We’ve heard many stories about the ugly part of the MLB integration era, about Jackie Robinson and his early-integrating peers enduring the worst kind of slurs from the stands, clubhouse alienation, and on-field abuse. But perhaps the ugliest fact of baseball’s integration was this: By time Jackie retired after 1956, three teams had still not given a dark-skinned player even one plate appearance or pitching appearance: The Phillies, the Tigers, and the Red Sox. Bigotry so saturated the sport that the last team to integrate required 13 years.
But there’s more, much more, to it than that. Giving Pumpsie Green some playing time does not equal integration. I googled the definition of integrate and this was its second definition:
Bring (people or groups with particular characteristics or needs) into equal participation in or membership of a social group or institution.
We can parse the word equal in this definition all day and night, but in the interest of keeping this article to a semi-reasonable length, let’s agree to keep things as simple as we can. Let’s merely ask ourselves this: When in our game’s history can we say with reasonable certainty that the majors had integrated?
As you can tell from above, a list of when each team integrated doesn’t cut it for me. What would? I’m no sociologist, nor am I a demographer, nor a trained statistician. As I’ve told you all before, I merely play one on the Internet. But a basic indicator to my mind is the rate of participation in MLB compared to the US population of dark-skinned people. Uhhhhh, yeah, except there are four issues there (at least):
- How do we define rate of participation in MLB?
- How do we define the number of dark-skinned people in the US?
- What about dark-skinned players from other countries?
- How do we define dark-skinned?
Let’s take the last one first. I believe we have to use the term dark-skinned because African Americans were not the only people affected by the color line. Players from outside the US with dark skin were not permitted to play in MLB. How do we know who was dark-skinned? To be honest, we have to guess by looking at pictures. If the person is a light-skinned Latino who might pass as being merely olive-complected, they “pass.” It’s a bit dicey.
In terms of the rate of participation, we have at least two ways to look at it. We can count the number of players of color appearing in a given season. Or we can use their actual playing time (plate appearances and innings pitched). The latter makes better sense since in the same way that equality isn’t equity.
That brings us to the population/demography matter. Obviously, the percentage of African-American people in the population compared to the entire population makes the most sense. But that once again doesn’t account for dark-skinned Latinos. I think merely adding the UA Latino population to the African-American population should be a decent guidepost. Not every Latino is dark-skinned (and in the US, perhaps most aren’t), but it was in the time a big enough yet small enough group not to overly skew things but to provide some additional depth to the population pool we’re working with.
So here’s how I looked at it.
- For each team and season from 1947 onward, identify its dark-skinned players
- Determine the PAs for position players and IP for those pitchers
- For the teams or the NL and AL separately, determine the annual rate of participation for dark-skinned players. I used this formula, weighting batters and pitchers differently since there are more hitters in the league than pitchers:
(0.6 * (dark-skinned players’ PAs / league PAs) + (0.4 * dark-skinned players’ IP / league IP).
- Compare #3 to the percentage of the US population that same year that was comprised of dark-skinned people.
Because we don’t have annualized census data, for step 4 I estimated it for each season based on linear population growth among African-American and Latino/a populations from census to census. For those curious, here’s how this looks:
YEAR A.A. LAT COMBINED ============================= 1947 9.94% 2.17% 12.11% 1948 9.96% 2.28% 12.24% 1949 9.98% 2.39% 12.37% 1950 10.00% 2.50% 12.50% 1951 10.05% 2.61% 12.66% 1952 10.10% 2.72% 12.82% 1953 10.15% 2.83% 12.98% 1954 10.20% 2.94% 13.14% 1955 10.25% 3.05% 13.30% 1956 10.30% 3.16% 13.46% 1957 10.35% 3.27% 13.62% 1958 10.40% 3.38% 13.78% 1959 10.45% 3.49% 13.94% 1960 10.50% 3.60% 14.10% 1961 10.56% 3.71% 14.27% 1962 10.62% 3.82% 14.44% 1963 10.68% 3.93% 14.61% 1964 10.74% 4.04% 14.78% 1965 10.80% 4.15% 14.95% 1966 10.86% 4.26% 15.12% 1967 10.92% 4.37% 15.29% 1968 10.98% 4.48% 15.46% 1969 11.04% 4.59% 15.63% 1970 11.10% 4.70% 15.80%
Once a team matched my estimate of the US’s dark-skinned population, it had integrated. Once a league matched that estimate and each of its teams had employed more than a token number of dark-skinned players, it was integrated. Until both leagues were fully integrated, the majors were not integrated.
So let’s take that list of the first dark-skinned players per franchise and blow it out to see how long it took each team to actually integrate. By the way, it’s worth noting that a team could integrate and then backtrack. Several teams did, but we’ll assume that a year of full integration denotes a willingness to be fully integrated. Note that for Pittsburgh, I’m using Carlos Bernier as the first dark-skinned player, not Spec Roberts.
TEAM PLAYERS FIRST INTEGRATED ======================================== BRK/LAD J. Robinson 1947 1949 CLE L. Doby 1947 1951 SLB/BAL H. Thompson 1947 1957 NYG/SFG H. Thompson 1949 1951 M. Irvin 1949 BSN/MLN S. Jethroe 1950 1954 CHW M. Minoso 1951 1961* PHA/OAK B. Trice 1953 1955 CHC E. Banks 1953 1955 PIT C. Benier 1953 1961 STL T. Alston 1954 1958 CIN N. Escalera 1954 1956 C. Harmon 1954 WAS/MIN C. Paula 1954 1960 NYY E. Howard 1955 1963 PHI J. Kennedy 1957 1960 DET O. Virgil 1958 1961 BOS P. Green 1959 1965 *In 1956, the Sox fell about half a percentage point below the estimate. That’s pretty close but I don’t report it for consistency’s sake.
