Black History Month: Top Players During OKC’s Indians/89ers Era (Part 1)
In celebration of Black History Month, teams across Minor League Baseball are honoring some of the best Black players in their respective histories. The retrospective for Oklahoma City originally was supposed to be a two-part series, but it soon became apparent there were several players worth recognizing and has been
In celebration of Black History Month, teams across Minor League Baseball are honoring some of the best Black players in their respective histories.
The retrospective for Oklahoma City originally was supposed to be a two-part series, but it soon became apparent there were several players worth recognizing and has been expanded to three parts. After covering the top players of the team’s Bricktown era, it’s time to explore the notable Black players of the Oklahoma City Indians and 89ers eras over the course of two installments.
Players were selected based on a combination of individual season and career achievements while playing for Oklahoma City, as well as their Major League careers. They are presented below in chronological order.
Bill Greason (Pitcher; 1952–53)
Greason is the most significant player on this list, as he was the first Black athlete to ever play for an Oklahoma City team. He previously played in the Negro Leagues, and in 1948, played for the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays.
Greason was signed by the Indians when the franchise was part of the Texas League and he played for Oklahoma City across two seasons in 1952 and 1953. He made a total of 48 appearances, including 44 starts, going 25–14 with a 3.26 ERA.
Greason’s success with the Indians led him to being signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, and in 1954, he became the Cardinals’ second-ever Black player and first-ever Black pitcher. He did not return to the Major Leagues after a three-game stint in that 1954 season, but he continued to play professionally through 1959.
In 2017, Greason was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
Dave Roberts (Outfielder/First Baseman; 1962–65)
Not to be mistaken for the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Roberts played in parts of each of the first four seasons for the 89ers between 1962–65, winning Pacific Coast League titles in 1963 and 1965. During the team’s inaugural 1962 campaign, Roberts led the team in nearly every offensive category, batting .322 with 15 home runs, 96 RBI, 86 runs scored and a league-leading 38 doubles.
His 1965 season is arguably the greatest ever by an Oklahoma City player. Roberts was named the PCL’s MVP that season, compiling a batting line of .319/.428/.615 while belting a league-best and team-record 38 home runs, with 114 RBI, 102 runs, 64 extra-base hits and 94 walks.
During his Oklahoma City career, Roberts played in 466 games and batted .309 with 74 homers, 99 doubles and 326 RBI.
He only appeared in a total of 91 games in the Majors with Houston and Pittsburgh, unfortunately unable to replicate his Triple-A success. Roberts spent the final seven seasons of his playing career in Japan, totaling 183 home runs and 492 RBI. The entirety of his professional career spanned 22 seasons between 1952–73, and he retired with 433 home runs and over 1,500 RBI.
Jimmy Wynn (Outfielder; 1964)
Affectionately known as “The Toy Cannon” due to his small stature but big power and strong throwing arm, Wynn played one season for Oklahoma City in 1964, batting .273 with 10 home runs, 40 RBI and 13 steals across 82 games. It would be the last time he ever played in the Minor Leagues.
Wynn played 15 seasons in the Majors, including 11 seasons with Houston. Wynn is a member of the Astros Hall of Fame, and his No. 24 was retired by the club in 2005. Wynn was named a National All-Star three times, including twice as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974–75. During his first season in Dodger Blue in 1974, Wynn set the team single-season home run record with 32.
Throughout this MLB career, Wynn racked up 1,665 hits, 1,105 runs scored, 291 home runs and 964 RBI.
Sonny Jackson (Infielder; 1965)
Jackson spent 1965 with the 89ers and was the regular starting shortstop for a team that went 91–54 in the regular season — still the best record in OKC’s Triple-A history — and eventually won the PCL Championship.
His 193 hits led the league and remains one of the highest single-season outputs in team history. Jackson also ranked second in the league with 104 runs while batting .331 with a .382 on-base percentage. He also stole 52 bases, placing second in the PCL.
Jackson played parts of 12 seasons in the Majors between 1963–74 with Houston and Atlanta. In 1966, he led the Astros with a .292 batting average and 174 hits while setting a then-National League rookie record with 49 stolen bases.
Nate Colbert (Outfielder/First Baseman; 1967–68)
Colbert briefly played two games for the 89ers in 1967 before returning for 92 games in 1968. He batted .264 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI while also appearing in 20 games for Houston throughout the season. He provided a memorable home opener at All Sports Stadium that year, knocking a walk-off RBI single in the 10th inning against Phoenix.
Prior to the 1969 season, Colbert was selected by San Diego in the expansion draft. He rose to become one of the faces of the Padres’ nascent franchise, hitting 163 home runs over his six seasons with the club, including two campaigns with 38 homers. Through 2021, he still holds San Diego’s career home run record. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Padres Hall of Fame in 1999.
Colbert made the NL All-Star Team in three straight seasons from 1971–73 and played in a total of 10 seasons in the Majors, also seeing time with Houston, Montreal, Detroit and Oakland.
Remember, this series is not complete yet, with six more players yet to be recognized. The final installment will be published the week of Feb. 21.
(All photos used in this article are courtesy of the Oklahoma City Dodgers’ archives.)