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The White Sox and Black History Month: Celebrating Notable Moments within the Organization

by Sox On 35th Contributors

With today marking February 1st, the United States officially begins its annual celebration known as Black History Month.

The period of commemoration honors the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans, while also recognizing their achievements throughout American history. It’s an important time of reflection and recognization of their central role in our nation’s past and present. As part of this observance, we would like to take a moment and recognize some of the key moments throughout the White Sox’s history where barriers were broken.

July 5, 1947 – Cleveland’s Larry Doby breaks A.L. color barrier at Comiskey Park

Just three months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bill Veeck signed Doby as the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues to the majors. He made his major league debut for the then Cleveland Indians on the aforementioned July 5, 1947, against the White Sox. As a member of the Cleveland organization for 10 seasons, Doby hit .286/.389/.500 with 215 home runs and 776 RBIs. Doby would also play for the White Sox, Tigers, and Chunichi Dragons before retiring in 1962. He owns a career .886 OPS across both the majors and Negro Leagues combined.

Beyond retirement, Doby would serve as both the second African American manager in the majors and an organization executive with the White Sox. The 9x All-Star and 2x World Series Champion would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

May 1, 1951 – Minnie Miñoso breaks the White Sox color barrier

Minnie Miñoso holds a special place in the hearts of many White Sox’ fans.

Nicknamed “Mr. White Sox” and “The Cuban Comet,” Miñoso became the first-ever Black player to don the team’s uniform. In his organizational debut, Miñoso became an instant sensation by hitting a 415-foot home run on the very first pitch he saw. His popularity only grew from there due to his dynamic play on the field and love for Chicago off.

In his career with the White Sox, one of the newest members of the Hall of Fame hit .304/.397/.468 with 135 HR. He spent a total of 20 seasons in professional baseball, amassing a slash line of .299/.387/.461. No doubt the most impressive thing he did was appear in professional games in parts of five decades: 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s as a 54-year-old man.

Joining Miñoso in breaking the team’s color barrier were also Sam Hairston (July 21) and Bob Boyd (September 6). Though never talked about enough, these two players were instrumental in joining Minoso to help to push the movement forward.

1960 – Al Smith becomes first Black All-Star in White Sox History

In December of 1957, Al Smith – who started his career with Cleveland – was traded to the White Sox in what was an unpopular deal for White Sox fans. The entire swap was Smith and Early Wynn in exchange for Minnie Miñoso (which is why the deal was unpopular) and Fred Hatfield. Smith didn’t help his case with White Sox fans in his first two seasons, slashing just .245/.317/.396 heading into his age-32 1960 season. That season was a revelation for Smith, as he slashed .315/.374/.451 and became the first Black All-Star in White Sox history. To top it off, he finished 6th in MVP voting for the year.

Smith would go on to play two more seasons with the White Sox, slashing a combined .285/.356/.484 and posting a 1961 season that was arguably better than the 1960 season that earned him All-Start honors. He would finish his career with two seasons in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Boston, respectively, before calling it quits after 1964.

What might you best know Al Smth for, however? Well, he’s the player in this photo by AP Chicago Tribune staff photographer John Raymond Gora, taken during the 1959 World Series.

Taken by John Raymond Gora, who passed away in 2003

1966 – Carlos May becomes first African American player selected by White Sox in the first round of the amateur draft

The 1965 Major League Baseball Draft was the first of its kind, with Arizona State’s Rick Monday becoming the first-ever draft pick. The next year, the White Sox would make history of their own when they selected Carlos May with their first-round pick (18th overall) out of A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham, Alabama.

May would spend two seasons in the minors leagues for the White Sox before making his major league debut in 1968, just 20-years-old at the time. In his debut season, he would play in just 17 games, making 1969 his true “rookie season.” That season, he finished as an All-Star and in third place in Rookie of the Year voting behind Lou Pinella and Mike Nagy. May slashed .281/.385/.488, and if it were today’s game, you could likely make an argument that May was the true Rookie of the Year.

