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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sam Jethroe

Apr 18 1950 

Fifty-nine years ago today, Sam "The Jet" Jethroe made his debut as the first black player on the Boston Braves. Jet had power and speed and hit a home run in his first game with the Braves. Jethroe was a star with the Cleveland Buckeyes in the Negro Leagues. He led the league in batting twice, was a prolific base stealer and still had the ability to hit towering home runs. Jethroe won a World Series with the Buckeyes and played in the East-West All Star game while a Negro league player. Jethroe was one of the stars of the league and was very much qualified to play in the majors.   

He, along with Marvin Williams and Jackie Robinson,  was one of the three players involved in the infamous tryout for the Boston Red Sox in 1945. After Jackie's signing ended segregation in baseball, Jethroe signed with the Dodgers' farm club and played in Montreal in1948. Jet hit .326 with 17 homers, 89 stolen bases and 154 runs in his first full season with the Royals in 1949. Obviously Jet was more than ready for the majors, but the Dodgers simply didn't have a spot for him. They traded him to the Braves where he had a fantastic rookie year in 1950. He hit .273 with 18 homers and 100 runs scored while playing the outfield in Boston. He also led the league in stolen bases and won the Rookie of the Year award by a large margin over pitcher Bob Miller. 

His 1951 stats were even better than his rookie totals but in 1952 his production dipped sharply. He was sent down to the Braves' minor league team in Toledo where he had another solid season and blasted a monster homer over the 472 foot left field wall at the Toledo stadium. He was traded to the Pirates for the 1954 season, but only got one at bat with the big league club before being sent down for good. He spent 5 years playing quality baseball for Toronto of the International League before retiring in 1958 at the age of 40. 

The fact that there were players like Jethroe who were major league quality but were not allowed the opportunity to play in the majors during their prime frustrates me to no end. I like going over the stats of players from past eras and I always wonder what could Jet have done if he played in the 40's? I doubt he would hit .340 with 90 something stolen bases like he did in the Negro Leagues, but with those skills, I bet he could have put up some pretty nice numbers during his prime. I'm glad that Jet, unlike so many others, was at least given an opportunity to play in the bigs at least for a short time and that the Braves were willing to give him that shot.  


MattR said...

Nice post. I love seeing those old Bowman cards!

intoleftfield said...

The back of the 1951 Bowman card was always ridiculous to me... I guess it was just the times.

Great write-up! Always love a history lesson on a player who was important to the game, but has faded. It's important to remember these guys from a historical sense.