Dr. Fred Johnson
Although Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in April 1947, he was not the first nonwhite person to play the sport. Latinos and Native Americans preceded Robinson, and some even before the 20th century. The opportunity to play particularly opened up in World War II, when legends like Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Stan Musial left at the peaks of their careers to serve overseas. Players like 15-year old Joe Nuxhall, one-armed outfielder Pete Gray, and a number of Latinos and Native Americans debuted at this time. Thirteen out of sixteen Major League teams had a non-American born Latino on their roster during World War II. Adrian Burgos, professor of history at University of Illinois, highlights 57 Latinos who played before Robinson, and more than a third of whom played from 1941-1945. The gap created by white players serving overseas led to opportunity. As a continuation of research on Native American baseball players conducted at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, I look at statistics, roster transactions, and periodicals to highlight four Native American players and four Latinos. Their movement into the Major Leagues was directly linked to the crisis precipitated by World War II. Though many had short professional careers, they were trailblazers and exemplars for future foreign and nonwhite players. After World War II, owners and general managers were not as reluctant to sign foreign nonwhite players. This put American baseball on the path to becoming the world’s most diverse professional sport.
Repository citation: Getschman, G. Bill, "Integration Before Integration: How World War II Exploded Diversity in Baseball" (2014). 13th Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance (2014). Paper 95.
April 11, 2014. Copyright © 2014 Hope College, Holland, Michigan.