Though late, first in their fields in Chicago

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Here it was, four years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and a Chicago baseball team finally was getting around to putting black players in uniform.

Catcher Sam Hairston and first baseman Bob Boyd, whom the White Sox signed the previous summer out of the Negro American League, reported to the Sox's 1951 training camp in Pasadena, Calif., both a bit apprehensive--with no reason to be, as it turned out."It wasn't a problem," remembered Hairston, still an instructor in the Sox organization. "The guys were nice."

And the manager?

"Paul Richards wasn't too friendly," said Hairston. "But he wasn't friendly to anybody."

It was Richards who, though farming out both Hairston and Boyd that March, was mostly responsible for landing the first black to play in a regular-season game for the Sox. As manager at Seattle in the Pacific Coast League the year before, Richards had seen a flashy Cuban named Orestes Saturnino "Minnie" Minoso hit .339 with 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers for San Diego.

Richards told General Manager Frank Lane that Minoso was the guy he had to have to help turn around what had been a perennial second-division club. On April 30, Lane landed Minoso from Cleveland in a three-team, seven-player deal that also involved the Philadelphia A's.

The next day, in his first at-bat in a Sox uniform, Minoso hit Yankee ace Vic Raschi's second pitch to him into the Comiskey Park center-field bullpen, well over the 415-foot sign. The South Side had a new hero, regardless of his color.

"The fans made me feel at home, completely," Minoso recalled. "So after that, I figure I have a home here for a hundred years."

Billy Pierce recalls his teammates accepting Minoso rather quickly.

"That home run did it fast," he laughed. "Plus, with Minnie's personality, he'd be accepted right away anyway."

Minoso went on to become far more than just a footnote in Chicago baseball history. The first black player actually signed, however, by the Sox was Hairston, father of ex-Sox pinch-hitter deluxe Jerry Hairston, on July 31, 1950. Sam, reportedly 25 at the time but really 30, won the Negro American League's Triple Crown that summer as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns, batting .424 with 17 homers and 71 RBIs in 70 games.

Two days later, the Sox signed Boyd away from the Memphis Red Sox. Boyd, then 23, had hit .356 that summer after posting marks of .339, .376 and .375 the three years before, all with Memphis.

Recalled Chuck Comiskey, then running the Sox with Lane: "We did, like all the other organizations, once the barrier was broken and blacks were accepted, start stepping up our scouting of the Negro leagues. It was kind of like with the Cuban ballplayers, the Latin American players. Clark Griffith, with Washington, had those kinds of guys in his system long before any of us started looking down in that part of the world. The second was Branch Rickey, with the Dodgers. And then the rest of us woke up."

Comiskey recalled Rickey wanted to deal two black players, outfielder Sam Jethroe and pitcher Dan Bankhead, to the Sox in September, 1949. And he remembered he and Lane were intrigued. Jethroe, destined to be the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950 with the Boston Braves, had just hit .326 at Triple-A Montreal with 19 triples and 89 stolen bases; Bankhead had gone 20-6 for the same club.

But the Sox's more pressing need at the time was a shortstop to replace Luke Appling and their sights were set on Carrasquel, then at the Dodgers' Ft. Worth farm.

So when Hairston and Boyd arrived at Pasadena in '51, they--not Jethroe or Bankhead-- were the first blacks in a Sox uniform. The welcome was cordial.

"It went real smoothly--no problem at all," said Boyd from his home in Wichita. "I wasn't nervous, 'cause everyone treated me real nice. The rest of the players and me, we got along just fine."

Hairston remembered much the same thing.

"I guess I was accepted," he added, "because this is my 47th year with the White Sox."

"I don't remember any problem at all," said former Sox pitcher Howie Judson. "There was nobody who resented them or anything. Both of them were good guys."

Added Pierce, then in the third of his 13 years in Chicago: "We had no problem whatsoever. In fact, I don't remember on the White Sox any time that we had any type of a racial situation. I don't remember any type of argument or a situation that you could've called tense."

In midseason 1955, the Sox, in a pennant race, came close to adding Jackie Robinson himself. The Dodgers deemed him expendable because (1) they were leading the National League by 15 games, (2) he was feuding with manager Walter Alston, (3) he wasn't playing much and (4) he was 36.

A waiver deal was all set, according to Lane, but at the last minute, Cincinnati General Manager Gabe Paul put in a claim, the Dodgers withdrew the waivers and the deal was called off.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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