in 1920. Gibson also set a World Series record with 17 strikeouts in Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers the same year.

 

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1969: Flood fights for freedom

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Although he was one of the most brilliant center fielders of his time, as his seven Gold Glove Awards attest, Curt Flood made his most enduring impact off the field. Along with labor lawyer Marvin Miller, Flood’s refusal to accept a trade following the 1969 season set into motion the repeal of the game’s reserve clause, which eventually ushered free agency and the 10/5 veteran trade restriction rule into play. While the outcome resulted in Flood being blackballed from the game after 1971, he changed the course of baseball in a major way.

 

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1971: A black diamond in Pittsburgh

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Just a few years after integration, the Dodgers got close to fielding a completely black team when in 1954 in a game against the Boston Braves, five of their starting nine were African-Americans. The Pirates rounded out the diamond in 1971. When Al Oliver, Rennie Stennett, Jackie Hernandez, Dave Cash, Manny Sanguillen, Gene Clines, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Dock Ellis took the field together, it marked the first time that a major league lineup consisted entirely of players of African descent.

 

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1971: Danny Goodwin tops the draft twice

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In 1971, the Chicago White Sox made history when they took high school catcher Danny Goodwin with the first pick in the amateur draft. It made the Peoria, Ill. native the first black player ever taken with the top overall pick. Goodwin also holds the distinction of being the second African-American player ever taken No. 1 as well, as the California Angels used the top pick on him again in 1975 after his distinguished career at Southern University.

 

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There have been few athletes coveted as much as Dave Winfield in 1973. The San Diego Padres selected him fourth in the MLB Draft. He was also taken in the NFL, NBA, and ABA drafts. He went on to a Hall of Fame career on the diamond — after never playing a minor league game — and remains one of three athletes ever to be drafted by four separate professional leagues.

 

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1973: Hank hammers his way to the home run crown

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The career home run record of Babe Ruth had long stood as one of the most immortal and revered marks in all of sports. Then, on April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron passed the legendary Yankee as the most prolific home run hitter in the game’s history with the 715 th of his career. It capped a season of incredible stress for Aaron, who received a stream of racist death threats as he stood on the precipice of passing Ruth. Aaron went on to push the record to 755 before his retirement in 1976.

 

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1975: Frank Robinson makes history off the field as well

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Always an advocate for change and equality, Frank Robinson made his desire to manage no secret in the later stages of his career. In 1975, the Cleveland Indians gave him his wish, naming him player-manager of his new club. Robinson managed over 2,100 games in a managerial career spent with the Indians, Giants, Orioles, and Nationals. After his on-field career ended, he moved to the front office of Major League Baseball, where he served as vice president of on-field operations for 10 years. Later, he served as senior VP of major league operations and as honorary president of the American League. Robinson passed away earlier this month.

 

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1977: The first black general manager

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Bill Lucas first joined the Braves organization in 1965 after his six-year minor league career ended. By 1977, with the club amid a rebuilding stage under new owner Ted Turner, Lucas found himself in the crosshairs of history. In September 1976, he was promoted from director of the Braves’ farm system to the big club’s general manager, making him the first African-American to hold the title. Just under 30 years later, Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox became the first black GM to win a World Series.

 

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1986: The Bonds legacy takes off

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Since Barry Bonds made his debut in 1986, no father and son duo has accomplished more than the Bonds, who combined for a whopping career 220.1 win shares in their respective careers. While seven-time MVP Barry did much of the heavy lifting, Bobby was no slouch himself, hitting 332 homers and stealing 461 bases. Combined, the Bonds hit 1,094 homers and made 17 All-Star teams.

 

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1992: Cito Gaston carries the Blue Jays to the top, twice

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In 1992, Cito Gaston became the first African-American manager to win a World Series title when he led the Toronto Blue Jays to the franchise’s first championship. A year later he doubled up on the feat by winning a second consecutive championship. Gaston won 894 games over two stints with the Blue Jays.

 

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1991: Rickey runs into the record book

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Never short for words or time spent on the base paths, Rickey Henderson ran his way into immortality in 1991. With a swipe of third base, he broke Lou Brock’s MLB record for stolen bases in a career with his 939 th. When it was all said and done, he finished his career with 1,406 steals — over 50 percent more than Brock’s previous record.

 

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1994: Tony Gwynn flirts with .400

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The loss of the 1994 season to a labor lockout (and eventual strike) stings for several reasons, as it was on course to potentially produce many historic outcomes. Among those sat Tony Gwynn’s pursuit of .400, a mark that had not been bested since Ted Williams’ .406 season in 1941. When the season was called off on Aug. 11, it ended his bid to meet the historic hit rate. However, Gwynn’s .394 mark in ’94 remains the highest average by an African-American batter ever, with the next closest season being another of Gwynn’s from 1997 when he hit .372.

 

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2007: Robinson reaches immortality yet again

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

On April 15, 2004, 57 years to the day Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Major League Baseball officially observed the date in his honor. It has continued to mark not only the accomplishments of Robinson but also the legacy that followed in his wake. Although his No. 42 was officially retired by the game in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of his debut, Robinson’s number is reactivated every April 15 and worn across the backs of every player in the game.

 

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2012: MLB’s first black owner

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the Los Angeles Dodgers went up for sale, a notable L.A. legend joined the Guggenheim group and Stan Kasten in vying to acquire the club: Magic Johnson. In March 2012, history surrounded the Dodgers yet again when the group’s record $2 billion winning bid made Johnson the first black owner in MLB history.

 

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2016: Griffey resets the standard for Cooperstown

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Few players in history have been as beloved as Ken Griffey Jr. was throughout his career. He became a crossover star in the 1990s, hitting 630 home runs by the time he hung up his cleats in 2010. When his day came to be elected to Cooperstown, Junior was selected via historic acclaim. Griffey appeared on 99.3 percent of ballots, which was the highest percentage in Hall of Fame history until this year when Mariano Rivera received 100 percent of the votes.

 

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2020: Overdue Recognition for Negro Leagues

The Rucker Archive/Icon Sportswire

In an effort to rectify the injustices of segregation, in 2020 the MLB made the proclamation that the Negro Leagues between 1920 to 1948 would be designated as “major league status”. Because of this, the Negro League statistics and records would be given parallel designation in the MLB history books and change how history is noted in the time range. The move will bring some of the greatest players of all-time that –missed the opportunity to compete in the MLB— such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Buck Leonard, into the MLB record books in significant fashion. It will also increase the total career numbers of legends such as Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, who competed in both leagues.

Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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