May would play a total of nine seasons on the south side with mixed degrees of success. His career with the Sox ended with a .275/.357/.392 slash line and 111 OPS+. He would make one more All-Star appearance for the White Sox in 1972 and called it quits after playing 1977 with the Yankees and California Angels. May, as noted above, is the only player in MLB history to wear his birthday on the back of his jersey (May 17).

1971 – Danny Goodwin becomes first African American player selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the White Sox in the MLB Draft

1970 was not a good season for the White Sox. They finished 56-106, 6th in the AL West, despite talents like Luis Aparicio, Bill Melton, Ken Berry, and Carlos May on the roster. As a result, the White Sox would get the first pick in the 1971 MLB Draft and make history in the process. In that draft, the White Sox selected Goodwin as a catcher out of Peoria Central High School, becoming the first African American player selected with the first overall pick in the draft by the club. However, Goodwin would not sign with the team, choosing instead to attend South University and A&M in Baton Rouge. Four years later, Goodwin would once again be selected as the first overall pick, this time by the California Angels in 1975.

However, in seven seasons with the Angels, Twins, and Athletics, Goodwin’s career never really took off. He finished with a career .236/.301/.373 slash line, hitting just 13 home runs in what ultimately amounted to just over a full season of at-bats in seven seasons (636 ABs in total). Compounded by his hitting struggles were Goodwin’s shortcomings as a defensive catcher, which really prevented him from sticking in the majors.

After retirement, Goodwin worked with the Atlanta Braves as their Director of Community Relations and Director of the Braves’ Foundation. He would develop programs for underprivileged children in Atlanta. In 2011, Goodwin became the first player from an HBCU to be inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.

1972 – Dick Allen becomes first Black player in team history to win the A.L. MVP

To this day, Dick Allen remains one of the most glaring omissions from the Hall of Fame in baseball history. In 15 years in the game, he slashed .292/.378/.534, good for a .912 OPS and 156 OPS+. Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960, Allen would make four All-Star appearances and finish first in Rookie of the Year voting in 1964 before making his way to the White Sox before the 1972 season. The team acquired him during the 1971 Winter Meetings in exchange for Tommy John and Steve Huntz.

Allen had quite possibly the best season by a White Sox hitter in their history when he became the first Black player to win Most Valuable Player with the club. His .308/.420/.603 slash line led the league in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+ (199!), HR (37), and RBI (113). He was a near-unanimous MVP, earning 21 of the 24 first-place votes cast (Sparky Lyle, Joe Rudi, and Mickey Lolich would earn the others). Allen went on to have two more All-Star seasons with the White Sox in 1973 and 1974, amassing an absurd .307/.398/.589 slash line with 85 homers in three seasons with the White Sox. He would finish his career with three seasons in Philadelphia and Oakland, respectively, before retiring after 1977. Allen’s run in Chicago would end in controversy after he left the team with two weeks left in the 1974 season, blaming a feud with Ron Santo for the incident in his autobiography.

Dick Allen would, unfortunately, pass away in 2020, leaving those who watched the game to tell his story and push for his Hall of Fame chances. Hopefully, he finds his way into the Hall of Fame someday.

1977 – Harold Baines becomes second African American selected with No.1 overall pick in the MLB Draft

A beloved figure on the South Side of Chicago, Harold Baines’ major league story begins as the second African American selected with the #1 overall pick in the MLB Draft by the White Sox in 1977. He would make his major league debut in 1980 at the age of 21, going 0-for-4 on the day. His career started with plenty of up and down seasons, though he did finish as high as 10th in MVP voting in the 1983 season.

However, his career really took off starting in 1985, which would be the first of three consecutive All-Star seasons and a career-high 9th place finish in MVP voting. In 1986, knee issues started to take their toll, which would eventually force Baines into the DH role we remember him mostly in today.

In three different stints throughout his playing career with the White Sox that would span 14 seasons, Baines would hit .288/.346/.463 with the club. He is currently fourth in White Sox history with 221 home runs, falling behind Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, and Jose Abreu. Baines would also spend 7 seasons with Baltimore, 3 with Oakland, 2 with Texas, and 1 with Cleveland; but his career started and ended on the South Side.

