20,000 days ago, the Phillies belatedly got with the program.
On April 22, 1957, in the eighth inning of an otherwise entirely forgettable loss to the Dodgers, Philadelphia inserted a young player name John Kennedy into the game as a pinch runner. Kennedy’s noteworthiness has little to do with the fact he shares a name with the then-US Senator from Massachusetts. No, this Kennedy has something much more notable to contribute to baseball history.
You see, in a very real sense Kennedy’s entrance marked a new chapter in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. In one key way he was unlike any previous player in the history of the Phillies.
John Kennedy was black.
By entering the game, he became the first black to ever play for the Phillies. Ten years after Jackie Robinson integrated all of baseball (and several months after he played his last game), the Phillies became the last NL team to integrate their roster.
That didn’t mean all baseball had integrated. Over in the AL the Tigers and Red Sox still fielded all-white lineups, but the senior circuit’s integration was now complete.
The NL had always been at the forefront of integration. The Dodgers, Giants, and Braves had been especially aggressive in integrating their teams, playing stars such as Robinson, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Hank Aaron, and others. Not so coincidentally, those teams won every NL pennant from 1951-59.
The other teams, though, had also uncovered some amazing talents. By 1957, Ernie Banks was already the Cubs’ shortstop, Frank Robinson was an instant sensation in Cincinnati, and the Pirates had a young outfielder bursting with talent named Roberto Clemente.
The Phillies were the slowest of the NL teams to move forward. Yes they did integrate with Kennedy, but he only played five games with the club. Twice he was a late game infield defensive replacement, and the other trio of appearances came as a pinch runner. Philadelphia wouldn’t land their first real star African-American until Dick Allen arrived in 1964.
I have no idea why the Phillies were so comparatively slow to integrate. Racism is one obvious answer, but it could just have been managerial incompetence. They are, after all, historically the worst franchise in history. When Jackie Robinson integrated baseball the Phillies were finishing a stretch of 31 seasons in which they had 30 losing records (and went 78-76 in the other year).
They were actually good in the late 1940s and early 1950, and that could’ve deceived them into thinking they didn’t need to recruit blacks. They won the pennant in 1950 with an all-white roster – maybe they thought they (finally) had figured out how to put a team together.
Regardless, the last NL team did integrate – exactly 20,000 days ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their “day-versary” or anniversary today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim the list.
1,000 days since Yovani Gallardo leads Milwaukee to a 1-0 win by throwing a shutout and belting a home run.
1,000 days since Zack Greinke’s scoreless inning streak comes to an end at 43 innings, but he still beats Toronto, 11-3.
5,000 days since David Wells tosses his perfect game, as the Yankees top Minnesota, 4-0.
10,000 days since Danny Tartabull makes his big league debut.
10,000 days since Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Cronin dies.
15,000 days since the Giants trade Ron Hunt to the Mets.
1900 NL officials hold a secret meeting in Cleveland to discuss dropping four of the league’s 12 teams: Cleveland, Washington, Louisville, and Baltimore. Sure enough, they’ll all be dropped in the off-season.
1901 Flint Rhem, pitcher, is born.
1916 Jack Brickhouse, longtime announcer for the Cubs on WGN, is born.
1931 The Yankees sign free agent Joe Sewell.
1934 In a conversation about the upcoming season, Giants manager Bill Terry jokes “Is Brooklyn still in the league?” He’ll live to regret that statement.
1941 Tommy Bond, great pitcher from the first decade of the NL, dies.
1955 Baseball announces a new rule. From now on, a pitcher is to deliver the ball within 20 seconds after taking a pitching position. This rule has almost never been enforced.
1958 Atlee Hammaker, 1983 NL ERA winner, is born.
1958 Neil Allen, pitcher who once threw three consecutive complete game shutouts, is born.
1960 Russ Ford, one of the originators of the shineball, dies.
1961 The Orioles and A’s engage in an eight-player trade, in which the Orioles get Whitey Herzog.
1962 The Southern Association announces it’s suspending operations. Its attendance is down, the Memphis and New Orleans franchises have pulled out, and the league refuses to integrate.
1963 The Reds trade Don Zimmer to the Dodgers.
1964 Rod Dibble, hard throwing Reds reliever, is born.
1975 The Royals sign ex-Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew.
1980 Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon buy the Mets for a little over $21 million from the Payson family.
1984 Scott Kazmir, pitcher, is born.
1990 Atlanta trades Jim Presley to the Mariners.
1997 Anaheim purchases Shigetoshi Hasegawa from Orix in Japan.
2000 Yankee prospect D’Angelo Jimenez suffers a broken neck when the car he’s driving collides with a bus in the Dominican Republic.
2003 Colorado signs free agent Jose Hernandez.
2003 The White Sox sign free agent pitcher Esteban Loaiza. This move will work out well for them.
2006 An announcement is made that thousands of pieces of Joe DiMaggio memorabilia, most notably his 1947 MVP plaque, will be auctioned off in May.
2007 The White Sox sign free agent Darin Erstad, a player they’ve wanted for years.