These Men Changed Baseball: Bob Trice
With Bob Trice, our series on the players who integrated baseball takes a distinct turn. We still have superstars left, in particular Ernie Banks and Elston Howard, but the number declines. The team that moved quickly in integrating skimmed the best players out of the Negro Leagues. The names: Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Monte Irvin, along with other great players who did not happen to be the first on their teams: Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron; prove the point. The Negro Leagues led to a great infusion of talent into the major leagues. Teams that moved later, though, were often stuck with a slightly lower level of player. In this category, we meet Bob Trice of the Philadelphia A’s.
Bob Trice was born in 1926 in Newton, GA. He moved to Weirton, WV while a child and graduated high school there in 1945. He briefly served in the Navy at the end of World War 2, then he moved into the Negro Leagues with the Homestead Grays, pitching with them from 1949-51. He was signed by the A’s and after poor minor league numbers, ended up in Ottawa of the International League. There, in 1953, Trice had his one great season. He went 21-10, with a 3.10 ERA, and he earned a September call up. On September 10, Trice became the first black ballplayer to play for the Athletics franchise. Trice went 8 innings, giving up 5 runs, and striking out 2. Trice lost to Don Larsen and the St. Louis Browns, 5-2. For the season, he was 2-1 with an ERA north of 5.
In 1954, the A’s brought him back. Trice went 7-8. with an ERA still over 5, and 22 strikeouts in 119 innings. He pitched briefly in 1955, after the A’s moved to Kansas City. In 4 games, he had an ERA of 9 and 2 strikeouts in 10 innings. He headed back to the minors and pitched poorly, until he left the realm of organized baseball. After baseball, he went back to Weirton, where he worked for the Weirton Steel Corporation until his death in 1988 at age 62.
Trice was a marginal pitcher. What does that mean? First, it means that he was one of the best baseball players to have ever lived. You do not make the major leagues unless that is true. Second, it means that Trice was like many a thousand of professional baseball players who flamed out in the major leagues. Trice defined replacement level, as he was a good AAA pitcher who could not translate those skills into the big leagues. Nevertheless, Trice mattered. He brought integration to the A’s. He was followed soon thereafter by the more successful Vic Power, whom the A’s had acquired from the Yankees organization. Power would make 4 All Star teams and win 7 Gold Gloves at first base in 12 seasons. Trice paved the way, even providing Power his essential black roommate in his first two seasons. Though he does not measure up to the great players who integrated the Dodgers or the Giants, Trice is worthy of remembrance. I would love to see the Oakland A’s retire Trice’s #23 in remembrance of his contribution and of the players who could not play for the A’s during the first 52 segregated seasons of Athletics baseball.