The 6x All-Star and Silver Slugger didn’t fare well on the Hall of Fame ballot his first time around but was elected via the Today’s Game Era ballot on the 2019 ballot. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 21 of that year.

Since his playing days, Baines has served as both a bench coach for the White Sox and an interim manager, and in 2008, the White Sox unveiled a statue of him at Guaranteed Rate Field.

June 30, 1978 – Larry Doby becomes second African American manager in MLB History.

As previously mentioned, would both play for and manage the White Sox in his time, and when he became the manager of the 1978 club, was the second African American to do so. Despite his success as a player, Doby didn’t have as much luck in the dugout, as his tenure lasted just one 37-50 season after taking over mid-season from Bob Lemon. He would be replaced by Don Kessinger to begin the next season, who was eventually replaced by Tony La Russa mid-season in 1979.

October 2000 – Kenny Williams becomes the first African American general manager in Chicago sports history

Wiliams’ journey with the White Sox begins when the club selected him in the third round of the 1982 MLB Draft. He would spend three years on the South Side before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. In six major league seasons, Williams was an uninspiring .218/.269/.339 hitter – however, his story wasn’t made on the field.

Williams returned to the White Sox as a scout during the 1992 season and was quickly named as a special assistant to Jerry Reinsdorf in 1994. After stints as a studio analyst, Director of Minor League Operations, and VP of Player Development, he was officially named General Manager of the Chicago White Sox in October 2000. Williams would replace Ron Schueler in the role. This was the historic moment for Williams, who became the first African American general manager in Chicago sports history.

Williams, as White Sox fans likely know, has a reputation for making aggressive moves in order to improve the club. Despite a winning record of 86-76 in 2033, Williams fired then-manager Jerry Manuel and replaced him with Ozzie Guillén, setting the stage for what we all know now was eventually coming. He radically re-designed the team after a disappointing 2004 performance, trading power for speed, defense, and pitching. His signings (Orlando Hernández, Dustin Hermanson, Jermaine Dye, A. J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi) and trades (Scott Podsednik, José Contreras, Freddy García) that offseason, combined with some help on the farm from Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand led the White Sox to their most successful campaign since 1917: the 2005 World Series championship.

After more aggressive offseasons, but an inability to re-capture the glory of 2005, Williams would eventually be promoted to Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox in 2012 – the position he still holds today – while Rick Hahn was promoted to General Manager. The two of them continue their working relationship today as the White Sox look to raise more banners in 2022. Williams remains an outspoken defender of African American participation in clubhouses and front offices around both baseball and sports in general.

2001-2003 – Ken Williams and Jerry Manuel form first Black general manager/manager tandem in MLB history

When Williams became the General Manager of the White Sox before the 2001 season, he inherited Jerry Manuel as his manager. At that point, history was once again made on the South Side, as the two formed the first African American GM/Manager tandem in major league history.

Manuel had experienced success on the South Side, taking the team to the ALDS in 2000 for the first time after becoming manager in 1998. After three seasons of solid, but unsatisfactory finishes, Williams would fire Manuel before the 2004 season. In six seasons with the White Sox, Manuel would go 500-471 and would eventually manage three seasons with the Mets from 2008-2010.

This brief look into historic African American moments on the South Side is far from complete: players such as Frank Thomas, Sam Hairston, and the organization’s ACE program only scratch the surface of the history not mentioned here. Add in moments like the August 1, 2000, first all African-American meeting at the mound between James Baldwin, Charles Johnson, and Jerry Manuel, and it’s clear that for every memory shared here, there are plenty that still deserve to be shared.

We hope to continue to be able to share the history and memories of the African American community with the White Sox throughout Black History Month and celebrate the importance of African American involvement in the game. Whether it is in this article or somewhere else, there are more stories to be told.

For now, we look at this brief history and imagine what is still yet to come.

Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for additional content!

Featured Photo: White Sox/Twitter

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