FROM BEYOND BASEBALL'S COLOR BARRIER


EXCERPT: GENERATION THREE


By the 1970s, African American participation in Major League Baseball had just about reached its peak. Steady growth over the two decades after Jackie Robinson’s debut had brought African American participation in Major League Baseball up to 15.4% by 1968 and besides a slight dip the following year when Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, the number stayed above 15% until 1998. In addition, the late 1960s saw participation among Latino players top 10% for the first time. The 1968 baseball season is commonly referred to as “The Year of the Pitcher,” but it was also the first time African American and Latino players combined to make up over 25% of the league. That number of white Major League Baseball players would never rise above 75% again.

The 1970s weren’t just about the number of African Americans playing Major League Baseball though. It’s what they brought to the table and the way they played the game. The pioneers of the 1940s were the first generation and wave two was defined by the superstars of the 1950s and ‘60s like Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson. The third generation surely had its superstars. Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan and Dave Winfield established themselves as some of the top players in the game and there were many great players and personalities of differing accomplishments who played alongside them. The visibility and personalities of the African American players during the 1970s helped to bring on one of the most colorful and entertaining decades of baseball in the game’s history.

The dominant teams of the decade were the Oakland A’s, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees. They combined to win nine World Series in the 1970s and each of those teams had many African American stars. The Pirates were considered one of the first teams to fully embrace diversity on their roster and their brand of baseball was thrilling to watch. While Stargell led the team through the decade, their teams also featured African American stars like Willie Randolph, Bill Robinson and Al Oliver. But the biggest character to play on that team, or any team for that matter, was Dock Ellis.