To say that the Philadelphia Phillies were not a progressive organization during the early years of racial integration in Major League Baseball might be an understatement.
The last team in the National League to actually field a black player, they ushered that player, shortstop John Kennedy, onto and then off the roster after just five games and two plate appearances in late April and early May of 1957.
“I would not say they made a huge commitment to the development of John Kennedy,” Chris Threston, author of The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia, was quoted by Mark Dent at Billy Penn in a February 2017 piece. “They just wanted to get it over with.”
Kennedy first got into a game on April 22 as a pinch-runner while the Phillies were playing in, of all places, Jersey City, New Jersey. It was one of a handful of games hosted at Roosevelt Stadium by the Dodgers during their final two seasons in Brooklyn.
As fate would have it, Kennedy did not share the field that day with the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, Jackie Robinson. After playing the previous 10 seasons with the Dodgers, Robinson had been traded to the New York Giants in December 1956. Rather than report to the Dodgers arch-rivals, Robinson had chosen instead to retire at age 38.
It was during his second game on April 24, his first home contest at Connie Mack Stadium, that Kennedy further entered Phillies history by becoming the first black player to cross the plate with a run scored and to take an official time at bat.
With the Phillies trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by 2-0 in the bottom of the 6th inning and Chico Fernandez on first base with nobody out, Harry Anderson pinch-hit for starting pitcher Curt Simmons. Anderson slung a base hit, and manager Mayo Smith called on Kennedy to run for Anderson.
Four batters later, the Phillies had loaded the bases, with Kennedy at third. Ed Bouchee then ripped a bases-clearing triple, and Kennedy trotted across the plate with the historic run scored.
The Phillies would score seven times in the frame, sending 11 men to the plate. The turn that Kennedy was filling as a runner in place of Anderson came around with two outs and a man on first. Kennedy stepped to the plate against Pirates’ All-Star pitcher Bob Friend, who got Kennedy to ground out, short to first.
Six days later on April 30 came another first when Kennedy became the first black player to field a position with the club.
Anderson had pinch-hit for Fernandez, the starting shortstop, in the bottom of the 8th inning of a game in which the Phillies were trailing the Cincinnati Reds by 6-3. Smith then inserted Kennedy to play shortstop in the top of the 9th inning, but no plays came his way.
Kennedy would get just one more shot at-bat in his big-league career. On May 1, the Phillies and Reds battled into the 15th inning tied at 6-6 at Connie Mack Stadium in a game which Kennedy had entered at shortstop an inning earlier. With one out and a man on, Kennedy struck out against Cincy veteran reliever Warren Hacker.
The final appearance in a box score in Major League Baseball by Kennedy would come two days later on May 3, again at home at Connie Mack.
The Phillies and the visiting Chicago Cubs were tied at 6-6 in the bottom of the 7th inning when pinch-hitter Solly Hemus drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Smith sent Kennedy in as a pinch-runner for Hemus.
Each of the next two batters, Glen Gorbous and Richie Ashburn, drew walks to force in a pair of runs. But then Ted Kazanski flew out to center field for the final out of the frame, stranding Kennedy at third base. He would trot off the field, never again to make an official appearance on a big-league diamond.
Kennedy was released days later and finished his Phillies career having officially gone 0-2 with a strikeout and a run scored. In his only two appearances in the field at shortstop he registered one assist, made one error, and participated in one double play.
Determining the first black player to register a base hit with the Phillies is all about how you define it. Tony Curry certainly fits the description by race, so he gets the designation here. Just the second player in big-league history to hail from the Bahamas, Curry also produced the first RBI by a black player with the team.
Curry appeared in 110 games with the Phillies over the 1960-61 seasons. During his rookie season in 1960, Curry slung that historic base hit and registered that RBI during the same plate appearance in an April 12 game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
Inserted into the third slot as the starting right fielder in manager Eddie Sawyer‘s lineup on Opening Day, the only game that Sawyer would manage that season, Curry came to the plate for the second time in the top of the 2nd inning.
The 1961 Phillies were the first in franchise history to field multiple black players at the same time. Curry began the season with the club but was dealt to Cleveland on March 20. Two other black players, Wes Covington and Choo-Choo Coleman, played for that team.
The 29-year-old Covington was already in his sixth big-league season when he arrived in a June trade from the Chicago White Sox, having broken in with Milwaukee back in 1956. Coleman was a rookie, and also has the distinction of being the first black catcher in Phillies history.
In his fifth game on April 28 at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis, Coleman came on as a pinch-hitter for starting pitcher Chris Short with the Phillies trailing the host Cardinals by a 6-1 score. Coleman reached on an error by Cards’ second baseman Julian Javier, allowing Ruben Amaro Sr to score.
Manager Gene Mauch kept Coleman in the game, giving starter Clay Dalrymple a rest at catcher. In his third plate appearance of the game in the top of the 8th inning, Coleman grounded a single to right off Lindy McDaniel. It was the first hit by an American-born black player in Phillies history.
Developing in the organization’s minor league system at that time was the Phillies first-ever black star player, Dick Allen. He would reach Philadelphia for a 1963 cup of coffee, then become the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year on his way to a career that will hopefully find him enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame by next year.
Over the ensuing years and decades the Phillies record in incorporating strong black players into their lineup would slowly improve. However, the ability to consistently develop black players through the minor league system to become productive long-term big-leaguers has mostly eluded the Phillies – with a pair of notable 2008 World Series-winning exceptions.
Below is my take on the greatest black players in club history. The Philadelphia Phillies ‘All-Black’ team is meant as a nod to those great players in franchise history during this 2020 Black History Month. The selectees were chosen, one for each position, based on their performance while with the Phillies.
It’s possible that I may have missed someone, or perhaps made a choice that you would have selected differently at a particular position. If so, would love your input. Feel free to leave a comment below or on social media.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES ALL-BLACK TEAM
First base: Ryan Howard
Second base: Dave Cash
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins
Third base: Dick Allen
Catcher: Choo-Choo Coleman
Left field: Wes Covington
Center field: Garry Maddox
Right field: Bake McBride
Starting pitcher: Robert Person
Relief pitcher: Tom Gordon
MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:
- 2020 Phillies 26-man Opening Day roster prediction
- Phillies continue suffering a southpaw starting pitching drought
- Could the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies finish in last place in the NL East Division?
- Sorting the pitching should be the story of 2020 spring training
- Baseball Hall of Fame likely to take another look at Dick Allen
- NL East Division 2020 managers comparison and ranking
- Philography: Tony Taylor
- Oddsmakers list Phillies among 2020 World Series favorites
- Phillies pitching X-factors or non-factors?
- Can the Phillies expect much from Andrew McCutchen in 2020?
- Philadelphia Phillies top 20 prospects – winter 2020 update