Black History Month Feature: Five Notable Players in Franchise History
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Akron RubberDucks franchise.
Albert “Joey” Belle
Before becoming the big muscle in the middle of the Cleveland lineup in the mid-1990s, Albert Belle went by the name Joey and was a member of the brand-new Canton-Akron Indians in 1989. Belle was a force in the new franchise’s lineup, batting .282 with 20 homers, 20 doubles and 69 RBI for the “Little Indians” in 89 games.
Belle’s strong season caused Cleveland to promote the 22-year-old up to the Majors in 1989 where he appeared in 62 games and drove in 37 runs. Belle spent 12 years in MLB playing for Cleveland, Chicago and Baltimore while batting .293 with 381 home runs, 389 doubles and 1,239 RBI.
One of the biggest names to come through Canal Park, Sabathia made his debut for the Aeros in 2000 at the age of 19. Sabathia made 17 starts for Akron and went 3-7 with a 3.59 ERA, 90 strikeouts and an opponent’s batting average of .223 in 90.1 innings pitched.
The following season, 2001, Sabathia opened the season with Cleveland and never looked back en route to a 19-year career with Cleveland, Milwaukee and New York earning a Cy Young award in 2007 and a World Series ring in 2009. Sabathia finished his big-league career 251-161 with a 3.74 ERA and 3093 strikeouts.
Before swiping one of the biggest bases in ALCS history for the 2004 Boston Red Sox and before becoming just the second African American manager to win a World Series with the 2020 Dodgers, Roberts was traded from Detroit to Cleveland with Tim Worrell for Geronimo Berroa in late June 1998. After joining the organization, Roberts made an immediate impact in the Akron Aeros lineup batting .361 with seven home runs, 33 RBI and 28 stolen bases in 56 games.
His sparkling play earned him an end-of-year promotion to Triple-A Buffalo in 1998 and in 1999, Roberts made his Major League debut for Cleveland. Roberts spent 10 years in MLB for Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Boston before becoming the first base coach for the Padres in 2010 and Dodgers manager in November 2015.
Sizemore came to the Cleveland organization in late June 2002 as part of a blockbuster deal that sent Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos for Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens. In 2003, Sizemore made himself a household name to the baseball world when he hit .304 with 13 home runs and 78 RBI while swiping 10 bases in 128 games for the Akron Aeros, leading them to their first Eastern League Championship. The follow offseason, Sizemore catapulted all the way up to number 9 on the Baseball America prospect rankings.
In 2004, Sizemore made his debut in Cleveland and began a six-year stretch as one of the top players in MLB, making three straight All-Star teams from 2006-2008 and leading Cleveland to the ALCS in 2007. Injuries unfortunately derailed Sizemore’s career, but in total the outfielder spent 10 years in MLB for Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay hitting .265 with 150 home runs and 518 RBI.
In 2021, Hillman had his best professional season in 21 games with Akron, going 10-4 with a 3.77 ERA and 85 strikeouts. Hillman tossed the RubberDucks’ only complete game in 2021 when he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out six against the Altoona Curve in the second game of a double header on Aug. 6.
Hillman led qualifying pitchers in the Double-A Northeast in ERA (3.77) and led the league in wins with 10 when he was promoted to Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 31. Hillman’s performance helped the RubberDucks finish a league-best 73-46, and the team won the league championship. After the season, Hillman was named to the Double-A Northeast All-Star team as the top left-handed pitcher.
The Akron RubberDucks are the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians. The RubberDucks season is powered by FirstEnergy at Canal Park, with the home opener April 12, 2022, against the Reading Fightin Phils at 7:05 PM. Fans can purchase tickets by calling 330-253-5151 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, or visit akronrubberducks.com/. For more information about the team, please call 330-253-5151, visit the website at akronrubberducks.com, Facebook page facebook.com/AkronRubberDucks, or on Twitter @AkronRubberDuck, and Instagram @akronrubberducks.