Black History Month: The Best Black Players to Play for the Red Wings
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are looking back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club or play for a team within its market. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are looking back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club or play for a team within its market.
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 Rochester Red Wings.
DON BAYLOR—Don Baylor played parts of three years for the Red Wings (1968, 1970-1971) winning The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year award in 1970 (.327-22-107 with 26 SB) before starring for the legendary 1971 Red Wings team that won the Governors’ Cup and the Junior World Series. Baylor would play 19 years in the Major Leagues as an outfielder, first baseman and DH accumulating 2,135 hits and 338 home runs. He won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1979 with the Angels and played on the World Series winning Twins in 1987. After his playing days, Baylor managed the Rockies and the Cubs in the Major Leagues.
LUKE EASTER—Despite segregation keeping Luke Easter out of the big leagues until he was in his 30s, the slugging first baseman crushed more than 25 home runs three straight seasons for Cleveland from 1950 to 1952. Easter became one of the most feared sluggers in the International League after his Major League career was over winning the IL MVP with Buffalo in 1957. Even though he was well into his 40s, he played for parts of six years for the Red Wings at the end of his playing career, and---with his gregarious personality—became one of the most popular players to ever play in Rochester. His number 36 is one of only two retired numbers—along with Joe Altobelli—among former players in the long history of the Red Wings franchise.
BOB GIBSON—One of baseball’s greatest right-handed pitchers of all-time, Gibson won 251 games in a 17 year MLB career spent entirely with the Cardinals. A nine-time All Star, Gibson won the National League Cy Young Award in 1968 and 1970 while also winning the NL MVP Award in his historic 1968 season when he posted a 1.12 ERA. He was also one of the best fielding pitchers of all-time winning nine Gold Glove Awards. Additionally, Gibson performed well when it mattered most earning World Series MVP honors in 1964 and 1967. Gibson pitched in Rochester in 1958 and 1960 shortly after being a two sport athlete (baseball and basketball) at Creighton University in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Gibson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
EDDIE MURRAY—One of only six men with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in Major League history, Murray was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. The first baseman played 21 years in the big leagues winning the 1977 American League Rookie of the Year Award with the Orioles while being selected to the All Star Game eight times. The Los Angeles native has the second most hits (3,255) and the second most home runs (504) of any switch-hitter in baseball history. Amazingly, Murray started switch-hitting in 1975 while in the Minor Leagues…just one year before he joined the Red Wings. On an IL pennant winning team in 1976, Murray hit 11 home runs and batted .274 in only 54 games before making his Major League debut one season later.
FRANK ROBINSON—The first African-American manager in Major League Baseball history, Robinson was also the first African-American manager in the history of the Red Wings. Robinson first managed in the big leagues as a player/manager for Cleveland in 1975-1977 at the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. He took over as the Red Wings manager in 1978 after Ken Boyer left the team early in that season to take over as the big league skipper of the Cardinals. Aside from his original managerial stint with Cleveland, Robinson would also manage the Giants, Orioles, Expos and Nationals at the Major League level. In his stellar playing career, Robinson amassed the 10th most home runs in MLB history (586). He won the American League Triple Crown with Baltimore in 1966 while winning Most Valuable Player honors in both leagues….1961 with the Reds and 1966 with the Orioles. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.