50 years ago when the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a team of “All brothers out there”

50 years ago when the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a team of “All brothers out there”

As seen in 45 years ago when the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a team of “All brothers out there”, five years ago I learned that on September 1st, 1971 the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a team composed entirely of players of color. The discovery sent me to my collection of the 1971 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates (the city of my birth almost exactly 8 years earlier), as well as to the library to read more.

Today, in “A Lineup of Color Made History in ’71, To Little Fanfare” (The New York Times, 8/30/21), Tyler Kepner reports on the fiftieth anniversary of a game that at the time was little noticed. For example, the Philadelphia Daily News made only a passing reference the next day to the Pirates’ “all-soul lineup.” The anniversary is fitting occasion to revisit “All brothers out there”. BELOW

The New York Times, 8/30/21 See online version “A Lineup of Color Made History, Even if It Felt ‘Routine’”

45 years ago when the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a team of “All brothers out there” Sep 1, 2016

1.Rennie Stennett, 2B 2. Gene Clines, CF 3. Roberto Clemente, RF 4. Willie Stargell, LF 5. Manny Sanguillen, C 6. Dave Cash, 3B 7. Al Oliver, 1B 8. Jackie Hernandez, SS 9. Dock Ellis, P [David Kramer’s collection]

According to Charlie Vascellaro, in the third or fourth inning of the September 1st, 1971 game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies, Pirates third baseman Dave Cash looked out of the dugout, observing to first baseman Al Oliver: You know, we got all brothers out there, man. Oliver says both men chuckled at what to them seemed like no big deal: We really had no idea that history was being made. 

In later years, Oliver grew to fully appreciate the symbolic importance of the game. When reflecting on the days of the Negro Leagues, Oliver remarked: “In the ’30s, it would have been totally impossible in most people’s minds to believe what happened in 1971. If you were living in the ’40s, you wouldn’t have believed it.”

the team that changed everything

Markuson argues that perhaps the Pirates’ greatest legacy is the 1971 team’s influence on the future of baseball, inspiring later championship teams such as the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics to open their doors fully to all talented players, regardless of race, particularly in the new era of free agency. (2009)

On Sept. 1, 1971, twenty four seasons after Jackie Robinson officially broke baseball’s color barrier, Cash and Oliver were part of the first Major League franchise to field an all-minority starting nine.

The 1971 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. From David Kramer’s collection

Witnessed by just 11,278 fans in attendance, the game did not receive a great deal of recognition at the time. On Sept. 18th, the Sporting News briefly noted the event: What is believed to be the first all-Negro starting lineup in major league history turned back the Phillies on September 1. Manager Danny Murtaugh’s combination of American and Latin Negroes pounded out 13 hits en route to a 10-7 victory.

Sadly, according to George Skornickel, there was more to the story:

An air of speculation surrounds the issue of why the event wasn’t recognized more prominently at the time. Some local sports writers felt perhaps race was an issue to the extent that fans weren’t coming to the games because of the racial and ethnic make-up of the team. As Phil Musick, a Pittsburgh sportswriter, wrote, “Baseball at that time, in my opinion, had a whole lot of racial division and I think it went around inside baseball and angered some people … There was also some hostility in the city. Pittsburgh is a conservative city and there were a lot of snide remarks made privately. I’m sure there wasn’t a major reaction in the media other than to observe that it had taken place and it was a first.”

Another writer, Bill Nunn, had a blunter viewpoint. “It’s always been a problem of management. How many blacks will the fans take?”

I went down to Joe Brown’s office not long after that game, and he had a stack of mail, and he said, ‘You can take out any letter you want and it will be negative.’ Some of the most derogatory letters, and he had stacks of them, were from white fans.”

If the racial backlash against the Pirates fielding an all black team was relatively under the radar, two years later the animus became full blown when Henry Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record. Too many fans were openly angry that a black man was eclipsing baseball’s baseball’s most storied figure — although the Babe never had to face the greatest pitchers from the Negro Leagues.

In 1971, Cash and Oliver knew all too well that race — and racism — was always a factor in baseball. But for them the event didn’t seem like such a big deal as the 1970’s marked the peak of African-American players in the major league.  According to Mark Armour and Daniel R. Levitt, the figure reached 18.7 % in 1981.

Today the problem is not too many African-Americans in the major leagues, but too few. Today the number stands at less than 8%.

Many factors contribute to the decline of black participation in baseball. The generations for whom Jackie Robinson was a cherished hero are passing away.  It has been 70 years since Jackie broke the color line in Rochester at Red Wings Stadium. For several generations now, young black men have gravitated to football and basketball. Without enough players, there are not enough of the superstars who drive fan interest.

When revisiting my baseball card collection from the 70’s and 80’s I realized anew how many of my favorite players were African-American.

