20,000 days ago, the Tigers made a historic change to their franchise.
On that day, June 6, 1958, the Tigers started Ozzie Virgil at third base. In and of itself, that wasn’t especially important. Virgil didn’t have much of a career, and the Tigers were one of five teams he played for, mostly as a backup.
Aye, but one key feature set Virgil apart from all previous Tigers players. Virgil was a black man, and he was the first black baseball player in the franchise’s history. It had taken over 11 years since Jackie Robinson made his MLB debut, but the Tigers finally had integrated.
People know about Robinson and how he integrated the game in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But people often don’t know just how slow the pace of integration was after that. Oh, not all teams were as slow as the Tigers, of course, but few jumped at getting the best black baseball players.
The opening stages are relatively well known. In 1947, the Dodgers integrated, and then later that year Bill Veeck’s Indians signed Larry Doby, the first black AL player. Both Robinson and Doby helped their teams set attendance records, so the St. Louis Browns signed Negro League stars Hank Thompson and Willard Brown. When floods of fans failed to appear, the Browns cut their first Negro Leaguers.
At the end of 1947, only the Dodgers and Indians had integrated rosters. That was still the case when 1948 ended.
In 1949, the Giants broke through, signing Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson. They debuted together in July of 1949. The game was back up to three integrated teams. In 1950, the Boston Braves joined the club, getting Sam Jethroe, but that was it. 1950 was the fourth season of integrated baseball, and only five teams ever had played a black man, one of which had done it only briefly as an attendance stunt.
Things improved a bit in 1951. By now, Bill Veeck owned the Browns, and he re-integrated them, bringing in Satchel Paige. The White Sox also integrated, with the first great Afro-Caribbean player in the big leagues, Minnie Minoso.
Again, things stalled. When Minoso took the field for the Sox on May 1, 1951, six teams out of 16 had integrated. Things remained that way for over 28 months. Not a single squad integrated their roster again until mid-September of 1953.
This time, however, things began to break open. In mid-September, two clubs integrated, first the Philadelphia A’s and then the Chicago Cubs. While the A’s Bob Trice is obscure and known only for being their first black player, the Cubs integrated with one of their best players ever: Ernie Banks. (Well, Banks was co-integrated alongside fellow black Cub infielder Gene Baker).
In 1954, things really picked up, with three more squads integrating to begin the year: the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds. That September, the Washington Senators joined the club. In a little under a year, the number of integrated clubs had doubled, from six to a full dozen.
That put considerable pressure on the holdout squads to finally enter the 20th century. (Also, 1954 was also the year the Supreme Court issued their Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, helping to spark America’s social revolution in race relations.)
The Yankees, after years of outside protest at their avoiding integration, finally did so on Opening Day 1955 with Elston Howard in their lineup. That just left three squads without a black player: Philadelphia, Detroit, and Boston.
Again, the pace of integration slowed up. None of the holdouts integrated until 1957, two years after the Yankees. (In the meantime, Robinson himself had retired). The Phillies were No. 14 when they debuted a man named John Kennedy on April 22, 1957.
Over a year later, the Tigers left the Red Sox as the last non-integrated team. The Red Sox remained alone until July 21, 1959, when they put Pumpsie Green on the field. People often recall how slow the Red Sox were to integrate, waiting a dozen years after Branch Rickey and Robinson. However, while they held out the longest, they were hardly the only hold out. The Tigers and Phillies should be glad for Boston, because that club’s slow march to integration obscures their similar stories.
Regardless, however, the Tigers did integrate before the Red Sox (though no one else), and that integration occurred 20,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold.
1,000 days since a classic pitchers’ duel occurs in Chicago’s crosstown classic. Both Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly and White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd have dueling no-hitters last until the seventh inning. Alfonso Soriano doubles off Floyd with two outs in the seventh. In the ninth, a Juan Pierre single breaks up Lilly’s no-hit bid.
1,000 days since Jorge Posada belts a grand slam for the second straight game.
2,000 days since Julio Franco appears in his last game.
2,000 days since Frank Thomas of the Blue Jays hits three homers in one game. It’s the second time in his career he’s done that.
3,000 days since the Dodgers sign free agent Jose Valentin.
5,000 days since Toronto pitcher John Frascatore ties a MLB record with his third win in three days. Toronto beats Baltimore, 8-6.
5,000 days since Mel Rojas appears in his last game.
