Early in the spring of 1953, someone asked Bob Trice about his chances of winning the International League’s Rookie of the Year Award. Some might have considered it a long shot for a pitcher who had just advanced four minor-league levels in a single jump.
Trice, however, embraced the idea. “I’d like that,” he said. “I sure would.” But the 26-year-old hurler didn’t stop there. “I’d like to win a place on the all-star team,” he said. “I’m going to try to be the most valuable player in the league.”1 Remarkably, Trice went on to achieve all three of those lofty goals.2
The former member of the Homestead Grays had played the previous three seasons in the Class C (Québec) Provincial League.3 In 1952 Trice helped the St. Hyacinthe A’s win the league championship by posting a 16-3 record, playing several outfield and infield positions, and hitting .297 in 300 at-bats.4
Philadelphia sent Trice to spring training with Triple-A Ottawa in 1953, more for experience than anything else. It was expected that he would start the season with Williamsport of the Class A Eastern league.5 To the surprise of the Philadelphia front office, Trice made the Ottawa roster and returned to Canada for the fourth year in a row.
Trice made his Triple-A debut on April 29 in Ottawa’s home opener, earning the victory with a complete-game five-hitter over Syracuse.6 Despite his strong initial showing, the rookie right-hander soon encountered a stretch of adversity. He got knocked around in his next three starts, causing manager Frank Skaff to shift him to the bullpen on May 18.7
Trice responded by pitching effectively in three relief appearances, and he was back in the starting rotation by the end of the month.8 He reeled off seven consecutive victories, culminating with a four-hit shutout of the Montreal Royals on June 17.9 The winning streak set a new professional record for Ottawa pitchers, breaking the previous mark of six straight victories by James “Gussie” Gannon, who played for the 1898 Ottawa Wanderers in the Class A Eastern League.10 Trice tied another Ottawa record – this one for hitting − by driving in five runs in the game.11 He was so skilled with the bat that Skaff regularly used him as a pinch-hitter.12
Trice continued to pitch well, and his popularity in Ottawa soared. The team held a Bob Trice Night to honor its ace hurler during an August 13 twin bill against the Springfield Cubs. With Ottawa playing its third doubleheader in three nights, Skaff approached Trice the evening before and asked if he could pitch on one day’s rest.13 Trice agreed to do it.
Trice took to the mound in the seven-inning first game of the twin bill sporting a record of 15-8. Ottawa began the day in seventh place with a 52-65 record, 10½ games out of the final playoff spot. The cellar-dwelling Cubs countered with 23-year-old righty Gene Tarabilda (4-6).
Trice did not disappoint the 4,219 fans in attendance.14 He retired the first 12 men he faced,15 and the game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth. Joe Taylor, formerly of the Chicago American Giants,16 reached on an error by second baseman Jack Hollis. After an infield out and a failed fielder’s choice, Ottawa right fielder Fred Gerken singled to bring Taylor home with the game’s first run.17
Springfield finally got to Trice in the top of the fifth. George Freese and Ron Northey opened the inning with singles. After a sacrifice advanced the runners, Doc Daugherty tied the game, 1-1, with an RBI groundout.18 Hal Meek drew a two-out walk, but Trice got out of the inning without any further damage.
It was all the offense that the Cubs could muster in the first game, as Trice set them down in order in the sixth and seventh innings.
In the bottom of the seventh, catcher Andy Tranavitch and Trice singled off Tarabilda, putting the potential winning run on third base with only one out.19 The count was 1-and-1 on the next batter, Skeeter Kell, when Skaff sent in a left-handed pinch-hitter, Taft Wright. The 42-year-old veteran, who had led the International League in hitting for much of the season,20 boasted a .362 batting average.21 Wright jumped on the first pitch from Tarabilda, hitting a long sacrifice fly that scored Tranavich and gave the Athletics an exciting 2-1 walk-off victory. Trice finished with a two-hitter to earn his league-leading 16th win of the season.
