From the Things Discovered While Looking Up Other Things file: Until fairly recently, baseball reference works listed Sam Jethroe — a Negro Leagues star of the 1940s and the National League’s rookie of the year in 1950 — as being born in 1922 in East St. Louis, Ill. At some point, additional research turned up the fact that Jethroe was actually born on Jan. 23, 1917, in Lowndes County, Miss. (Some sites say he was born in Columbus.) So, this means we can add Jethroe’s name to the impressive array of Mississippi natives who starred in the Negro Leagues before the game was integrated: Cool Papa Bell, Sam Hairston, Howard Easterling, Rufus Lewis, Luke Easter, Bob Boyd, et al. Jethroe, who died in 2001, was nicknamed “The Jet” and may have rivaled Hall of Famer Bell for pure speed. Former big league star Don Newcombe called Jethroe “the fastest human being I have ever seen,” and a Negro Leagues contemporary claimed Jethroe could “outrun the word of God,” per The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues. He was a five-time All-Star for the Cleveland (Ohio) Buckeyes in the Negro Leagues and won a title in 1945 (teaming with Jackson native Buddy Armour). Jethroe also won a minor league championship with Montreal in 1949 and became the first African-American player on the Boston Braves in 1950 at age 33. In three years with that club, he batted .261 with 98 steals and 58 homers. He played a couple of games in 1954 with Pittsburgh, then returned to the minors and later to semi-pro ball.
Since the Mississippi Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005, the Double-A club has funneled literally scores of players to Atlanta, including the entire infield and the top three starting pitchers on the 2021 team that has reached the World Series for the first time in 22 years. But the Braves franchise has a largely forgotten history in Mississippi that goes back 70-plus years. When Atlanta announced it was moving its Double-A team from South Carolina to Pearl, it was actually reconnecting with the Magnolia State. From 1946-50, when the Braves called Boston home, they had a farm team in Jackson, the Senators, who played at League Park near where the Fairgrounds stands now. Those were good teams, posting winning records in four of the five seasons and finishing first in the Southeastern League standings in 1947. “It was a pretty good brand of ball,” former Senators player Banks McDowell said in a 2001 interview. “It was Class B, and baseball people would tell us later that it was comparable to Double-A today.” Minor league affiliation worked a little differently in that era; research indicates only one player from those Senators teams made the big leagues. Vern Bickford pitched in Jackson in 1946 and pitched parts of seven seasons in the majors. He was on the Braves’ 1948 World Series team and threw a no-hitter in 1950. The Braves pulled out of Jackson in 1951, and Detroit came in two years later. League Park was destroyed by a tornado in August of ’53. The team moved its games elsewhere and never returned. Jackson got a Double-A team in 1975, when the Mets moved into then-new Smith-Wills Stadium. New York’s 1986 World Series championship club featured numerous former Jackson Mets, among them Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. After the Mets departed in 1990, Houston arrived with the Generals and from 1991-99 produced a bevy of big leaguers, many of whom fueled the Astros’ run of success in the National League Central in the late ’90s. When the Astros finally made the World Series for the first time in 2005, two former Generals — Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez — were still around. The Astros still have some fans in the metro area, and the M-Braves recognized that heritage with tribute nights at Trustmark Park in 2019 and again this summer.