Before becoming the Braves' first black player, Jethroe had already compiled some fine statistics for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues. Having compiled a .342 batting average after six seasons with the Buckeyes (and a .393 clip in 1946), the outfielder was selected to the East-West All-Star Game four times. Known for his power as well as his speed, he was the only player to have hit a ball over the 472-foot leftfield fence at Toledo's Swayne Field and into the coal piles of the Red Man Tobacco Factory.
In the spring of 1945, he was selected with Jackie Robinson and Marvin Williams for an unsuccessful tryout with the Boston Red Sox. Ultimately, the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, while Jethroe went on to star for their crosstown rivals.
The first black player in the Boston Braves organization, Jethroe signed with the team in 1949, and went on to steal 89 bases in the International League that year. At thirty-two years old, he was the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year, hitting .273 with 18 homers, 100 runs scored, and a league-leading 35 stolen bases. His numbers were virtually identical in 1951, as he again copped the steals title.
But Jethroe slumped in 1952, struck out often, fielded poorly, and reportedly had vision trouble. Amid rumors that he was older than listed, he spent 1953 in Toledo, batting .307. Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he played just two games for the Bucs. The switch-hitter spent five more seasons with Toronto of the International League. (ME/AG)
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»April 18, 1950:
At the Polo Grounds, Sam Jethroe becomes the first black to play for the Boston Braves. In his ML debut, he goes 2-for-4, including a home run to lead the Braves to an 1–4 beating of the Giants. Spahn is the winner. Jethroe will go on to become National League Rookie of the Year.
»April 21, 1950:
In Boston, Sam Jethroe makes his home debut, the first black man to play for the Braves. He goes 1-for-3 in a 2–2 tie with the Phillies. The game is called when a thunderstorm hits.
»June 3, 1950:
The Braves' Sid Gordon slugs his 3rd grand slam of the season, plus a 2nd home run, to account for seven Braves runs in a 10–6 whipping of Pittsburgh. Gordon now leads the NL in homers with 11. Wally Westlake hits a pair of homers, and Hank Schenz hits his 1st (and 2nd career) homer of the year. Johnny Sain gives up a home run to Sam Jethroe in winning his 8th, tops in the majors.
»June 7, 1952:
Sam Jethroe hits the last grand slam in the history of the Boston Braves, as the Braves win the second game of a doubleheader 7-6.
»December 28, 1953: Pittsburgh sends flashy infielder Danny O'Connell to Milwaukee for 3B Sid Gordon, OF Sam Jethroe, P Max Surkont, and minor league pitchers, Fred Waters, Curt Raydon, and Larry Lasalle. They also get $100,000 from the Braves. According to historian Sean Lahman, this is the only six-for-one trade in major league history and surpassed only by the 7-for-1 deal that will send Vida Blue from Oakland to San Francisco in 1978.