5,000 days since the Brewers get 21 hits in a game for the second time in three nights, as they annihilate the Cubs, 19-12.
6,000 days since the Yankees beat Texas, 3-2, in Game Three of the ALDS. The Yankees score a pair of runs in the top of the ninth for the win.
7,000 days since tryouts are held for the Colorado Silver Bullets, the first professional women’s baseball team.
7,000 days since Harvey Haddix dies at age 68.
8,000 days since Nolan Ryan pitches his 5,000th inning.
9,000 days since Seattle Mariners pitcher Gene Walter commits four balks in one game, tying an AL record.
25,000 days since Hal Newhouser wins, giving him a career record of 62-61. It’ll stay over .500 for the rest of his career.
30,000 days since the Oakland Oaks (PCL) trades Ernie Lombardi to the Dodgers.
40,000 days since Jesse Stovall tosses an 11-inning shutout in his first big league start. Cleveland beats the Tigers, 1-0.
1893 Billy Southworth, Hall of Fame manager, is born. He led the wartime Cardinals franchise to three straight seasons with at least 105 wins. That’s the only time any franchise has ever done that.
1893 Lefty Williams, Black Sox pitcher, is born. He would win 23 games in 1919 and 22 more in 1920 but go 0-3 in the 1919 World Series.
1900 Brooklyn purchases Gus Weyhing from St. Louis.
1900 Happy Jack Chesbro is assigned by Louisville to Pittsburgh. Louisville’s team no longer exists in the NL.
1900 Iron Man Joe McGinnity is assigned by Baltimore to Brooklyn as the old Baltimore team doesn’t exist anymore.
1908 Myril Hoag is born. He’ll represent the 1939 Browns in the All-Star game.
1921 The Cardinals sign Rogers Hornsby to the richest contract in NL history: three years at $18,500 a year.
1927 Jackie Jensen is born. He’ll win the AL MVP in 1958 with 35 homers and 122 RBIs but retire after 1959 due to his fear of flying. (He comes back in 1961, but that’s his last season.)
1932 Ron Kline, pitcher, is born. He’ll be a good pitcher on some rotten Pirates teams in the 1950s, causing him twice to lead the league in losses twice.
1934 Jim Landis, outfielder, is born. He’ll win five Gold Gloves with the White Sox.
1942 Bert Campaneris, shortstop, is born. As the shortstop for the Mustache Gang, he’ll lead the AL in stolen bases six times. He also still happens to be the all-time A’s franchise leader in career hits.
1946 The Mexican League offers Ted Williams $500,000 to jump there. He’ll turn it down.
1947 In a spring training game, Leo Durocher sort of implies that Yankees co-owner Larry MacPhail has mobsters in his box at their team’s stadium. This will help lead to Durocher’s year-long suspension in 1947.
1948 John Curtis is born. He’ll be a starting pitcher for the early 1970s Red Sox before transforming into a late-1970s Giants reliever.
1948 Darrel Chaney, backup infielder for the Big Red Machine, is born.
1963 Terry Mulholland, crafty lefty pitcher, is born. He’ll have one of the best pickoff moves ever.
1965 Benito Santiago, five-time All-Star catcher, is born. He’ll win the 1987 Rookie of the Year Award.
1966 Aaron Robinson dies at age 50. He was a catcher who represented the Yankees in the 1947 All-Star game despite playing in just 82 games on the season with a .270 average and five homers.
1973 Aaron Boone, infielder and 2003 All-Star, is born.
1979 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn declares that all reporters—male and female—will have equal access to all big league locker rooms.
1985 Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch is born.
1987 The Cubs sign free agent right fielder Andre Dawson.
1987 Zeke Bonura, 1930s bad-fielding first baseman, dies at age 78.
1987 Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks starting pitcher, is born.
1988 The A’s sign free agent Tony Phillips.
1994 John Kruk is diagnosed with testicular cancer.
1994 Elbie Fletcher dies at age 77. The former Pirates first baseman drew over 100 walks in a season three times, twice leading the league, and represented the Pirates in the 1943 All-Star game. He was a sabermetric darling decades before there was sabermetrics.
1995 MLB awards expansion franchises to groups in Arizona and St. Petersburg.
2010 Willie Davis, outfielder, dies at age 69. He amassed 2,561 career hits.
2012 Harry Wendelstadt, one of the longest-lasting umpires in baseball history, dies.