May 17, 2002
OBITUARY, JOE BLACK: May 17, 2002 PHOENIX (AP-newsfeed) --
Joe Black, the Brooklyn Dodgers' right-hander who became the first black pitcher to win a World Series game, died Friday of prostate cancer. He was 78. Black, in failing health for months, died at the Life Care Center of Scottsdale. "He loved the game and he loved to talk the game," said Montreal manager Frank Robinson, who was friends with Black and visited him this month when the Expos were in Phoenix.
"He was a great guy, a jolly guy, a real fun guy," said New York Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, a teammate with the Dodgers. "It's sad to lose him." Black spent a season in the minors before the Dodgers promoted him to the major leagues in 1952, five years after teammate Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.
He was dominant out of the bullpen, chosen Rookie of the Year after winning 15 games and saving 15 others for the National League champions. He had a 2.15 ERA but, with 142 innings pitched, fell eight innings short of winning the title. Strapped for pitching, Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen brought Black out of the bullpen and started him three times in seven days in the 1952 World Series against the New York Yankees. He won the opener with a six-hitter over Allie Reynolds, 4-2, then lost the fourth game, 2-0, and the seventh, 4-2.
"His legacy is the thought that unheralded players can rise to the heights, that someone who at the time was considered an ordinary athlete could wind up pitching Game 1 of the World Series," said Vin Scully, the Dodgers' play-by-play announcer since 1951. Robinson said: "The impression he left on me was that, No. 1, you had to work hard. Also you go out there and give it all you had, play for your team and not yourself." The next spring after the World Series, Dressen urged Black to add some pitches to his strong fastball and tight curve. He tried but lost control of his two basic pitches in the process and didn't regain his dominance until 1955, when he won 10 straight games at the start, a record at the time.
After three more seasons with Brooklyn, Black drifted to Cincinnati and Washington and was out of baseball by 1958. In six seasons, he compiled a 30-12 record, half of his wins coming in his rookie season. Black was 28 when he reached the majors after helping the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues win two championships in seven years. He roomed with Robinson while with Brooklyn, pushed for a pension plan for Negro League players and was instrumental in the inclusion of players who played before 1947.
After his career ended, Black became an executive with Greyhound in Phoenix. In addition to lobbying for black players, he remained in baseball through his affiliation with the commissioner's office, where he consulted with players about career choices. "He was a Dodger, but he was a giant of a man," former NL president Len Coleman said. "He was the greatest friend, and his loss leaves the world a lot more empty." He was a board director of the Baseball Assistance Team and worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks in community relations after they joined the NL in 1998.
"You'd hear that big, deep voice down the hall, and he'd come around the corner and sit down and we'd just talk," Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. Black was a regular in the Diamondbacks' dugout during batting practice and in the press box. "Joe Black was a tremendous human being," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. 'He always had positive words for me. His parting words were always, 'Make sure you do it your way.' He must have told me that a hundred times last year. "He was a diehard Diamondbacks fan. He loved this team and I'm just glad we had a chance to win a World Series for him."
A native of Plainfield, N.J., Black graduated from Morgan State in 1950 and later received an honorary doctorate from Shaw University. He wrote a syndicated column, "By The Way," for Ebony magazine and an autobiography, "Ain't Nobody Better Than You." He's survived by son Joseph "Chico" Black and a daughter, Martha. Funeral arrangements were incomplete, but his son said Black would be cremated, with a memorial service in New Jersey.