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Were the New York Yankees slow to integrate?

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  • Were the New York Yankees slow to integrate?

    Question. Historically speaking, were the Yankees slow to integrate and if so, why was that?

    I was browsing my thread, the New York Yankees Team Photo Collection, and happened to notice that the Yankees appeared to be lily-white until 1955! A whole 8 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Brooklyn!
    And even then, Eston Howard did not make regular until 1959!

    I notice the Yankees had:

    1959: Eston Howard, Hector Lopez
    1961: Eston Howard, Hector Lopez, Al Downing
    1963: Eston Howard, Hector Lopez, Al Downing, Marshal Bridges

    That begs the question. Were the above just token window-dressing to protect the franchise from criticism?

    By comparison, the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers had:
    Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Junior Gilliam, Roy Campanella, Sandy Amoros.

    And their traveling secretary was black. Lee Scott.

    If we give the Red Sox' owner, Tom Yawkey, so much guff for not integrating until 1960, do the New York Yankees not deserve some too, however belatedly late in the day?

    I ask the house to discuss this subject with an open mind.
    Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-20-2010, 02:41 PM.

  • #2
    To give the discussion a jump-start, below is a chart contributed by one of our members long ago, to show when the teams integrated.

    When the teams Integrated:

    The first name is the first black, the second name the second black and the third name the first regular black.

    Brooklyn Dodgers: robinson 47 dan bankhead 47 robinson 47
    Cleveland Indians: larry doby 47 satchel paige 48 doby 48
    St. Louis Browns: hank thompson 47 willard brown 47 satchel paige 52
    New York Giants: hank thompson 49 monte irvin 49 hank thompson
    Boston Braves: sam jethroe 50 luis marquez 51 sam jethroe 50
    Chicago White Sox: minnie minoso 51 sam hairston 51 minnie minoso 51
    Philadelphia Athletics: bob trice 53 vic power 54 power 54
    Chicago Cubs: banks 53 gene baker 53 banks and baker 54
    Pittsburgh Pirates: curt roberts 54 sam jethroe 54 roberts 54
    St. Louis Cardinals: tom alston 54 brooks lawrence 54 flood 58
    Cincinnati Reds: nino escalera 54 chuck harmon 54 frank robinson 56
    Washington Senators: carlos paula 54 joe black 57 carlos paula 54
    New York Yankees: elston howard 55 harry simpson 57 howard 59
    Philadelphia Phillies: john kennedy 57 chuck harmon 57 pancho herrara and tony taylor 60
    Detroit Tigers: ossie virgil 58 larry doby 58 jake wood 61
    Boston Red Sox: pumpsie green 59 earl wilson 59 tilly tasby 60


    Note that Chuck Harmon and Hank Thompson appear on the list with two different teams. Last to have a black regular the Tigers. Last to integrate the BoSox.
    Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-20-2010, 02:41 PM.

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    • #3
      It took the Yankees almost 10 years to integrate. They were slow to do it. I believe that forst black player that they signed was Vic Power, but they traded him because was too flamboyant. I've read various quotes from George Weiss that there would never be a black player on the Yankees if he had anything to say about it and that integrating had ruined the Dodger and Giant fanbases and forced them to leave New York.

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      • #4
        Since the Yankees had so many blacks in their town, why didn't they recognize the potential in milking and harvesting such a fertile new fanbase? Some folks believed that the new black Brooklyn fans more than made up for the few racist fans that stopped going to Dodger games.

        Is it really realistic to think that the Yankees would allow one racist farm director, however good he was at his job, to make them vulnerable to such blatant charges of racism? Seems too simple a theory. I think there must have been a deeper, more profound reason than that. But I'll be darned if I can figure out what it was.

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        • #5
          After the initial rush in 1947-48, I think baseball as a whole was slow to integrate. It's surprising to me that teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and the Chicago teams waited so long since these were strong Negro League areas. This doesn't even take into account how long it took for blacks to enter the coaching ranks, become managers or obtain front office postions or positions in the broadcast booth.

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          • #6
            I'm out of town so don't have any reference info in front of me. I think there has been quite a bit written about the Yankees' ownership attitude about integration- or the lack thereof.

            It would be very useful to look back at the actual free agent signings of players to Minor League contracts- when did the first ones happen, how many were there, etc.- since that's where almost all the future Major League players would come from- with the exception of the occasional established veteran star like Paige or Irvin.

            I think that the Yankees signed Elston Howard to a Minor League contract either in 1950 or 1951. I don't know if he was their first signing. It certainly is possible that Howard might have reached the Majors a bit earlier with the Yankees than he did- he lost at least 2 years to the service during the Korean War.