A ceremony to honor Trice took place between games of the doubleheader. The man of the hour was presented with roughly 40 gifts from fans, teammates, members of the media, and park staff.22 But the most meaningful gesture was still to come. Trice’s parents had been flown in by the Athletics to surprise him, and they were driven onto the field in style. “I had a speech made up,” Trice said. “But when I saw my mother and father, well …”23 It was the first time his parents had seen him pitch since his rookie season with the Homestead Grays in 1948.24
The Athletics topped off the evening by defeating the Cubs, 4-1, in the nightcap.
Less than three weeks later, Trice won his 20th game of the season,27 which was remarkable considering Ottawa was 10 games under .500 at the time.
Trice’s magical season did not go unnoticed. On September 8, a big announcement was splashed across the front page of both English-language newspapers in Ottawa: The Philadelphia Athletics had purchased Trice’s contract.28 Philadelphia permitted him to make one final start in Ottawa that evening, and he defeated the Buffalo Bisons to raise his record to 21-10 and lower his ERA to 3.10.29 It was the most victories in a season by an International League pitcher since Al Widmar won 22 games for the Baltimore Orioles in 1949.
The fan favorite expressed his gratitude before he departed for Philadelphia. “So many good things have happened to me this year,” Trice recalled. “They’ve been wonderful to me in Ottawa … all the people and my teammates.”30
Trice made his Philadelphia Athletics debut on September 13 against the St. Louis Browns.31 In doing so, he became the first Black to play for a Philadelphia team in the American or National League.32
Trice won two of his three starts for Philadelphia at the end of the 1953 season, and his future appeared bright. He bolted out of the gate the next spring, tossing complete-game victories in his first four regular-season starts. With a 4-0 record and a 1.75 ERA, Trice seemed poised for a run at the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
And then suddenly, it all fell apart. Between May 9 and July 11, Trice went 3-8 with a 7.27 ERA. After getting bombed by the Boston Red Sox in an 18-0 rout on the final day before the All-Star break, he shocked his teammates by requesting that he be sent back to Ottawa. Despite his struggles, he was still leading the lowly Athletics in wins.33 Trice explained that playing in the major leagues wasn’t fun for him anymore. “Maybe I am crazy, as everyone says, but to me the reasons seem logical enough,” he concluded.34
The details behind Trice’s unhappiness in the big leagues weren’t widely known until decades later. Not surprisingly, many of the underlying issues were race-related. For instance, on his first day in Philadelphia, none of his teammates would speak to him, except for pitcher Bobby Shantz.35 He was also upset with the Athletics organization for not properly addressing the incidents of racial intolerance that he faced while traveling with the team in the South.36
While Philadelphia had hired future Hall of Famer Judy Johnson in 1954 as a spring-training coach to help Trice, Taylor, and Vic Power with the transition to the major leagues,37 Johnson wasn’t retained for the regular season.38 When Trice began to struggle on the mound, he was without “a willing mentor and companion.”39 At one point during the season, Trice became convinced that the team had hired detectives to follow him.40
Years later, he told his son, Bob Trice Jr., that “dealing with race took precedence over the game.”41 Given that Triple-A salaries weren’t significantly different from those paid to major-league rookies, requesting a return to Ottawa was perfectly “logical.”
The next year, he made the Kansas City Athletics out of spring training.44 After four relief appearances in which he gave up 10 earned runs in 10 innings, Trice soon found himself back in Triple A. Since the Ottawa Athletics had moved to Columbus, Ohio, for the 1955 season,45 his run of five consecutive summers in Canada came to an end. Trice never played in the big leagues again.
Thanks to SABR member Christian Trudeau for sharing his knowledge of the (Québec) Provincial League.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, the Negro Leagues Database at Seamheads.com, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, and Retrosheet.org.
1 Art Morrow, “A’s May Call Up Trice, First Negro to Join Club,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1953: 25.
2 Trice won the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher Award in 1953, while Rocky Nelson of the Montreal Royals won the MVP award for position players. The league named one right-hander and one left-hander to its 1953 all-star team: Trice and Tommy Lasorda of the Montreal Royals.
