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
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
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
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
Cincinnati's first black
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.
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.