- February 8, 1924
- 6' 2"
- 220 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 5-01-1952 with BRO
- Allstar Selections:
- 1952 ROOK
After beginning his career in the Negro Leagues, Black won Rookie of the Year honors as a 28-year-old reliever for the 1952 Dodgers. He won 14 in relief and added 15 saves, using a blazing fastball and tight curve.
At season's end, Dodger manager Chuck Dressen started him twice (a win and a loss) to prepare him for starting the first game of the World Series. Black won 4-2, but then lost two close games (also starts) 2-0 and 4-2. His victory was the only one by a black pitcher in the Series until Mudcat Grant won in 1965.
In spring training the next year, Dressen insisted that Black learn several new pitches. He lost control of the two that had brought him success and was never effective again.
Negro and minor leagues
Black helped the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues win 2 championships in 7 years. He and Jackie Robinson pushed for a pension plan for Negro League players and was instrumental in the inclusion of players who played before 1947. Black then played for a year in the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system.
Call up to Brooklyn
The Dodgers promoted Black to the major leagues in 1952, five years after teammate Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Black was 28 when he reached the majors. He roomed with Jackie while with Brooklyn, and was dominant out of the bullpen, chosen Rookie of the Year after winning 15 games and saving 15 others for the National League champions. He had a 2.15 ERA but, with 142 innings pitched, fell 8 innings short of winning the ERA title.
Strapped for pitching, Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen brought Black out of the bullpen and started him 3 times in 7 days in the 1952 World Series against the New York Yankees. He won the opener with a 6-hitter over Allie Reynolds, 4-2, then lost the 4th game, 2-0, and the 7th, 4-2.
The next spring after the World Series, Dressen urged Black to add some pitches to his strong slowball, which was his favorite pitch. In six seasons, he compiled a 30-12 record, half of his wins coming in his rookie season.
After his career ended, Black taught health and physical education at Hubbard Junior High School in Plainfield, N.J., and later became an executive with Greyhound in Phoenix, Arizona.
In addition to lobbying for black players, he remained in baseball through his affiliation with the commissioner's office, where he consulted with players about career choices.
In 1991, Black appeared as a fictional character 'Joe 'Playday' Sims', in TV's Cosby Show, in the 7th Seaon episode, "There's Still No Joy in Mudville", which originally aired April 4, 1991.
He was a board director of the Baseball Assistance Team and worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks in community relations after they joined the NL in 1998. Black was a regular in the Diamondbacks' dugout during batting practice and in the press box. He also did a lot of charity work in the Phoenix area.
He wrote a syndicated column, "By The Way," for Ebony magazine and an autobiography, Ain't Nobody Better Than You.
Black was interred in the Hillside Cemetery of Scotch Plains, New Jersey.
Comments on Black
"Joe Black was a tremendous human being," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "He always had positive words for me. His parting words were always, `Make sure you do it your way.' He must have told me that a hundred times last year. "He was a diehard Diamondbacks fan. He loved this team and I'm just glad we had a chance to win a World Series for him."
"He was a Dodger, but he was a giant of a man," former NL president Len Coleman said. "He was the greatest friend, and his loss leaves the world a lot more empty."
"His legacy is the thought that unheralded players can rise to the heights, that someone who at the time was considered an ordinary athlete could wind up pitching Game 1 of the World Series," said Vin Scully, the Dodgers' play-by-play announcer since 1951.
"He loved the game and he loved to talk the game," said Montreal manager Frank Robinson, who was friends with Black and visited him this month when the Expos were in Phoenix. "He was a great guy, a jolly guy, a real fun guy," said New York Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, a teammate with the Dodgers. "It's sad to lose him."
Honors and awards
The Arizona Fall League's Most Valuable Player award is named for Black. First presented in 2002, the award honors the 1952 National League Rookie of the Year.
Beginning in 2010, the Washington Nationals will present the Joe Black Award to a Washington area organization chosen for its work promoting baseball in African-American communities. The award recognizes Black as the first African American player on the Washington Senators (1957).
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- Joe Black