Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Joe Durham, 1958 Topps #96

Joe Durham was the first black position player in Orioles history, making his debut on September 10, 1954. He spoke to author Louis Berney of his experiences that year playing for the AA San Antonio Missions. There, as in Baltimore, he was the only black player to take the field on a regular basis, and as such he took a great amount of verbal abuse from racist white fans. Shreveport, Louisiana was the worst; there were whites-only bleachers near Joe's position in left field, and they would apparently pack the stands just to hurl insults at him. He claims that he did not feel threatened or especially angered by the hurtful language, as long as people didn't physically assault him. I cannot imagine having that kind of perspective and focus in the face of such bigoted behavior.

Durham also claimed that in the 1950s, there wasn't the same kind of loud, blatant race-baiting in the major leagues as he had endured in the minors:

"The only thing in the major leagues was that in a lot of places, you couldn't stay with your teammates. That makes it kind of tough. People don't realize that baseball is a family game. On your off days, families would get together and have picnics and cookouts and whatnot. But being on a team where you have to stay across town, and you don't see your teammates until you go to the ballpark, it takes something out of you. You have to work extra hard, or that much harder, to try to be successful. In 1954, blacks couldn't stay at hotels with their teammates in cities like Washington, Chicago, and Baltimore."

Joe went on to discuss being the only black Oriole in 1954 (pitcher Jehosie Heard had already come and gone), and having to stay by himself at a hotel farther away from the stadium than that of his white teammates. He couldn't even share a cab with a white, but pitcher Don Larsen would pick him up in his new Oldsmobile outside of a casino on Pennsylvania Avenue before games, and drop him back off afterward.

The social climate described in this interview was a very real thing fifty-five years ago. This past week, the United States of America elected its first black President. By no means does this one historic occurrence solve the racial tensions and inequities that persist in our country, but it's an astounding bit of progress.

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