June 18, 2001
SAM JETHROE OBITUARY
Died June 18, 2001 in Erie, PA
Sam Jethroe Is Dead At 83; Was Oldest Rookie Of The Year
FROM: The New York Times (June 19th 2001) ~
By Richard Goldstein
Sam Jethroe, a star center fielder of the Negro leagues who was named rookie
of the year while with the 1950 Boston Braves at age 32 and is the oldest
player ever to receive the award, died last Saturday at a hospital in Erie,
Pa. He was 83.
The cause was a heart attack, his family said.
By the time he made his debut in the majors, three years after Jackie
Robinson broke the big-league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and
five years after he had taken part with Robinson in a sham tryout held by
the Boston Red Sox, Jethroe's prime years were behind him.
But he led the major leagues in steals in his first two seasons, each time
with 35, and he batted .273 with 18 home runs and 100 runs scored in 1950,
when he was named National League rookie of the year by the Baseball Writers
Association of America.
He was the fastest human being I've ever seen, said the Dodgers' Don
Newcombe, the first outstanding black pitcher in the majors and Jethroe's
onetime teammate on the Dodgers' Montreal Royals farm team, for whom Jethroe
stole 89 bases in 1949.
When he came to bat, the infield would have to come in a few steps or
you'd never throw him out, remembered Buck O'Neil, who played against
Jethroe while with the Negro leagues' Kansas City Monarchs.
A native of East St. Louis, Ill., Jethroe played for the Cincinnati and
Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League from 1942 to 1948, appearing
in four East-West All-Star Games, black baseball's showcase event.
In April 1945, the Boston Red Sox, facing political pressure to sign a black
player, gave Jethroe, Robinson, who was then with the Monarchs, and Marvin
Williams of the Philadelphia Stars a tryout conducted by two coaches at
Fenway Park. The Red Sox never contacted them afterward.
Jethroe won the Negro American League batting title in 1945, hitting .393,
but it was Robinson who was selected by the Dodgers' Branch Rickey to break
organized baseball's color barrier with Montreal in 1946.
Rickey bought Jethroe from the Buckeyes for $5,000 in midsummer 1948,
assigning him to the Royals. After Jethroe starred with Montreal for a
season and a half, Rickey sold him to the Braves for a reported $150,000 and
When Jethroe joined the Braves in April 1950, he was the first black major
leaguer in Boston. Only four other teams -- the Dodgers, the New York
Giants, the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Browns -- had integrated.
Jethroe was the Braves' regular center fielder for three seasons, was sent
to the minors in 1953, then played two games with the 1954 Pirates, who were
being run at the time by Rickey. Jethroe joined Curt Roberts as Pittsburgh's
first black players. A switch-hitter, Jethroe had a career major league
batting average of .261.
Some 40 years after his last major league game, Jethroe filed a federal
lawsuit against Major League Baseball and its players association, seeking
pension payments for former Negro leaguers who had not qualified for them
because their careers had been damaged by racial discrimination. The suit
was dismissed, but in 1997 Major League Baseball instituted yearly payments
to Jethroe and a host of other former Negro leaguers and other old-timers
shut out of the pension plan.
Jethroe experienced difficult times in his later years. His home in Erie
burned down in November 1994, forcing him to sleep for several months at the
bar he ran in a rundown section of the city. His plight brought financial
aid from the Baseball Assistance Team, an organization helping needy former
Jethroe is survived by his wife, Elsie; four daughters, Gloria Jethroe,
Sheila Overton, Jennifer Overton and Kim Overton, all of Erie; and 10
''I'm not the type of person to be bitter,'' Jethroe once said. ''I was
honored to play. I'm thankful that I was able to do what I did.''
Jethroe achieved a measure of vindication against the Red Sox, who had
ignored his talents in the spring of 1945 and were the last team to have a
black player, waiting until 1959, when they signed the infielder Pumpsie
In April 1952, Jethroe hit a three-run homer over the left-field wall at
Fenway Park in a Braves-Red Sox exhibition game. And in May 1993, he was
back at Fenway, taking part in a tribute to the Negro leaguers of old who
never got a chance when their time was right.