Baltimore Orioles: Connections to Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers between 1947 and 1956. The Baltimore Orioles as we know it only existed for the final two seasons of the iconic #42’s career.

Sadly, the Hall of Fame infielder never played a game against the MLB Baltimore Orioles. He did play against the International League Orioles in 1946 when he on the Montreal Royals. The Royals won the league that year.

Before playing for the International League, Robinson was a member of the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. In 1945, he played alongside Satchel Paige and Walter “Bancy” Thomas. Paige went on to pitch for the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Athletics. Thomas went on to become the maternal grandfather of Orioles shortstop Richie Martin.

According to an article by Joe Trezza with MLB.com, Thomas batted ahead of Robinson on the Monarchs 1945 Opening Day. He played for the Monarchs for two seasons and fate put him in Robinson’s orbit. He played for three other seasons in the Negro Leagues and spent a few more seasons playing in the Eastern League and the Manitoba-Dakota League.

Unfortunately, Martin never met his maternal grandfather as he died before Martin was born. But, it doesn’t take away the importance of Martin’s connection to the iconic ball player who set the stage for players of color all over the league.

On Jackie Robinson Day, Martin took time to read a story on YouTube about Robinson. While reading, he was wearing a replica Monarchs jersey with his grandfather’s number.

After Robinson started MLB’s integration, the St. Louis Brown were soon to follow with Hank Thompson and Willard Brown hitting the field in July 1945. Brown is in the Hall of Fame. When the Browns became the Orioles in 1954, the everyday roster was all white men.

There were two African American men on the team, outfielder Joe Durham and pitcher Jay Heard. They combined to play in 12 games.

Durham played for the Orioles for two seasons with two years in the military dividing the seasons. His final year with the Orioles was 1957 where he played in 77 games. He continued to work for the Orioles as a batting practice pitcher and coach in the minor league system.

When he died in 2016, the Orioles honored him with a moment of silence at the start of a game.

Next: Orioles Winning the Payroll Battle for the Bottom

It wasn’t until 1956 that the Orioles roster began to look more like the rosters of today. Pitcher Connie Johnson started in 25 games and finished the season with an ERA of 3.43. Bob Boyd played first base and hit .311/.395/.400 in 70 games.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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