On average, MLB clubs required about five years to fully integrate after the debut of their first dark-skinned player. NL teams ramped up in about three seasons on average, once they played a dark-skinned person. Taken as a whole, the NL had integrated percentage-wise by 1955 or 1956, but the Phillies had not yet broken their color line. It would be fair to say, however, that the NL was effectively integrated by 1960. Then there’s the AL. Its teams required an average of six years to fully integrate. By percentage, the AL had fully integrated by 1963. This seems fair. The laggardly Red Sox reached double-digit participation rates that very year.
So as a matter of opinion after studying the question a little, I would consider integration completed at the MLB level by 1963.
Two questions remain for me. First: Why did NL teams take less time to integrate overall and especially once they began the process? The simple answer: In an arms race you have to catch up fast. The Dodgers started winning the pennant every darn year, and they integrated earliest, most completely, and most quickly of any team in baseball. They did it by opening up a whole new talent pool and plucking from it some of its available players. So what about the Phillies? Yeah, they resisted, but once John Quinn took over, the pace accelerated with 100 G force and laid the groundwork for the near-pennant-winning 1964 team. Quinn, of course, had signed Hank Aaron, Sam Jethroe, and several other import dark-skinned players as the GM of the Braves.
The second question is a little more involved. I don’t remember exactly where I’d read or seen this question referenced, but it goes like this: Did teams artificially cap the number of dark-skinned players on their rosters in the early part of integration?
Only two teams fielded more than four dark-skinned players in a season before 1954 (the Indians from 1951 to 1953 and the Giants in 1951). One of the charges of this collusion is that teams sough to limit the simultaneity of dark-skinned players on rosters. If these two very active integrators were party to this agreement, we should see some evidence in how they managed their black players.
In 1951, the Indians’ gave playing time to five dark-skinned players:
- Larry Doby (551 PAs)
- Luke Easter (532 PAs)
- Harry “Suitcase” Simpson (382 PAs)
- Minnie Minoso (17 PAs)
- “Toothpick” Sam Jones (8.2 IP)
Doby, Easter, and Simpson stayed on the roster all year long, though the latter didn’t play regularly until May. Minoso played regularly from April 17th through April 29th and was traded to Chicago. Jones spent most of his season at AAA and came up only for two a pair of starts in games 151 and 155 of the season.
In 1952, the Tribe featured six dark-skinned players:
- Doby (611 PAs)
- Simpson (607 PAs)
- Easter (486 PAs)
- Dave Pope (35 PAs)
- Quincy Trouppe (11 PAs)
- Jones (36 IP)
Doby and Simpson each stayed on the roster all year. Easter spent a couple weeks in the minors at the beginning of July after hitting just .208/.274/.385 in the season’s first 70 games. After returning on July 15th, he crushed it the rest of the way. Dave Pope was in the majors…from July 1st through July 16th and then again for three games in the season’s last week. Trouppe, a thirty-nine year old catcher, appeared six times in early May. Jones appeared in May and June, returned in July, and made two other brief appearances later in the year.
- Doby (617 PA)
- Simpson (264 PA)
- Easter (230 PA)
- Al “Fuzzy” Smith (173 PA)
- Dave Hoskins (112.2 IP)
Doby, Simpson, Easter, and Hoskins appear to have survived the entire season on the roster. Smith was recalled on July 10th and stuck.
If you squint you can maybe see some race-oriented roster manipulation in 1951 or 1952. Nothing definite but maybe a little whiff. Not so much in 1953. Let’s turn to the 1951 Giants.
- Monte Irvin (657 PA)
- Willie Mays (523 PA)
- Hank Thompson (308 PA)
- Ray Noble (148 PA)
- Artie Wilson (24PA)
Irvin and Noble were around all year, and the rookie Mays hit .477 in AAA and forced his way into the lineup for good on May 25th. A slumping and presumably banged up Thompson missed a couple weeks several times and spent a couple in AAA as well. Wilson pinch hit numerous times early in the season, got only three starts, and was farmed out to AAA in late May hitting under .200.
The 1952 Giants:
- Thompson (486 PA)
- Mays (144 PAs)
- Irvin (136 PAs)
- Noble (5 PAs)
Irvin got hurt, Mays got drafted, Thompson got better, and Noble got farmed out. In the minors, the Giants had few dark-skinned replacements for their injured. Ray Dandridge was playing at AAA Minneapolis, but despite a nice .291 average, his overall slash line was a putrid: .291/.327/387 in a league that scored 4.88 R/G versus the NL’s 4.17 and slashed .271/.352./407.
I think we can stop here. If some “gentleman’s” agreement existed not to have more than X, Y, or Z number of dark-skinned players on a roster, these two teams don’t appear to have taken part in the collusion. It is, of course, possible that the rest of the league was so colluding, but I don’t have enough time to go through every team’s rosters and their players’ game logs to ferret it out. I’ll leave it to someone else. The point is that from this limited evidence if there is collusion, it’s kind of patchy. It’s much more likely that these teams were merely managing their rosters around injuries and poor performance. At least that’s my take. I’d love to see more in the comments from those who might have more complete information.