Sam Jethroe Essentials

Positions:
Bats: B Throws: R
Height: 73 Weight: 178
Born: Tuesday, January 23, 1917 in Lowndes County, MS USA
Died: 6 16 2001 in Erie, PA USA
Debut: 4/18/1950
Last Game: 4/15/1954
Full Name: Samuel Jethroe

Before becoming the Braves’ first black player, Jethroe had already compiled some fine statistics for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues. Having compiled a .342 batting average after six seasons with the Buckeyes (and a .393 clip in 1946), the outfielder was selected to the East-West All-Star Game four times. Known for his power as well as his speed, he was the only player to have hit a ball over the 472-foot leftfield fence at Toledo’s Swayne Field and into the coal piles of the Red Man Tobacco Factory.

In the spring of 1945, he was selected with Jackie Robinson and Marvin Williams for an unsuccessful tryout with the Boston Red Sox. and took place in front of 78-year-old Hugh Duffy (who was said to have remarked, “they looked good to me”), Joe Cronin, and Tom Yawkey. But none of the players were taken by the Red Sox at that point.Ultimately, the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, while Jethroe went on to star for their crosstown rivals.

Jethro originally was signed by Brooklyn, but the Brooklyn Dodgers were concerned that they had too many black players to suit all of their fans, so they traded Jethroe with Bob Addis to the Boston Braves for Don Thompson, Damon Phillips, and Al Epperly.

The first black player in the Boston Braves organization.  At thirty-two years old, he was the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year, hitting .273 with 18 homers, 100 runs scored, and a league-leading 35 stolen bases. His numbers were virtually identical in 1951, as he again copped the steals title.

 

But Jethroe slumped in 1952, to to .232/.318/.357, though he was second in the NL with 28 steals, fielded poorly, and reportedly had vision trouble and partly as a result of a fight with manager Charlie Grimm. Amid rumors that he was older than listed, he spent 1953 in Toledo, batting .307. Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he played just two games for the Bucs.

Back in the minors, Sam put on a show in the 1953 American Association for the Toledo Mud Hens, hitting .309/~.423/.560 and leading the AA in walks (109), OBP and runs (137) while going deep 28 times, stealing 27 bases and tying for the lead in times hit by pitch (11). He tied for fourth in steals, was third in total bases (304) and tied for third in homers. His 408 putouts were the most by an outfielder in the AA that year and he had 16 outfield assists. In 1954, he moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs and put up a .305/~.385/.499 line with 23 steals (4th in the IL), 113 runs (leading the league), 36 doubles (tied for second), 8 triples and 21 homers. It was the third time in three full AAA seasons that he had topped the circuit in runs scored. He led IL outfielders in putouts (415).

In 1955, he slipped to a .262 average and .410 slugging with Toronto at age 37. He scored 105 runs for the 1956 Maple Leafs (leading his league once more), missed the 20-20 mark by one homer and batted .287/~.399/.446. He was third in the league with 103 walks (trailing Cal Abrams and fellow ex-Negro League star Luke Easter). He led IL outfielders in putouts (351). In 1957, the old-timer batted .277/~.363/.439 and stole 24 bases, scoring 83 times. He was only two steals behind league leader Len Johnston. He finished his career for Toronto in 1958 by hitting .234 and slugging .326.

He finally retired at age 41.

He ran Jethroe’s Bar and Restaurant in Erie, PA, for 30 years. When things got tough, he sold his Rookie of the Year trophy. His home burned down, and he lived in the Bar. He sued Major League Baseball, saying that he had not been able to receive a pension due to racism which prevented his breaking in. The case was dismissed as having been brought after the statute of limitations had passed. Eventually, though, Jethroe and some other Negro League players began receiving limited pensions from Major League Baseball, perhaps as a recognition that it was good public relations.