Cooperstown Confidential: Where are the all-black nine now?

Forty years ago, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh wrote the following names onto his lineup card, in anticipation of the Sept. 1 game against left-hander Woodie Fryman and the Philadelphia Phillies:

Rennie Stennett, 2B
Gene Clines, CF
Roberto Clemente, RF
Willie Stargell, LF
Manny Sanguillen, C
Dave Cash, 3B
Al Oliver, 1B
Jackie Hernandez, SS
Dock Ellis, P

This lineup received only a small amount of attention at the time, in part because there was a Pittsburgh newspaper strike that limited the coverage of the game. Subsequent issues of The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated made brief mentions of the lineup’s unique nature, but afforded it no major coverage.

In assembling this lineup, Murtaugh did what no major league manager had done before or since: he penciled in the names of nine black players. Though few noticed at the time, that lineup represented a major milestone in the racial history of the game. Jackie Robinson had broken through baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Remarkably, it had taken 24 years for a major league team to field a lineup exclusively made up of African Americans and dark-skinned Latinos.

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For several years after Robinson’s arrival, American and National League teams had operated under an unspoken code that limited the number of black regulars at any one time to four. Furthermore, while many minority infielders and outfielders had broken into the majors throughout the ’50s and ’60s, few black catchers and pitchers had been given the opportunity to play at the big league level. The lack of black batterymen reduced the chances of an all-black and Latino lineup. The Pirates, in contrast, had been developing young black catchers and pitchers for years.

Offensively, the all-black lineup that day accounted for nine runs over the first three innings, enabling the Bucs to take an early three-run lead. Stennett, Clines, Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen and Oliver each rapped out a pair of hits.

Ellis, in the midst of one of his finest seasons, struggled that night; he was knocked out of the game in the second inning. But Ellis and the Pirates were picked up by the relief pitching of Luke Walker, a white Texan who hurled six brilliant innings. Walker, the fourth Pirates pitcher of the day, finished off a 10-7 victory.

Six weeks later, the 1971 Pirates, relying on many of the same players who were part in the all-black lineup, captured the world championship in a stunning upset over the Baltimore Orioles.

All nine participants in the all-black lineup received World Series rings for their contributions. For those nine, 1971 represented a season of achievement on two levels: the satisfaction that comes with winning the title, and the awareness of their participation in baseball history.

Forty years later, only six of the nine remain with us. Clemente, Stargell and Ellis have all passed away. Only one player—Clines—remains active in organized baseball. The others have established niches outside of the major league and minor league structure, some working as youth coaches or managers, others maintaining informal ties to the Pirates organization that brought them all together.

Here’s an update on each of the nine.

Rennie Stennett:
Though just a rookie utility man in 1971, Stennett was so highly regarded by the Pirates that they dealt incumbent second baseman Cash after the 1973 season, clearing a space for him. As a free swinger who rarely saw a pitch he didn’t like, the hard-hitting Stennett emerged as one of the most promising middle infielders of the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, he broke his leg in a 1977 game, the injury sapping him of much of his speed and range.

Eight years after retiring from the game, Stennett attempted a comeback when he signed a minor league contract with the Pirates. During the 1989 exhibition season, Stennett went 2-for-3 as a pinch-hitter, but had obviously lost most of his speed and defensive skills. Just before Opening Day, the Pirates released him.

Stennett no longer harbors any illusions of playing, but still remains involved in the game. A native of Panama, Stennett has been unable to attend any of the 1971 reunion activities at PNC Park this summer because of his commitment to managing a team in Brazil.

Knowing Stennett, he’s probably teaching the young Brazilians to swing at pitches first and ask questions later.

Gene Clines:
With his sprinter’s speed and impressive line-drive swing, the Pirates envisioned Clines as their center fielder of the future. It didn’t happen. Unable to overcome the limitations of a part-time role in Pittsburgh and stymied by defensive shortcomings in center field, Clines settled for a journeyman career that included stops with the Mets, Rangers and Cubs.

