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This Day in Yankees History: Jackie Robinson calls out the Yankees’ racism

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The first Black major leaguer took to television to decry the Yankees’ failure to integrate their roster by the 1950s.

Dodger’s Infielder Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. The 2020 baseball season has come to an end, so let’s dig into the history books. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (November 30)

68 Years Ago

Jackie Robinson flames the Yankees, however gently, citing racism as the sole reason the club had yet to integrate their roster. On a New York NBC daytime TV show, “Youth Wants to Know,” Robinson answered affirmatively when asked if the reason for the absence of players of color in pinstripes was prejudice. However, he was careful to cite the executives as the reason for Black players’ absences from the Yankee lineup, maintaining that the Yankee players were, “…fine sportsmen and wonderful gentlemen…”

By 1952, Jackie had spent six seasons in the majors, joined by at least a score of other Black players. The Yankees didn’t integrate until 1955, becoming the third-to-last team to do so when they called-up slugging catcher Elston Howard years after passing on opportunities to sign eventual Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Willie Mays. By that time, there had been more than 50 players of color in Major League Baseball, none of whom played for the Yankees.

When Howard did finally join the Yankees at age 26, after five long seasons in their minor league system, he was an instant success on account of his personality and performance. He went on to make 12 All-Star teams, win two Gold Gloves, four World Series, and an AL MVP. Despite receiving a regular regimen of racially insensitive remarks from Yankee brass (like scout Bill McCorry and his own manager, Casey Stengel), Howard was beloved by his teammates. Even superstar Mickey Mantle, who hadn’t had a roommate since his rookie year, cited Howard as the only player he’d have ever considered sharing a room with on the road.

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The former Yankees who share a birthday today have one more thing in common than their date of birth—they only spent a fraction of their big-league careers with the club. One-time third place Cy Young finisher and All-Star Bob Tewksbury, celebrating his 60th, started out his career with the Yanks, but played just 31 games with the team before spending the bulk of the next decade in the National League, including a short peak with the Cardinals. Outfielder Matt Lawton, turning 49, made an All-Star game apiece for Minnesota and Cleveland before playing just 21 games for the Yankees in his second-to-last season as a pro at age 33.

The most notable name is pitcher Steve Hamilton, who would be 86 if he had not passed away in 1997. He was well-known for his infamous lob pitch, the eephus-esque “Folly Floater.”

“Gomer” spent the bulk of his workmanlike, 11.1 WAR, 12-year career with the Yankees—parts of eight years—but began (Cleveland) and ended (Chicago) elsewhere. After coming over from the Senators in 1963, Hamilton notched a 2.93 ERA out of the bullpen over the next two seasons as the Yankees won their fourth and fifth AL pennant in a row, though they fell in the World Series both times. The tall lefty was even better in 1965 (1.39 ERA and 2.6 WAR in just 58 13 innings), but by then, the Yankees had begun a tailspin that they wouldn’t recover from until Hamilton was long gone.

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We thank Baseball Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.