3 Trice played for the Farnham (Québec) Pirates in 1950 and 1951. In 1950 he had a record of 5-3 for Farnham. Trice was a two-way player in both 1951 and 1952. In 1951, he went 7-12 with a 5.15 ERA, and he hit .237 with two home runs in 194 at-bats.
4 Tommy Shields, “’Round and About,” Ottawa Citizen, September 10, 1953: 22.
5 Morrow, “A’s May Call Up Trice, First Negro to Join Club.”
6 Tommy Shields, “Trice in Little Trouble Pitching Ottawa Victory,” Ottawa Citizen, April 30, 1953: 25.
7 Jack Kinsella, “Limmer Gets 2 Home Runs as A’s and Cubs Split Bill,” Ottawa Citizen, May 19, 1953: 22.
8 “Athletics in First Division Following Split with Birds,” Ottawa Citizen, June 1, 1953: 22.
9 Trice earned the victory in his final two relief appearances in late May and his five starts between May 30 and June 17.
10 Jack Kinsella, “Trice Sets New Mark and Equals Another in Win,” Ottawa Citizen, June 18, 1953: 25.
11 Trice hit a three-run home run off Ed Roebuck in the June 17 game. He also knocked in two runs with a single off reliever Earl Mossor. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the only other Ottawa hitters to previously knock in five runs in a professional game were Lou Limmer, Stan Jok, Charlie Bishop, and Tommy Kirk. Kinsella, “Trice Sets New Mark and Equals Another in Win.”
12 “International League,” The Sporting News, July 29, 1953: 28.
13 “Trice May Pitch in Night,” Ottawa Journal, August 13, 1953: 18; “Honoring Trice at Games Tonight,” Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1953: 22.
14 The crowd was bigger for Bob Trice Night than it was for Ottawa’s home opener that season (4,001). Both were weeknight crowds.
15 Bob Mellor, “Mates Help Make a Real ‘Night’ of It for Trice,” Ottawa Journal, August 14, 1953: 19.
16 Joe Taylor played with the Chicago American Giants from 1949 to 1951. He was one of three Black players on the 1953 Ottawa Athletics; Trice and 35-year-old Al Pinkston were the others. Pinkston began the regular season with Ottawa, but he was optioned to Williamsport on July 9 after hitting only .198 in 101 at-bats. Taylor was promoted from Williamsport that same day. Taylor, Pinkston, and Trice were teammates on the 1951 Farnham (Québec) Pirates, who were managed by Sam Bankhead. The trio also played together on the 1952 St. Hyacinthe (Québec) A’s. Steve Kuzmiak, “Joe Taylor,” SABR Bio Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/joe-taylor/, accessed May 28, 2021; “Joe Taylor Joins Athletics in Deal with Williamsport,” Ottawa Journal, July 10, 1953: 17.
17 Doug Milton, “Bob Trice Night at Lansdowne; Hurls Two-Hitter as A’s Win Two,” Ottawa Citizen, August 14, 1953: 18.
18 Milton, “Bob Trice Night at Lansdowne; Hurls Two-Hitter as A’s Win Two.”
19 Mellor, “Mates Help Make a Real ‘Night’ of It for Trice.”
20 Taft “Taffy” Wright finished the season with a .353 batting average in 331 at-bats, which were not enough to qualify for the batting title. Wright might have been the batting champion had he not been struck in the head by a pitch from Jack Faszholz on June 24. Wright suffered a fractured skull and missed four weeks of the season. He was leading the league with a .398 batting average at the time of his injury. His final batting average was slightly higher (.35347 to .35250) than the one posted by the batting champion, Sandy Amoros of the Montreal Royals.
21 “A’s Batting and Hurling,” Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1953: 23.
22 The offerings included a gold wristwatch, clothing, gift certificates, auto accessories, rugs, and cigars. His teammates chipped in to buy him a new traveling bag. “Trice Hands Credit to Mates for ‘Making It All Possible,’” Ottawa Journal, August 14, 1953: 19; Milton, “Bob Trice Night at Lansdowne; Hurls Two-Hitter as A’s Win Two.”
