Beer: How Major League Baseball got its first black scout

From SABR member Jeremy Beer at the New York Daily News on November 24, 2019:

By spring 1945 two years had passed as Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, deliberately searched, to no avail, for the first black man to sign for his team.

Part of the problem, he believed, was that it was hard for his white scouts to show up at Negro League games without arousing suspicion. It was even harder for them to get accurate inside knowledge about the character and background of any given player. Oscar Charleston and a new black baseball circuit called the United States League (USL) provided Rickey with a solution to this twofold dilemma.

The USL was not Rickey’s idea. It was former Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee’s. Believing that the two existing black major leagues were both poorly run and unpopular, and knowing that the war had brought relative prosperity to black communities in northern cities, Greenlee had spied a financial opportunity. By February 24, 1945, his plans were largely in place. The revived Pittsburgh Crawfords would be one of the league’s eight franchises. Best of all, the popular Oscar Charleston, who had led the Crawfords in the 1930s and was, by general consensus, the greatest black player of all time, would serve as the manager of the league’s Philadelphia-area club.

Meanwhile, the drama of de-segregation was beginning to gain steam. On April 16, 1945, the Boston Red Sox bowed to political pressure and reluctantly gave tryouts to Negro League players Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams. No matter how pro forma, these tryouts piqued Branch Rickey’s interest. When Wendell Smith, the Pittsburgh Courier journalist who had helped make the Red Sox tryouts happen, came to Brooklyn shortly thereafter to meet with Rickey, Rickey asked for his report on the players. Smith delivered his opinion, and while he was there, the new USL came up.

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Originally published: November 25, 2019. Last Updated: November 25, 2019.