As baseball prepares to celebrate Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on April, 15, 1947, it is also a good time to take note of another historic event that occurred in 1971.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates took the field for a game against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 1, 1971, it may have, at first glance, seemed just like a regular game.
In fact, it wasn’t until about the second inning when the Pirates’ second baseman Dave Cash, chuckling, told Al Oliver, who was playing first base, “Man, we got all brothers out here.”
It was the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that a team started all nine black, and Latino, players. It occurred 24 years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947.
The historic lineup didn’t generate much media coverage, as the Pirates rallied to win a 10-7 slugfest.
However, it is a day worth remembering as we consider the dwindling numbers of African-Americans playing in the MLB today. According to the Society of Baseball Research, only 8.3 percent of the players on 2014 opening day rosters were African-American. That is way down from the high water mark of 18.6 percent in 1986.
Led by the brilliance of the Roberto Clemente, and Willie Stargell, the ’71 Pirates won the National League pennant, and went on to beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, 4-2. Clemente was named the series MVP.
Here is the starting lineup for the game: Manny Sanguillien, (catcher), Dock Ellis (pitcher), Al Oliver (first base), Dave Cash (third base), Rennie Stennett (second base), Jackie Hernandez (shortstop), Roberto Clemente (right field), Willie Stargell (left field), Gene Clines (center field).
The sobering thought about that game from the perspective of African-Americans, who are still fans of the game, is that it seems highly unlikely that a team will ever start nine black players again. The sport has lost popularity in most African-American communities.
And that is too bad because there are an abundance of opportunities to play on the collegiate, and possibly the professional level, where the paychecks are lucrative and guaranteed.