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The Man Who Broke A Barrier:

CHUCK HARMON

         

It was a bright, chilly afternoon in Milwaukee on Saturday, April 17, 1954. The Cincinnati Reds were playing the Braves at Milwaukee County Stadium.

It was one of those typical early-season games-except for one thing. It marked the first time a black player appeared in a game for the Reds.

Chuck Harmon-a young, black infielder who had been a standout basketball player at Toledo University-went to the plate in the seventh inning to bat for Reds starting pitcher Corky Valentine. Although he popped up on the infield, it was a start, and his appearance blazed the trail in the Cincinnati organization.

Harmon's first appearance created little fanfare. In fact, in the game story in The Cincinnati Enquirer on April 18, the only mention of Harmon was that he batted for Valentine. In a sidebar story, a roundup of Reds notes, there was a brief mention, also, that Harmon had made his debut in the major leagues. But nowhere was anything said about this man breaking the color line for the Reds.

 

    Seven years earlier, however, there was quite a fanfare when Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey, the shrew general manager of the Dodgers, purchased Robinson's contract from Montreal in 1947, paving the way for many more black players to enter the major leagues. Soon most big-league teams were scouting the old Negro baseball leagues looking for players who could come immediately to the major leagues. There were plenty.

The Dodgers added Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Cleveland signed Larry Doby, the first black to play in the American League. Willie Mays, Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin went tp the New York Giants. A new era was dawning in baseball.

   After Harmon's arrival, more black players came to Cincinnati. In 1955 Joe Black, a former Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers, became the Reds first black pitcher.

 

    Cincinnati's first black superstar was Frank Robinson. He was signed out of Oakland, California, by Bobby Mattick, who now is the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Robinson broke in sensationally with the Reds in 1956, winning the Rookie of the Year award. In 1961, when the Reds won the pennant, he received the Most Valuable Player accolade.

In the mid-1970s Robinson blazed a new trail: he was named manager of the Cleveland Indians, earning the distinction of being the first black manager in baseball history. Then, in 1981 at San Francisco, he became the first black manager in the National League.

Others followed Robinson to Cincinnati. Among them were Vada Pinson, a standout hitter throughout the 1960s, and Bobby Tolan, who played a key role in two pennants in the early 1970s.

 

         
       

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