April 17th 1954
Fifty five years ago the Cincinnati Reds were the 11th Major League team to integrate, seven years and two days after Jackie Robinson made his debut for Brooklyn. Two players made their debut that night, Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon.
Saturnino Escalera had a very long career in baseball and is in the Puerto Rico Baseball Hall of Fame. He spent most of his career in Triple-A including a long stint in Cuba, but spent the 1954 season as a bench player for the Reds. He was primarily an outfielder and first baseman, but oddly enough played one inning at shortstop for the Reds. You don't see many left handed shortstops. Escalera was active in baseball after he retired, winning the Puerto Rico Winter League leage championship as manager in 1968 and had a long career as a scout for the Mets and for the Giants. He was the guy who signed Senor Smoke! I'd normally show off a card of Nino, but I don't have one. As far as I can tell, he only had one card ever printed: a 1977 Fritsch One Year Wonders card. You can check it out on his BR Bullpen page.
I've got a card of Chuck Harmon. Chuck spent four years in the National League with Cincinnati, St. Louis and Philadelphia. Chuck was primarily a third baseman, but also played at first and the outfield. Like Nino, Chuck was utilized mostly off the bench but had a nice 1955 season with 5 homers and 9 steals. After his playing days were over he was a scout for the Braves and Indians. Topps was kinder to Chuck than Nino and featured him in the 1954 though 1958 sets including in the 1955 Double Header set.
The two made their debut in a game against the Braves at County stadium. Both were used as pinch hitters in the seventh inning. Nino pinch hit for catcher Andy Seminick and knocked a single off of Lou Burdette. Harmon then pinch hit for the pitcher, Corky Valentine. Chuck popped up to first and Nino would be stranded on second after a double play. The Reds would end up losing the game 5-1, but had a historic night nonetheless.
There's some controversy on who was actually the first black player for the Reds. Some say Nino since he came into the came one batter before Chuck. Some say Harmon since he's the first African-American player for the Reds. Nino did get a hit in his debut, but Chuck lasted four years in the league. The Reds honored Harmon with a plaque at the Great American Ballpark in 2004 on the fiftieth anniversary of his debut. I say it's both. They were both on the roster when that game started and that's what counts. I just wish someone would put poor Nino on another card! The man is a pioneer, give him a card!