            To me, it would be extremely interesting to see when each ML team signed its first black players to Minor League contracts, and how many were signed over the first few years. That probably would provide a good indicator of how serious they were.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Bill Burgess View Post
              Since the Yankees had so many blacks in their town, why didn't they recognize the potential in milking and harvesting such a fertile new fanbase? Some folks believed that the new black Brooklyn fans more than made up for the few racist fans that stopped going to Dodger games.

              Is it really realistic to think that the Yankees would allow one racist farm director, however good he was at his job, to make them vulnerable to such blatant charges of racism? Seems too simple a theory. I think there must have been a deeper, more profound reason than that. But I'll be darned if I can figure out what it was.
              I think part of the reason was that the Yankees were so good in that era that they didn't feel the need to dip into the black talent. I think the Yankees brass also felt that they had a more upscale fan base that the Giants and Dodgers had and they didn't want to offend this base by attacting black fans.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by EdTarbusz View Post
                I think part of the reason was that the Yankees were so good in that era that they didn't feel the need to dip into the black talent. I think the Yankees brass also felt that they had a more upscale fan base that the Giants and Dodgers had and they didn't want to offend this base by attracting black fans.
                This might be true, but if so, looking back in hindsight, how terribly short-sighted those management guys were.

                Del Webb: Yankees co-owner w/Daniel Topping, (1954-1966), Both also functioned as co-Presidents.

                Dan Topping: Yankees owner (1948-1966); In 1945, he, along with Del Webb and Larry MacPhail bought the Yankees. He served as club president from 1948-66. Yanks won 15 pennants & 10 World Series during that 22 year period.
                Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-17-2010, 08:23 AM.

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                • #9
                  Yes, the whole American league was slower than the NL in integrating. In the Yankees' case, George Weiss, the GM at the time, stated "The first Negro to appear in a Yankee uniform must be worth waiting for". They had an excellent first baseman, Vic Power, with the Kansas City Blues in their minor league system, but didn't promote him. In 1952 as the first black in the history of the Kansas City Blues, Power batted .331 and drove in 109 runs. Returned to Kansas City in 1953 Power accelerated his production. At the end of July he led the American Association in batting, hits, doubles, and RBI. Yet when the Yankees recalled four minor leaguers on July 31, Power wasn't among them... The perennial World Champions denied all allegations of discrimination but at the same time the club began to circulate stories disparaging Power's abilities. Power, stated Dan Topping, "is a good hitter but a poor fielder"...Other releases charged that Power did not hustle and was "hard to handle". In short, according to the Yankee organization, Power did not posess the "right attitude" to join the Yankee family.

                  Power's subsequent career belies these assertions.Baseball experts rank him as one of the outstanding defensive first basemen in history. An exuberant,exciting player who always exerted the utmost effort, Power also demonstrated a sharp wit and mental alertness, which made him a favorite of fans and sportswriters.
                  In response to critics, George Weiss stated that the Yankees "are averse to settling on a Negro player merely to meet the wishes of the people who insist they must have a Negro player". Weiss claimed that this "fair stand" had been endorsed "by thrice as many letter writers as have condemned us for alleged discrimination".

                  The real problem with Power, of course, was that he had been seen in the company of white women, and was known as a "hot dog" on the field, whose flamboyant style of play offended the Yankees' front office's idea of how a Yankee should play. Elston Howard, who eventually became the first African-American Yankee, was better suited to the "Yankee image" the team wanted to project.

                  (Excerpts in bold are quoted from "Baseballs' Great Experiment-Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" by Jules Tygiel, whom I consider the authoritative source on the subject.)
                  Last edited by ol' aches and pains; 04-17-2010, 09:25 AM.
                  They call me Mr. Baseball. Not because of my love for the game; because of all the stitches in my head.

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                  • #10
                    As great and as dominant as those Yankees teams were in that era, it just makes you wonder how incredibly dominant they truly could have been? That was their loss. Plus, while their talent sustained them for a decade and a half after integration, I have to wonder whether not stocking up on other players along the way may have played some part in their decline in the '60s? I'm not saying necessarily that, for instance, anyone they would have signed in 1948 would have still been playing in 1965, but the team could have made deals along the way, had better coaches in place, and a more solid organization all-around.

                    Like I said, that was their loss. I really can't, or don't want to, imagine Mays, Aaron, or Banks in Yankees pinstripes.