Some of the stardom that eluded Clines as a player would occur during a long career in coaching. After being released by the Cubs, Clines remained with the organization as a coach. He then joined the Astros as a minor league hitting instructor before earning a promotion to the major league staff in 1988. Clines later worked as a coach for the Mariners and Brewers.

After the ‘96 season, the Giants named Clines their major league hitting instructor, and he developed a reputation as one of the game‘s finest hitting coaches. His skills included the rare ability to strike a positive chord with superstar Barry Bonds. Clines also drew heavy praise from many of the Giants’ veteran hitters, including another temperamental sort in Jeff Kent. In 2003, Clines moved from the Bay Area back to Chicago, following friend and manager Dusty Baker to the Cubs.

Clines now works for the Dodgers as a special assistant who makes periodic trips to the organization’s minor league affiliates. Though he is highly respected, it appears that Clines will never work his dream job of managing a major league team.

That’s unfortunate, given his intelligence, his communications skills, and his understanding of hitting. In perhaps his strongest attribute, Clines has shown the ability to relate to players, as evidenced by his ability to coexist with Bonds in San Francisco. That alone should guarantee Clines a job on someone’s major or minor league staff until he decides to call it quits for good.

Roberto Clemente:
The great Clemente came back to Pittsburgh in 1972, collected his 3,000th hit in his final at-bat, and then watched in disgust as the Pirates lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

After the season, Clemente managed a youth team that toured in Nicaragua. Several weeks later, Clemente heard about a devastating earthquake that struck the Nicaraguan city of Managua. Determined to help the victims of the quake, Clemente boarded a relief plane on New Year’s Eve; the plane, destined for Managua, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing Clemente, then 38, and the other four men aboard the flight.

Nearly 40 years later, Clemente’s family continues to fulfill his personal dream by operating the Roberto Clemente Sports City in his hometown of Carolina, in Puerto Rico. The sports city has endured its share of financial problems over the years, but still manages to give underprivileged children the opportunity to participate in numerous free sports programs. It is what Clemente would have wanted.

Willie Stargell:
Still in the prime of his career, Stargell remained an offensive force for most of the 1970s. His emergence as a team leader in the absence of Clemente fully crystallized in 1979; now known as “Pops,” Stargell led the Pirates to their second world championship of the decade.

After Stargell retired as an active player in 1982, he remained with the Pirates as a coach for one season before moving on to the Braves’ organization in 1986. Stargell served as a coach and roving minor league instructor for Atlanta while remaining active in the fight against sickle cell anemia and other community-oriented projects. In 1997, Stargell returned to the Pirates organization as a special assistant to general manager Cam Bonifay.

In the years after his return to the Pirates, Stargell became increasingly ill, stricken with both kidney disease and the onset of diabetes. With his weakening condition becoming noticeable, a frail Stargell appeared at the final game in the history of Three Rivers Stadium on Oct. 1, 2000.

Stargell’s condition worsened during the winter, so much so that he was unable to attend the dedication of a bronze statue in his honor. Two days later, on April 9, 2001—the same day that the Pirates played their first game at the new PNC Park—Stargell passed away at the age of 61.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Stargell’s death, but he remains in the public consciousness. Just last week, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to release a commemorative stamp featuring Stargell’s image. He will thus join Clemente as the second member of the ‘71 Pirates to earn placement on a postage stamp.

Manny Sanguillen:
Sanguillen played most of the balance of his career in Pittsburgh, except for a lone season in Oakland. Like Stargell, he was a member of the Bucs’ world championship team in 1979. He retired in 1981, the same year that his sporting goods store in downtown Pittsburgh went bankrupt.

Although Sanguillen has had his share of financial problems, he has retained his ever-present smile and remains a popular figure to baseball fans in their 40s and beyond. For many years, Sangy appeared in old-timers games across the country.

Still a prominent resident of Pittsburgh, the native Panamanian now makes his presence felt nightly at PNC Park, where he operates a barbeque stand on the concourse just outside of the ballpark. Just stop by the stand, order some ribs, and make sure to say hi to the ever-smiling Sanguillen.