(left) signed Willie Stargell photo from Street & Smith’s now defunct. Here is Kramer & Kramer’s Official 2016 Yearbook; (right) BOLDED players are African-American

[The collection comprises all the playoff teams from 1969 – 1983, including the ’84 Royals and ’85 Royals and Dodgers. The era of the great dynasties. The Orioles made 7 postseason appearances; the Yankees 5; the Royals 7; the A’s 6; the Phillies 6; the Pirates 6; the Reds 6; the Dodgers 6]

Both MVP winners, I loved Jax and Vida Blue who clashed with Charlie Finley over salary. And Willie — whose card Rollie Fingers signed at Frontier Field — brought me into the game during the 1973 World Series.

(left) Vida Blue (right) Willie Mays in his last at bat. Signed by Rollie Fingers, who faced him in that last at bat, at Frontier Field. See On Yogi Berra and Dale Berra and the 1973 World Series and Willie Mays and my father

And who can forget Oscar Gamble. The Big O’s afro has been named the Funkiest ‘Fro of Them All, and the Afro from Heaven.

(left) The Big O and his Afro from Heaven; (right) Reggie Jackson see On Yogi Berra and Dale Berra and the 1973 World Series and Willie Mays and my fatherMy  favorite player was George Brett, of whom Oliver would say: “He [Brett] hits better than any white man I’ve ever seen. As a matter of fact, he hits so good he hits like a black man.”

As a baseball fan who closely follows RCAC high school baseball, the decline in popularity of baseball among young African-American young men is disheartening. (See Congratulations East on a magical season. So Jefferson and Rocky DiPonzio’s 1980 mark still stands.)

When in RCSD classrooms, I rarely hear African-American boys (or girls) talking about ESPN baseball highlights. As seen in The Roberto Clemente Men’s Hispanic Softball League is back!, the baseball tradition in the Hispanic community is strong. But in the RCSD football and basketball are king.

As seen in  250 years of calling you out, my friend James Quinn has become a baseball ambassador encouraging young men to discover the game he loves. But it’s an uphill battle.

However, a recent New Yorker article “The mission of a black baseball team”, describes the slow but promising renewed interest in baseball at historically black colleges and universities.

As John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro explain, the decline in popularity among African-Americans impacts HBSCU:

Sports fans know that black participation in Major League Baseball has dropped precipitously in the past few decades. According to a report published last year by USA Today, less than eight per centof major-league players in 2015 were African-American; that figure was nineteen per cent in 1986. And the decline can be seen at every level of the game: Little League, the minors, high school, college—even H.B.C.U.s. Thirty years ago, it was virtually impossible to find a white player on an H.B.C.U. team. Today, Winston-Salem State, Florida A&M, Prairie View A&M, and North Carolina Central all field teams in which the majority of players are not black. Only a few schools — Clark Atlanta, Morehouse College, and Lane College — regularly fill their rosters entirely with black players.


These days, very few historically black colleges and universities have majority-black teams. The Clark Atlanta Panthers are a remarkable exception. Photograph by Oscar Daniels. from “The mission of a black baseball team” See HBCUs are alive and well in Rochester

Florio and Shapiro point out one major factor is economics. As the late Clark Atlanta’s head coach Kentaus Carter said;  “Baseball is an expensive sport. Some parents are fortunate enough to get their kids personal lessons, but, in reality, more white kids get personal lessons than blacks.”  A limited pool of black players makes recruiting difficult. When Carter “stumbled upon a talented black player from an affluent family—one who has played on travel teams, taken personal instruction, and acquired the skills needed to excel at the college level,” he ended up competing with deep-pocketed white schools.

Nonetheless, some H.B.C.U’s are enticing more less-privileged, less-polished black players to their campuses. Black baseball high school players who haven’t had the luxury of travel teams and personal instruction are increasingly seeing H.B.C.U’s as option, an option that includes all the positive educational benefits H.B.C.U’s offer.

Most RCSD baseball players do not have those luxuries. And — as seen in HBCUs are alive and well in Rochester — H.B.C.U’s are popular in the RCSD. Maybe the day is coming when an RSCD African-American boy will take a look at baseball with an eye on playing in college. And then after him, his younger brother will take a look.


70 years ago today when Jackie Robinson broke the color line at Red Wings Stadium

Frank Robinson (1935 – 2019) and a glove signed at the 1988 Orioles-Red Wings exhibition game

Mt. Morris’s Roscoe Barnes was the Joe Morgan of his era

Remembering Richard Anthony Allen (March 8, 1942 – December 7, 2020), Feared Slugger Who Stood Up to Bigotry

Henry Aaron’s connections to Rochester: 1974, 1977, 1982 and 1986

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


  1. Nick Robfogel

    In 1946 Jackie Robinson played for Montreal, then a Red Wing rival in the eight team International League, that was truly international with Toronto, the other Canadian entry. The other teams were from Baltimore, Buffalo, Jersey City, Newark and Syracuse. In the next decade the Havana Sugar Kings made its pre-Castro debut, adding to the international flavor. At age 12 I probably did not appreciate the magnitude of Branch Rickey’s move. I’m not sure that I saw Robinson play as a Royal, though I did see him play with the Dodgers.
    I have been curious for many years that so many, especially too many sportswriters, when lamenting the decline since the 1970s in Black Major Leaguers, fail to include or otherwise note the many African Latin players.
    My thanks to David Kramer for the memories arising from his most recent offering.


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