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His Name Is Curt Roberts

1955 Topps #107 - Curt Roberts

It’s Black History month.  “We”, the Pirates, have a very prominent black player on our team.  So I thought it would be appropriate to do something that is African-American baseball themed.

Normally my article starts with a question…. normally when the article starts I don’t know the answer but…normally it’s sabermetrics related and normally I answer the question.   Today, the question is an easy one and it’s:  Who was the first black Pittsburgh Pirate?

I had no idea.  I was embarrassed I had no idea.

When you have a sports team that use the term “we” with portions of their marketing, there are certain things about that team that you should know.  It’s kind of like knowing the facts about your hometown or the place you live.  For example I know that Andrew Carnegie preferred my home town of Cresson, PA and New York City to Pittsburgh where his name is stamped all over the town.

I know why the Pittsburgh Pirates are called the Pirates, I know the history of the team, I know about Forbes Field, Bill Mazeroski and Honus Wagner.  I know most things about this team I obsess over but I had no idea who the first black Pittsburgh Pirate was.

So off to Google and Wikipedia and I find out:

Player Team Date
Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers, NL April 15, 1947
Larry Doby Cleveland Indians, AL July 5, 1947
Hank Thompson St. Louis Browns, AL July 17, 1947
Monte Irvin New York Giants, NL July 8, 1949
Hank Thompson New York Giants, NL July 8, 1949
Sam Jethroe Boston Braves, NL April 18, 1950
Minnie Miñoso Chicago White Sox, AL May 1, 1951
Bob Trice Philadelphia Athletics, AL September 13, 1953
Ernie Banks Chicago Cubs, NL September 17, 1953
Curt Roberts Pittsburgh Pirates, NL April 13, 1954
Tom Alston St. Louis Cardinals, NL April 13, 1954
Nino Escalera Cincinnati Reds, NL April 17, 1954
Chuck Harmon[2] Cincinnati Reds, NL April 17, 1954
Carlos Paula Washington Senators, AL September 6, 1954
Elston Howard New York Yankees, AL April 14, 1955
John Kennedy Philadelphia Phillies, NL April 22, 1957
Ozzie Virgil, Sr.[3] Detroit Tigers, AL June 6, 1958
Pumpsie Green Boston Red Sox, AL July 21, 1959

So Curt Roberts is the answer, more on him later.

If you look at the integration of baseball, it’s obvious to me that Jackie Robinson gets more credit than he deserves.   Yes, he was the first black baseball player but two months later we had two more… and I never hear their names mentioned.  Plus, Robinson played in the very integrated and progressive New York City, whereas Hank Thompson played below the Mason Dixon line in Missouri.  I’ve only heard the N-word slung in vain once in my whole life and it wasn’t a large northern city, it was in Charleston, SC where one of my black friends was vilified by some local hillbillies.

Also, Jackie Robinson was a tremendous baseball player.   His rookie year he had 74 walks and only 36 K’s.   He won the rookie of the year but also finished FIFTH in the MVP voting.  He would win the MVP two years later.  How hard would it have been to cheer for this amazing player?

Back to Roberts… what are the things Pirates’ fans should know about him?

1)  Branch Rickey was GM of the Pirates who brought Roberts to the team.  He also brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers seven years prior as their GM.
2) Roberts spoke Spanish and helped Roberto Clemente in 1955 when he was selected from the Dodgers.
3) Roberts played 2B but was bumped to the bench by rookie Bill Mazeroski.
Much has been written about Roberts, especially by the recently departed and revered baseball journalist Tom Singer.  Most of the points made about Roberts are the same:  he wasn’t that great of a player, which would have made his integration harder than those that preceded him.  He was great person, though, which is something that now seems more important than ever in the Pirates’ clubhouse.
During this upcoming season let’s try to reference this player as much as possible.  Maybe the Pirates should have a Curt Roberts Day.  With Cutch and Josh Harrison, and Josh Bell on the way, we need to remember this trailblazer even if he wasn’t very good.

Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.

6 Comments on His Name Is Curt Roberts

  1. Harry Schade // February 22, 2016 at 9:11 AM //

    Curt Roberts Day, and a Curt Roberts Bobblehead! Excellent Kevin.

    • Kevin Creagh // February 22, 2016 at 9:51 AM //

      Thanks for reading. It was actually a Michael article, but I’ll pass it on to him (he reads the comments too). I had to make a last second edit and it reverted to my name, but his has been restored.

  2. Michael Bradley // February 22, 2016 at 10:17 AM //

    Thanks Harry

  3. Great writeup Mike!

  4. Harry Schade // February 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM //

    Michael, Kevin, and all the other writers…I have read and enjoyed nearly all your articles, no matter the subject, in TPOP…and learned much in the process. This is a very impressive site, and I’m not easily impressed. Keep up the great work and Kudos to all.

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