23 Milton, “Bob Trice Night at Lansdowne; Hurls Two-Hitter as A’s Win Two.”
24 Jack Koffman, “Along Sport Row,” Ottawa Citizen, August 14, 1953: 18.
25 “Trice Hands Credit to Mates for ‘Making It All Possible’.”
26 Mrs. Trice received a bouquet of roses during the ceremony. She was also given a chest of silverware by Bob Simpson, mayor of the nearby town of Arnprior, Ontario. Milton, “Bob Trice Night at Lansdowne; Hurls Two-Hitter as A’s Win Two.”
27 Doug Milton, “Bob Trice Wins No. 20 as A’s Edge Leafs, 3-2,” Ottawa Citizen, September 3, 1953: 18.
28 “Ottawa’s Bob Trice Sold Outright to ‘Big A’s,’” Ottawa Citizen, September 8, 1953: 1; United Press, “Trice Called Up by Philadelphia,” Ottawa Journal, September 8, 1953: 1.
30 Bill Westwick, “The Sport Realm,” Ottawa Journal, September 9, 1953: 16.
31 Trice did not make his major-league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics on September 13, 1953. His major-league debut was in 1948 for the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League II.
32 The Athletics were the seventh team in the American or National League to integrate, while the Phillies were the last National League team (and 14th overall) to do so. John Kennedy became the first Black to play for the Phillies when he appeared as a pinch-runner on April 22, 1957 – more than 4½ years after Trice’s Philadelphia debut.
33 Trice did not throw a single pitch for Philadelphia in the second half of the 1954 season, yet he still finished second on the team with seven wins.
34 Larry Moffi and Jonathan Kronstadt, Crossing the Line: Black Major Leaguers, 1947-1959 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1994), 103.
35 Ron Thomas, “A’s First Black Player Is Subject of Tribute,” Marin Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), February 7, 1997: C-1.
36 In one humiliating incident, Trice was refused entry into a restaurant in the South, and he sat on the team bus while his White teammates dined at the establishment. After finishing their meals, they brought him three hot dogs in a doggie bag. He declined to eat the hot dogs. Thomas, “A’s First Black Player Is Subject of Tribute.”
38 Lloyd H. Barrow, Team First: History of Baseball Integration & Civil Rights (New York: Page Publishing, 2018).
39 Bill Madden, 1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2014), 4.
40 Thomas, “A’s First Black Player Is Subject of Tribute.”
41 Thomas, “A’s First Black Player Is Subject of Tribute.”
42 Trice’s ERA with Ottawa increased slightly from 3.10 in 1953 to 3.23 in 1954, although he improved his walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) from 1.271 to 1.265. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also bumped up, from 0.68 to 0.74.
43 The Ottawa Athletics were 71-83 in 1953. The next year, they finished dead last in the International League standings with a 58-96 mark. Ottawa scored the fewest runs per game and had the lowest fielding percentage in the league in 1954.
44 Arnold Johnson purchased the Philadelphia Athletics in November 1954 and moved them to Kansas City for the 1955 season. They lasted 13 seasons in Kansas City before moving to Oakland.
45 Since the last-place Ottawa Athletics lost 96 games in 1954, it was not surprising that they had the lowest attendance in the International League. Their move to Columbus cannot be blamed entirely on a lack of fan interest. While Lansdowne Park was a decent venue for professional football, it was poorly suited to baseball. Most important, Ottawa was the only city in the International League that did not allow Sunday baseball, and so the Athletics missed out on the large crowds that typically attended Sunday games. The ban on Sunday baseball also increased the team’s travel because it was sometimes required to make an overnight excursion after Saturday home game(s) to play on the road Sunday and then return to Ottawa for game(s) on Monday. Bill Westwick, “The Sport Realm,” Ottawa Journal, December 2, 1952: 18; Bill Westwick, “Schedules and Rules but TV Uppermost,” Ottawa Journal, January 28, 1960: 11.
Ottawa Athletics 2
Springfield Cubs 1
Game 1, DH
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