The Canadian Role in Integrating Major League Baseball

As I write more and more about the players who integrated major league baseball from 1947 to 1959, I am constantly reminded how important Canada was in this story. For starters, I would encourage you to go through the stories of the players that I have already told. Canada pops up time and time again. More than anything else, I would like to catalog some of those stories. These players deserve to be remembered, as I’ve said repeatedly, but so do the people who enabled their success. Given a sport in which every major league team was in another country, I find it remarkable just important Canada was to enabling their success.

Jackie Robinson signed his first contract with the white major leagues when he signed with the Montreal Royals. Integration of a white team, for the first time since 1884, happened in Canada first. Branch Rickey wanted Robinson to go to Canada first to smooth the transition from the Negro Leagues to the white major leagues.

Sam Jethroe, after getting overlooked by the Red Sox, broke in with Montreal. After his career in the majors ended in 1952, Jethroe spent his
last five seasons playing for Toronto of the International League.

After poor initial numbers in the minors (with Farnham and St. Hyacinthe, both Canadian teams), Bob Trice got his big break in Ottawa. In Ottawa, he followed in the footsteps of future Hall of Famer Willard Brown, the second African-American to play for the St. Louis Browns and teamed up with former Negro League star and Indians first baseman Luke Easter. From there he was brought up by the Athletics.

Tom Alston broke into organized ball with Jacksonville, then he moved onto the Saskatchewan Rockets. From there he was spotted by the San Diego Padres, his home before joining the St. Louis Cardinals.

This accounts for 4 of the initial 10 players to integrate major league baseball teams. In addition to this group, other whose followed their lead spent significant time in Canada. Dan Bankhead, the first African-American pitcher in the major leagues, spent minor league time in Montreal, as did future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella and first Cy Young winner Don Newcombe. Sam Bankhead, Dan’s brother, was too old to play in the majors and instead became the first black manager of a white team when he managed the Farnham Pirates of the Provincial League. Even Pirates integrator Curt Roberts wandered through Montreal after his major league career ended.

Canada was critical to major league integration. A disproportionate number of early black baseball players cycled through one of only a handful of minor league teams in Canada. Given that Canada did not have the racial history of the United States, the country was invaluable in the process of adjusting black players to the reality of playing for mostly white teams in the heavily racist major leagues. We should certainly remember the players who gave so much in order to play in the major leagues, but the country that enabled their great successes is also deserving of our gratitude.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball, These Men Changed Baseball

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3 Comments on “The Canadian Role in Integrating Major League Baseball”

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