Dave Cash:
After stints with the Phillies, Expos and Padres, Cash retired. He went on to work for an investment firm in San Diego and later as a car salesman in Pittsburgh. In 1987, while working as an instructor at a Phillies fantasy camp in Clearwater, Fla., Cash realized how much he missed the game. He accepted a position as an infield coach for the Phillies’ Class-A minor league affiliate, the Batavia Clippers.

Within three years, Cash earned a promotion, becoming the manager of the Clippers. Cash then worked for several years as the first base coach for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons, Philadelphia’s Triple-A affiliate. In 1996, Cash was promoted to the Phillies’ major league coaching staff, but lost his job when Terry Francona was named Philadelphia’s manager. Cash then returned to minor league coaching with the Orioles organization.

Cash has coached or managed somewhere ever since—until this year. Out of baseball for the moment, Cash has made a number of appearances at PNC Park this season, but would like to make a return to the game if the right offer comes up.

Much like Clines, Cash set a high goal for himself: becoming a major league manager. That almost certainly will not happen now, but if there is such a thing as baseball justice, the well-respected Cash will receive at least one more shot to coach or manage in the minor leagues. Someone could use a good baseball mind like that of Dave Cash.

Al Oliver:
Oliver’s long career ended in 1987, after a well-traveled itinerary that saw him make stops in Texas, Montreal, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. Upon retirement, Oliver went to work as a board member for an organization in Arlington, Tex., called “Suicide Is Not Painless.” The group provided youngsters with help in attempts to avoid suicide. “Drugs keep getting most of our attention, and I can understand that,” Oliver told The Sporting News in 1986, “but suicide has become a very serious problem in our society. Lately, more and more young people have been taking their own lives.”

In 1991, Oliver returned to baseball when he became the first head coach in the history of Shawnee State, in his hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio. Now out of coaching, Oliver has remained active as a motivational speaker, often touring the country to address and advise large audiences of young people and students.

Oliver has also become a deacon in his post-playing days. In an emotionally charged address, he delivered the invocation at the 2001 Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Like most of his public speaking endeavors, it was an impressive display of his outgoing, enthusiastic personality.

Jackie Hernandez:
The slick-fielding but light-hitting Hernandez played only two more seasons with the Pirates before being traded to the Phillies, who eventually released him before he ever appeared in a game for them. Since retiring from the game as a player, Hernandez has lived and worked in the Miami area. “I am coaching a Little League team and doing a lot of fishing,” Hernandez said in a 1997 interview with Sports Collectors Digest. Hernandez also played regularly in a old-timers games across the country.

Hernandez, a native Cuban, now works with youngsters at a baseball academy in Miami. Based on his terrific fielding in the 1971 World Series, he’s likely giving the kids some useful insights into the finer points of playing shortstop.

Dock Ellis:
After stops in New York (with both the Yankees and Mets), Texas and Oakland, along with a brief return to Pittsburgh, Ellis’ major league career ended in 1979, the same year that he checked himself into a drug and alcohol abuse center. In 1984, Ellis revealed to the Pittsburgh Press that he had pitched his famed 1970 no-hitter against the Padres under the influence of LSD.

Ellis made several other startling admissions after his career ended. “I was on drugs every time I took to the field,” Ellis told USA Today in 1985. “Quite frankly, I had a chance to injure a lot of lives,” Ellis said, referring to the game in which he intentionally hit three straight Reds batters with pitches. “Thank God I didn’t hurt anyone.”

As a result of his own drug-induced lifestyle, Ellis decided to take up a career as a counselor to drug abusers and alcoholics. As Ellis turned his life around and became a successful role model, health problems began to take their toll. In 2007, a story in the New York Post described his poor health, which had turned much worse over the past six months. Ellis had lost 60 pounds since the previous autumn, when he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Doctors told Ellis that he needed a liver transplant soon; otherwise, the outlook was dire.

Ellis never received that transplant. He died in 2008 at the age of 63, the victim of extreme liver disease. With his death, the all-black lineup lost its most colorful member.

Like all of the members of the all-black nine, he had an impact on the game that should never be ignored.

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Comments

  1. Jim G. said...

    Considering it took the Red Sox 12 years after Robinson to add ONE black player to their roster, 24 years for a full lineup isn’t so remarkable. Even in Pittsburgh it took 7 years A.R. to add a black player.
    Good to learn more about Gene Clines.

