Yesterday marked the 48th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first all-minority lineup.
On September 1, 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the first-ever all black and Latino lineup. Only 11,278 fans were at Three Rivers Stadium that night to see the Pirates host the Philadelphia Phillies, but those who were on hand witnessed history. Nearly a quarter-century after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, the Pirates became the first big-league franchise to trot out nine non-white players.
The Pirates were not trying to make history. Manager Danny Murtaugh was merely filling out a lineup card with the best players he had available that evening. Two of his normal starters – third baseman Richie Hebner and shortstop Gene Alley – were both nursing injuries, which allowed Rennie Stennett and Jackie Hernandez to fill in. Stennett, a 20-year-old rookie from Cuba, was most comfortable at second base. Murtaugh moved Dave Cash, the Pirates starting second baseman, to the hobbled Hebner’s spot at third. The Pirates skipper played Al Oliver, his everyday centerfielder, at first base and put Gene Clines in center. Right-hander Dock Ellis who, in July, had given up a tape-measure homer to Reggie Jackson as the NL starter in the All-Star Game, took the mound for the home team.
The 1971 Pirates roster was comprised of 14 white, six black and seven Latino players.
The Pirates, who had long been one of the most racially-integrated franchises in baseball, nearly accomplished the feat four years earlier. In June 1967, eight players of color started in a game against the Phillies. However, that afternoon the Buccos started a white pitcher, Dennis Ribant. The 1971 Pirates regularly started five African-American and Latino players. And on nights when Dock Ellis was pitching, six of nine Pirate starters were non-white.
The 1971 Pirates featured three Hall of Famers: left fielder Willie Stargell, the incomparable Roberto Clemente, and Bill Mazeroski. Now a reserve second baseman, Maz belted the most famous home run in franchise history – a Game 7 walk-off that won the 1960 World Series. The Bucco’s roster also included two All-Stars, Ellis and Manny Sanguillen. Both had made their All-Star debuts at the Midsummer Classic seven weeks earlier.
On a Wednesday night along the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, Danny Murtaugh penciled four Latino and five black players onto his lineup card. Stennett led off and played second base. Clines was next. Clemente who, at 36, would end the season batting .341, hit third and was in right. Stargell batted cleanup. Sanguillen, who was a poor man’s Johnny Bench, hit fifth. Cash batted sixth, followed by Oliver. Hernandez manned short and hit eighth, while Ellis – who was in the midst of his finest big-league season and would finish the year with 19 wins — was in the ninth spot.
Not since the heyday of the Pittsburgh Crawfords or the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues had Pittsburgh fans seen such a lineup on the field.
Ellis spotted the Phillies two runs in the top of the first before the Buccos plated five of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Philadelphia starter, Woodie Fryman, didn’t even finish the inning, retiring just one Pittsburgh batter before giving way to Bucky Brandon. The Pirates’ starter didn’t fare much better, leaving after an inning-and-a-third and giving up four runs before being replaced by Bob Moose. The Phils rallied to take a 6-5 lead before a two-run homer by Sanguillen gave the Pirates a lead they would never relinquish. Left-hander Luke Walker threw six innings in relief to get the win, while the Pirates got extra-base hits from Clines, Oliver, and Stargell.
“It wasn’t a major thing, until around the third or fourth inning, and Dave Cash was sitting next to me, and one of us said: ‘You know, we got all brothers out there, man,’ and we kind of chuckled because it was no big deal to us,” Oliver recalled. “We really had no idea that history was being made.”
Following the game, an out-of-town reporter asked Murtaugh his motives for starting an all-minority squad. “When it comes to making out the lineup,” said the stern skipper. “I’m colorblind, and my athletes know it. Next question?” The next day, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ran the headline “Pirates Starters All Black.” There was no such headline in Pittsburgh because there was a newspaper strike.
I wish that it would be brought up more, and it should be…it should be up there as far as baseball history is concerned. I think it’s a day that should really be celebrated. – Al Oliver
The historic lineup produced the Pirates 82nd win in a season that saw them tally 97 victories to capture the NL East by seven games. The Buccos bested the San Francisco Giants in a best-of-five series to seize the NL pennant. Their memorable 1971 campaign would end in Baltimore where, seven weeks after starting nine non-whites against the Phillies, Pittsburgh won Game 7 over the highly-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, earning their first title since 1960.
Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente was both the first Latin and Caribbean player to be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The great Clemente was a four-time NL batting champion, earned 12 Gold Gloves and helped the Pirates capture two world championships during his brilliant career. The Pirates right-fielder was named MVP of the 1971 World Series after hitting .414 with two homers and four RBI. Just over 14 months later, the greatest player in franchise history died in a plane crash while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was 38.
On Opening Day 1947, Jackie Robinson became MLB’s first African-American player. Three months later, Larry Doby became the second – while also integrating the American League. By 1981, 18.7 percent of major league players were African-American. When Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, less than one percent of big-league players were Latino. The trend has reversed sharply. In 2017, only 6.7 percent of major league players were black, while 27.4 percent were Latino.