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Learn about the Cincinnati Tigers Negro League Baseball Team and Chuck Harmon

 

The first official game of baseball was played in 1846. Nearly 75 years later, the Negro Major League, comprising professional teams of African Americans, was established in 1920.  

 

Some consider two Cubans the Reds signed in 1911, Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida, to be the first Blacks in the major leagues but were not rendered uniforms. Upon hearing of President Garry Herrmann’s plan to contract with the players, Reds manager Clark Griffith expressed a common concern when he said, “Many persons will think they are Negroes.”

 

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The Tigers became Cincinnati’s Negro League professional baseball team in 1934. Many of the original players were from the city’s preeminent Black amateur team, Excelsior. Wearing Cincinnati Reds hand-me-down uniforms, the Tigers drew as many as 15,000 primarily Black fans to their games at Crosley Field.

 

The Memphis Red Sox, bolstered by the Cincinnatians, swept triumphantly through the league after purchasing the team in 1937. Roy Partlow, a left-handed pitcher for the Tigers and the Red Sox, had the longest Negro league career of any Cincinnatian.

 

Tigers | baseball
Cincinnati Tiger’s team photo from 1936

 

 

Related Article: The History of African Americans in Cincinnati

 

 

Jackie Robinson | baseball
Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Lonnie Wheeler and John Baskin, Cincinnati baseball historians, estimate that during the decades of baseball segregation, up to a third of Cincinnati’s exceptional players were denied the opportunity to pursue major league careers due to their pigmentation.

 

Chuck Harmon | baseball
Chuck Harmon, the first Black player to wear a Reds uniform

Even after desegregation, opportunities for Black players were mainly a tease. The Reds were one of the last teams to integrate. It was not until 1954 that the Reds signed a University of Toledo basketball player and Indiana native Chuck Harmon as a third baseman and outfielder.

 

 

Related Article: Stories of the Underground Railroad and the Important Ties to Cincinnati

 

Like Jackie Robinson, Harmon had experience playing with and against white college men. Harmon rarely saw regular play. He joined the St. Louis Cardinals and subsequently moved to the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

  • Brooks Lawrence was the first African American Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer.
  • Frank Robinson was the first African American Cincinnati Reds National League MVP.
  • Jim Wynn, a graduate of Taft High School, was the first Black baseball player from Cincinnati to play in the major leagues, signing with Houston in 1964.

 

As of 1988, 236 Cincinnatians appeared in the majors – only nine were Black. Six of those nine were active players in 1987. Conservatively, at least 50 to 75 baseball players from Cincinnati had major league ability without major league opportunity.

 

Sources

Cincinnati Tigers – Wikipedia
Celebrating Black History Month | Cincinnati Reds (mlb.com)
Negro League Baseball – Wikipedia
Cincinnati History Library and Archives – cincymuseum.org

 

 

About The First 28

The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians, and politicians.

 

 

The Voice of Black Cincinnati is a media company designed to educate, recognize, and create opportunities for African Americans. Want to find local news, events, job postings, scholarships, and a database of local Black-owned businesses? Visit our homepage, explore other articles, subscribe to our newsletter, like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and text VOBC to 513-270-3880.

 

Images provided by Getty Images, Bob Sanberg, and mlb.com

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Written by Sophie Barsan

Sophie Barsan is a writer at The Voice of Black Cincinnati, where she covers events and client -focused content. Sophie's work is central to keeping the community informed about Cincinnati vibrant array of activities and opportunities. Her dedication to exploring and highlighting the city's cultural richness makes her stories a must-read for anyone looking to engage with the local scene. Connect with Sophie on LinkedIn for a deeper look into her articles and contributions.

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