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                    • #11
                      Of course, hindsight is 100%, but still . . . One might think that when the Giants acquired Willie Mays, and Willie was challenging The Mick for accolades and fame, that might have served as their wakeup call. But no, they missed the boat, let their opportunities pass them by, and even compounded that missed chance by dumping Stengel and Weiss, following the 1960 season. The given party line was that they were instituting a new age limit of 70 years.

                      Why push such an ignorant policy when someone is not only producing for you, but doing so in fine, fashionable style as well. Stengel was winning pennants, a fan favorite and colorful, quotable character. Man, those Yankees were following a self-destructive path. Sometimes, such destructive behavior can be masked over for a short while, but it soon showed that the high and mighty Yankees ran out of gas. So sad. So unnecessary.
                      Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-17-2010, 01:14 PM.

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                      • #12
                        A few things:

                        I know Curt Roberts is usually listed as the Pirates' first black player, but I read a Hardball Times article a while back about a player named Carlos Bernier, a black Puerto Rican who debuted with Pittsburgh in 1953. He should probably be considered the first black Pirate.

                        I think Topping, Webb and Weiss were definitely a bigoted bunch. I recently read Hank Greenberg's autobiography, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life, and this issue is addressed. Since it was published posthumously, Ira Berkow, who edited the book, included sections written by people who knew Greenberg to offer extra perspectives of the man. One was his second wife, who attended the 1955 World Series with Greenberg before they were married. She said she shared a limo with Topping, Webb and Weiss at one point during the Series, and that they would make anti-Semitic jokes amongst themselves (apparently not realizing she was Jewish), as well as racist remarks about blacks. It was a library book, so I don't have it in front of me, but those are the details as best I can remember.

                        What was Weiss' record with blacks was while he was GM of the Mets? Had baseball integrated enough that it was no longer an issue, or was there any sign of him being hesitant to give blacks opportunities?
                        Baseball Junk Drawer

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by EdTarbusz View Post
                          I think part of the reason was that the Yankees were so good in that era that they didn't feel the need to dip into the black talent. I think the Yankees brass also felt that they had a more upscale fan base that the Giants and Dodgers had and they didn't want to offend this base by attacting black fans.
                          On the nose, as far as I recall.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ol' aches and pains View Post
                            Yes, the whole American league was slower than the NL in integrating.
                            Is it likely that the NL was quicker to integrate faster than the AL because the other NL teams got to see how much the black players were helping the Dodgers win pennants in the 1950's? Maybe seeing with their own eyes was a compelling motivation in trying to hire their own black players. They say, "Seeing is Believing." Maybe that was one of the reasons the AL was so slow. That and inborn racism, and a fear that their white fan-base might be put off sitting next to black fans.

                            But I resist the fan theory. I find that there would have been many more black fans to displace the boycotting racist fans. I believe that purely from a business perspective, the money should have forced integration. Money should have driven the integration drive. When principles come in conflict with money, money usually wins. That was one case where doing the right thing (integrating) and following the money would have happily coincided. Those owners were businessmen and should have seen the wisdom of taking the high road while making more money in the long run. Their stubborn resistance just didn't make sense!

                            When Ty Cobb went to Havana, Cuba to play black players in 1910, he said, "I broke my own rule for a few games because the money was right." How telling.
                            Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-17-2010, 01:19 PM.

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                            • #15
                              I agree with nearly everything written so far.

                              You have to keep in mind that the Yankees had been the dominant team and organization in the game for 40 years by the time this policy started really hurting them.

                              While the Yankees had the added ace in the hole of running a de facto minor league team in Kansas City for some years, for the most part in the pre-draft era, signing amateur talent was the name of the game and they did it better than anyone, but that kind of success requires constant vigilance and the minute you start resting on your laurels and assuming things will always be the same, you're setting yourself up for a fall. They looked at the integration trend as a National League phenomenon, something of a cheap shortcut to success and didn't want any part of it.

                              The Yankee Way had always stood them in good stead and they were determined to stay that couse. When this finally started to show up as bad results in the on the field product (in the mid 60's when their replacement class of Pepitone, Tresh, Bouton and Linz couldn't step up to replace the aging Mantle, Maris and Ford generation), it was too late.

                              There is also the previously mentioned factor of them thinking their fanbase was upscale and white and their not wanting to draw black and brown fans. Bill's point about money is usually true but some people can, and this was especially true then, be truly shortsighted and obdurate when it comes to matters of race and class, even if it ultimately hurts their profits.
                              3 6 10 21 29 31 35 41 42 44 47

                              "Because as I learned in my years covering Frank McCourt: MLB owners do not see themselves as stewards of the national pastime. They see their teams as their property they can light on fire if they so choose." - Molly Knight

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