Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Yankee Stadium First: Browns' Thomspon Integrates the Bronx

On this day, 63 years ago, in a packed ballpark on a Tuesday night in the Bronx, Hank Thompson became the first black major leaguer to bat at Yankee Stadium in a regular season game when he led off for the visiting St. Louis Browns.

More than 50,000 Yankee fans-nearly double the attendance of Jackie Robinson’s momentous first game at Ebbet’s Field with the Dodgers three months before-came out to see the last-place Browns on July 22, 1947, whose roster was the first to include two black players, Hank Thompson and Willard Brown.

The two Negro League All-Stars were signed by the Browns from the Kansas City Monarchs one week earlier in attempt by St. Louis owner Dick Muckerman to boost ticket sales for his struggling franchise which had recently seen fewer than 500 tickets sold for a home game against the Senators. After five weeks, with no improvement in home attendance, the Browns declared “the trial” a failure and cut both players.
New York fans may not remember Hank Thompson’s place in Yankees history, but they may recall that he was later a standout at the Polo Grounds for two pennant winning Giants teams. After returning to the Monarchs briefly, Thompson was signed by the New York Giants in 1949 and began a new round of firsts for a black player in the in the National League. He was the first black player to play in both leagues and the first player to break the color barrier for two teams. In a game against the Dodgers, he was the first black player to face a black pitcher (Don Newcombe). Then, in 1951, together with Willie Mays and Monte Irvin, Thompson became a member of the first all black outfield in major league history.

The Giants won the pennant in 1951 (You might have heard!) and lost in the World Series to the Yankees, which brought Thompson back to the Stadium to face New York’s only remaining all-white team. In 1954, Thompson hit .364 in the post-season for the Giants who defeated the Indians in the World Series.

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