By Ron Charles | Special To The OBSERVER
OPINION – September 1, 2021 marked 50 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates’ “managing legend” the late Danny Murtaugh chose to rest two of his regulars in his talented lineup in a home game against their cross-state division rivals the Philadelphia Phillies.
By resting hard-hitting 3rd baseman Richie Hebner and power-hitting 1st baseman Bob Robertson, Murtaugh flexed his muscle and penciled in two of his quality reserves into an already vaunted lineup. When Pirates reserves Gene Cline CF of San Pablo, California and Rennie Stennett, 2nd base of Colon, Panama took the field against the Phillies with the rest of their starting lineup, it marked the first — and last — time in the history of the sport that a major league baseball team fielded nine Black and Latino players.
I was an 11-year-old diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan at the time and Roberto Clemente was my favorite player. Clemente, Captain Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Manny Sanguillan, Bob Robertson, Dave Cash, Steve Blass and Dock Ellis blended all their abilities and talents and landed themselves in a World Series in October 1971 where they outclassed the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles and their four, 20-game winners in seven games.
Fifty years have passed since that historic lineup took the field. In 1971, Major League Baseball was loaded with African Americans playing key roles in their team’s success. Some would have thought that the September 1, 1971 Pirates lineup would have helped set the table or simply kept Blacks interested in the sport forever, but sadly, that wasn’t the case. I cannot think of five Black players today. In 1971, Major League Baseball was 101 years old. It also marked 24 years since Blacks integrated into the league. Thank heavens for Jackie Robinson!
Blacks today account for far less than the 10 percent that is projected in the Big Leagues today and it’s been like this for some time now. That being said, how many Black managers can you name? How important was the history-making lineup that took the field at Three Rivers Stadium on September 1, 1971? The Pirates won and some would even believe it to be the most important thing to the team until reality sinks in and they realize the history that they became a part of. Secondly, a person may ask themselves if American history, Black history and Major League history was all happening at once.
As an African American, I stopped acknowledging Black History Month for decades. While sitting in a college classroom I once thought, “Who thought they were doing Black people a favor by giving us four weeks out of a year to honor the history of the first people on earth?” Just as Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947 as the first African American to a Major League contract, the 1971 Pirates did the same thing by fielding nine Black and Latino players and another page was written in American history.