Colorline

Now that I have my COMC package I can start updating various projects I’ve been working on. I’ll start off with the colorline breaker project that I mentioned in 2020. The general principle is trying to get the earliest card I can get of each player on the team he broke the color line for.

Current status after hitting the low-hanging fruit is 11 out of 16 teams and 13 out of 19 players (plus Angel Scull). The missing guys include three Hall of Famers and two guys who never got solo card.

Anyway, a team-by-team, by-date run down of what I’ve got and what I’m missing. For the most part the cards I have are pretty close to their debuts.

Dodgers

April 15, 1947. Jackie Robinson

Yeah right I wish.

Indians

July 5, 1947. Larry Doby

Not easy if I want a card of him with his first stint in Cleveland.

Browns

July 17, 1947. Hank Thompson

No proper Browns cards of him exist so all I have is this custom.

Giants

July 8, 1949. Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin

Braves

April 18, 1950. Sam Jethroe

White Sox

May 1, 1951. Our newest Hall of Famer Minnie Miñoso

Athletics

Sept 13, 1953. Bob Trice

Cubs

Sept 17, 1953. Ernie Banks

Not at Jackie Robinson’s level but playing-days cards of Banks aren’t exactly cheap either.

Pirates

April 22, 1953. Carlos Bernier
April 13, 1954. Curt Roberts (official)

For whatever reason MLB does’t recognize Carlos Bernier. I get that the Afrolatino thing can be confusing but seems odd to not have figured it out by this point.

Cardinals

April 13, 1954. Tom Alston

Alston’s only card is is a high numbered short-print from 1955 Bowman which does not come cheap.

Reds

April 17, 1954. Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon

No playing-years cards of Escalera appear to exist.

Senators

Sept 6, 1954. Carlos Paula

Angel Scull broke the Washington colorline on cardboard a year earlier but never appeared in an actual game

Yankees

April 14, 1955. Elston Howard

Would be nice to get an earlier card of Howard. His 1957 isn’t too spendy.

Phillies

April 22, 1957. John Kennedy

While there are no cards of Kennedy I think he does show up on the 1958 Phillies team card.

Tigers

June 6, 1958. Ozzie Virgil

I have a bunch of earlier Virgil cards when he was with the Giants but for the purposes of this project I needed one of him with the Tigers.

Red Sox

July 21, 1959. Pumpsie Green

The 1961 card bring in the possibility of doing expansion teams. I have no current plans for that though I certainly hope (but have not verified) that they all started out integrated.

If I’d had my act together I would’ve posted this a week ago since it would’ve made a good Martin Luther King Day post…both in how it’s acknowledging an important accomplishment from Major League Baseball* and in how it represents the bare minimum of integration. Is it a great thing that all the Major League teams had a black ballplayer? Absolutely. Is the fact that the color line existed and that it took the Red Sox a dozen years to follow the Dodgers’ lead something that Major League Baseball should be absolutely embarrassed by? Also absolutely.

*As of Negro League Baseball being officially considered major-league level, this blog will now distinguish between “Major League Baseball” and “major-league baseball.”

I very much enjoy this project as a way to recognize that the color line issue is one that had to be broken franchise by franchise and fanbase by fanbase. I also readily admit that it’s clearly the first step of a process that Major League Baseball has not yet lived up to with the way black players are disappearing from the league and the way that black managers and front office management can be counted on one hand.

Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King’s legacies are all too often used as a shield to protect the very organizations which resisted them—trotted out as mementos representing something the organization has “accomplished” when they’re really the smallest of first steps. Each of these cards is a franchise-level version of that same shield.

It’s also been a good way for me to learn about guys like Sam Jethroe* who were born both a decade too soon and a decade too late—as a result losing too much of their career in the donut hole between the glory years of the Negro Leagues and proper integration in Major League Baseball. There are a lot of other guys in this category** and collecting those is a different project. But this has the structure to give me a taste of that time and really drive home how much more complicated MLB’s integration was and what we lost as a result of both it and the colorline.

*Who was almost part of the Dodgers cohort.

**eg Dave Hoskins, Luke Easter, Artie Wilson…

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

6 thoughts on “Colorline”

  1. I wonder often about Sam Jethroe’s integration of the Boston Braves and whether it led the Red Sox to drag their feet as long as they did before adding Pumpsie. I’ve read about the sham 1945 Red Sox tryout that included Jethroe and assume that reflected the team’s response to public pressure to consider integration more than a sincere interest. Safe to say it was far more about Red Sox management than it was about public acceptance of Braves fans?

    1. I actually hadn’t really thought much about the contrast between the Braves and Res Sox integrating over a decade apart in the same city. From what I’ve read about Jethroe he seems to have been universally liked in Boston so his definitely seems like a Red Sox management problem.

  2. This is a fantastic project. I may have to mimic it in some way. I’ve often thought about the guys in the gap as well. It’s pretty amazing that Aaron, Banks, and Mays all hit that window just right. And Billy Williams and Lou Brock, I suppose.

    The Colt 45s ran out a total of 6 black players in 1962, all position players, with the star slugger of the season Roman Mejias and Jim Pendleton starting in the corner outfield spots on Opening Day. Other black players were JC Hartman, Dave Roberts, Johnny Weekly, and George Williams. Looking at the transaction history, apparently Sam Jones was almost a 45, the club traded him prior to the season. They added their most notable black players in November 1962 when they signed Joe Morgan as an amateur free agent and drafted Jimmy Wynn. I had never looked closely at this subject before, perhaps this one merits a post.

    1. Hartman, by the way, played with the Monarchs in ‘55 and was teammates with Charley Pride on the Army All-Stars team. He went on to become the first black sergeant in the history of the Houston Police Department. He’s still alive, I think, and supposedly lives 10 minutes from me. Someday I’d like to write his SABR bio.

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