  2. Phil Meneely said...

    I grew up in western PA, followed the Pirates all through the 1960s, and was in college outside of Pittsburgh when this happened.  As I recall the story, it was Dock Ellis who brought it to Danny Murtaugh’s attention after the game had started.  It is one of the many proud moments in Pirates’ history. Thanks for the updates on the players.

  3. Steve I. said...

    Considering it took the Yankees 8 years after Robinson to add a black player to their roster, 24 years for an all-black lineup doesn’t seem like that long.

    But the more interesting thing is that the all-black lineup “record” has stood for 40! years.  Where’s the outrage?!

    Seriously, this is an interesting bit of trivia, but trivial is all it is.  Which is a good thing.

    OTW, I learned that Pumpsie Green is Cornell Green’s brother, so that’s cool.  (I was always a Cornell Green fan.)

  4. Jim C said...

    Great article, just one minor correction. Manny Sanguillen’s barbecue stand is inside the park, behind the centerfield seats, not outside, unless they moved it since I was there.

  5. AndrewJ said...

    You neglected to mention Rennie Stennett’s major claim to fame: On 9/16/1975 he went for 7-for-7 in a nine inning game (only the second MLB player to ever do that), a 22-0 drubbing of the Cubs.

  6. Jim C said...

    Does anyone know when, if ever, an NFL team started an all-black 11 on either side of the ball? Or, funnily enough, the last time an NBA team started an all-white 5?

  7. Señor Spielbergo said...

    “Does anyone know (…) the last time an NBA team started an all-white 5?”

    Considering how weird that would be in the modern NBA, you’d think there would be basketball fans out there that would know, yet a Google search didn’t reveal any solid answers.

    If mixed-race players like Doug Christie and Mike Bibby count, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sacramento Kings did it in 2003 or 2004 while Chris Webber was injured.

  8. Bruce Markusen said...

    Bucco, it’s a great question. I don’t think that Murtaugh was intentionally trying to make a statement; injuries and slumps determined the lineup for that day. I do believe that once Murtaugh made up the lineup, he took a second look and realized that he had put nine minority players on the lineup card. And then he kind of played “dumb” when asked about it after the game. That’s my feeling, after talking to a lot of the people that were involved with the 1971 Pirates.

  9. BlftBucco said...

    Bruce,

    You don’t mention in the article if this was something planned by Danny Murtaugh or if it was the best available lineup on that day.

    Excluding the starting pitcher, you would normally expect to see Bob Robertson at 1B, Gene Alley at SS, and Richie Hebner at 3B.

    From looking at Baseball Reference it looks like Robertson was in a little slump, 3 for his last 19 with 7 K’s.  Alley looks like he missed 4 or 5 games in a row around that date, and Hebner was in the midst of missing 12 straight games (injury?).

    To me it appears that the lineup contained the best legitimate players instead of Murtaugh trying to make a statement or history.

    I know you wrote a book on the ‘71 Pirates.  Do you have any further insight on Murtaugh’s intention with the lineup?

  10. bucdaddy said...

    Jim C. is correct about the location of Manny’s barbecue stand (I was going to point that out, props to him for getting there first). I’m ashamed to say I’d never eaten anything there (usually dine in town before games) until this year, but now that I have, the improbably designed pulled-pork-and-pierogie is one of the best sammiches I’ve ever had.

    IIRC, Manny usually hangs out there for the first few innings to sign autographs and such. His is the only bobblehead I have. It has the trademark gap between his two top front teeth.

    Also, I believe BiftBucco is correct about the absences of Robertson, Hebner and Alley—slumps and injuries kept them out.

  11. Brian Cartwright said...

    Fox Sports Pittsburgh did an interview show with the players from this game a few years back. Those interviewed said that Murtaugh did not even realize it at the time, only after the players took the field, looked around, and saw “only brothers”.

  12. dave said...

    Dave Cash.  Yes we can!  Changed the Phils (losing) attitude in the mid 70’s… paved the way for the winning that followed.

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