“When I saw Jackie Robinson go to the big leagues, I knew that was my way of getting out of the cotton fields.” It didn’t work out exactly that way for the kid from the Mississippi Delta who made that comment to mlb.com a few years ago. He was 13 when Robinson broke major league baseball’s color line on April 15, 1947, and he chased the baseball dream for many years. But his career path ultimately turned to music. And that worked out quite well for Sledge native Charley Pride, who is a Country Music Hall of Famer with 12 gold albums to his credit. Pride played in the Negro Leagues, briefly in the low minors and had a few tryouts with major league clubs before his music career took off. He remains a baseball fan and is part of the Texas Rangers ownership group. For many years, Pride has attended spring training with the club and sung the national anthem before Rangers games, including in the 2010 World Series.
On the day we celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic feat of breaking the MLB color line in 1947, let’s also give a nod to Greenwood native Dave Hoskins. Hoskins was the first black player in two minor leagues, the Central League in 1948 and the Texas League in 1952. While there are reports about difficulties Hoskins bravely faced in both situations, he said this in a Society of American Baseball Research article: “All in all, I had no complaints.” “He was such a nice man, you couldn’t not love the guy,” a teammate, Joe Macko, said in that same piece. Hoskins got his start in the Negro Leagues and was a standout as both a pitcher and hitter. Recruited to the Dallas Eagles of the Texas League in 1952 by team owner Dick Burnett, Hoskins went 22-10 and batted .328. That got him a shot with the Cleveland Indians in 1953, and he went 9-3 with a 3.99 ERA as a 27-year-old rookie. (The SABR report says he was actually in his mid-30s by then.) Hoskins pitched for the pennant-winning Indians in 1954 but was not on their World Series roster. His big league career was over after 40 games, though he did play a few more years in the minors. He died in 1970.
The 70th anniversary of the 1946 World Series (see previous posts) is worthy of any and all hoopla it receives. St. Louis and Boston, featuring Mississippians Harry Walker and Boo Ferriss, battled it out for seven games in what was truly a Fall Classic. But that World Series didn’t corner the market on thrills that fall, and Walker wasn’t the only Mississippi native toasting a title. In the ’46 Negro Leagues World Series, the Newark Eagles, led by Monte Irvin, Larry Doby and Hattiesburg native Rufus Lewis, beat the Kansas City Monarchs in seven games, winning the clincher 3-2 at Ruppert Stadium in Newark. Lewis, one of the aces of the Eagles’ staff, started and got the victory in Game 7 and went 2-1 with a 1.23 ERA in the series. Lewis never made the major leagues but did pitch in the minors in “organized baseball.” Of course, 1946 was also the year that Jackie Robinson broke the color line and led the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club, to the International League and Junior World Series championships. Robinson’s manager in Montreal was none other than Clay Hopper, a Portersville native and Mississippi State alum who had a long and decorated career as a minor league skipper.
On this date 70 years ago, Clay Hopper, a veteran minor league skipper from Greenwood, managed his first game with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top farm team. Playing at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., the Royals won 14-1, taking the first step toward winning the International League pennant. Of course, Hopper’s Royals debut was overshadowed more than a little bit by another: Jackie Robinson’s. In his first game in so-called organized baseball, Robinson went 4-for-5 with a three-run homer, four runs and two steals. He would go on to win the IL’s Most Valuable Player award and then break the color barrier in the major leagues in 1947. Hopper, who played at Mississippi A&M (State) under Dudy Noble, had asked in spring training of 1946 that Robinson not be assigned to his Montreal club but was overruled. From most accounts, Hopper and Robinson got along fine. Hopper won the IL manager of the year award and was named minor league manager of the year by The Sporting News following that ’46 campaign. He managed another 10 years in the minors and made the IL’s Hall of Fame in 2009, some 33 years after his death. P.S. The Kansas City Royals reportedly are considering keeping outfielder Jarrod Dyson in the minors a while longer as he rehabs from an oblique strain suffered in his first at-bat of spring training. The McComb native and former Southwest Mississippi Community College star is batting .250 with three steals and six runs in six games at Triple-A Omaha.