Breaking Barriers in the NL Central

From SABR member Larry Granillo at Baseball Prospectus on April 18:

Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, recognizing the day that Robinson officially broke the color barrier. The Dodgers were, of course, ahead of the game when they allowed Robinson to debut in 1947, but it’s sometimes hard to realize just how far ahead they were. By the time Robinson won his MVP award in 1949, only three other teams had followed suit. On the day “The Giants [won] the pennant! The Giants [won] the pennant!” in 1951, two additional teams (making five total) had followed the Dodgers’ lead. Despite the success of Robinson, Don Newcombe, and other African-Americans, teams across the league were reluctant to follow suit.

Of the six National League Central teams, the first to integrate was the Chicago Cubs. The rights to Gene Baker, the team MVP of the 1953 Los Angeles Angels, were purchased by the Cubs on September 2, 1953, and as the Modesto Bee reported, he was expected to report to the club immediately. An injury of some sort prevented that from happening; he did not make the trip out to Chicago until the Angels’ season ended nearly two weeks later. In the meantime, the Cubs also signed a player named Ernie Banks from the Kansas City Monarchs, and Banks and Baker arrived in Chicago at around the same time.

The Cubs officially broke the color line on September 17, 1953, when Banks started at shortstop in a Thursday afternoon game in front of 2,793 fans.

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Originally published: April 18, 2011. Last Updated: April 18, 2011.