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The Pittsburgh Pirates and the First All-Black Lineup

Brett Barnett

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After the murder of George Floyd, posting traditional Pirates’ content didn’t feel right. So, I was trying to come up with content that is both relevant with regard to the movement taking place, as well as the team.

On September 1, 1971, the Pirates did something no other team had ever done before. Manager Danny Murtaugh trotted out the first ever all-black lineup in Major League Baseball history. When asked about it, Murtaugh said, “I put the best athletes out there. The best nine I put out tonight happen to be black. No big deal. Next question.”

It’s important to understand the timeframe for this historical occurrence. The Civil Rights Movement, which began in the late 1940s, had just concluded three years prior, in 1968.

In 1965, there were events like Bloody Sunday, in which marchers were to walk from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, in order to protest black voter suppression. After walking unimpeded through downtown Selma, the marchers were met with state troopers once they crested the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The confrontation was unavoidable, but Hosea Williams and John Lewis, along with the other marchers, stood their ground, despite orders to disperse. When state troopers advanced on the marchers, the resiliency and bravery they exhibited stood in stark contrast to the racial fears displayed by the troopers, the townspeople, and many across the nation.

With orders to disperse then and orders to disperse now, as well as the utilization of clubs and tear gas, what we’ve seen over the last week can’t be overlooked. To this day, we still have people fighting for their lives and for their freedom. 55 years after that day in Selma, we still have a problem in America that must be addressed: the problem is that racial bias and systemic police abuses still permeate much more of society than some people are willing to believe.

50 years later, in 2015, President Barack Obama, along with his family and thousands of others, joined John Lewis to walk peacefully over that same bridge in Selma as they had planned to do in 1965.

1965 was also the year Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audobon Ballroom in Manhattan. He was killed by three men perpetrating violence supposedly on behalf of the Nation of Islam. Two days prior to his assassination, Malcolm X had told Gordon Parks that the Nation of Islam was actively trying to kill him.

Three years later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated by James Earl Ray while giving an address and standing on the balcony of a Memphis hotel. One week later President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, or Fair Housing Act, which is supposed to provide equal housing opportunity to all, regardless of race, religion, or national origin.

In the grand scheme of things, Murtaugh and the Pirates’ place in history isn’t quite as significant as the events already mentioned. In fact, many likely don’t even know that it happened. But what it showed, whether intentional or not, was that baseball is a sport for everyone, regardless of skin color or any other discriminatory factor. It showed that the best players will play, and that the sport is inclusive.

Individual players don’t always live up to the standard by which we should all abide, and sometimes the league isn’t proactive in thwarting racism (like this tweet or this one explains), but the game as a whole is for anybody who wants to play it; and if you play it well enough, it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, there’s a spot for you.

As protests continue for equality and for equitable solutions to the nation’s past and present wrongdoings, I hope that we can all remain attentive to what’s happening across the nation. From the capital in Washington to the streets of Los Angeles, I hope that we can stand together with one another in solidarity and know that liberty can’t be had by the individual until liberty is had by all.

To leave, I wanted to write the lineup from September 1. I also wanted to leave some links to prominent stories floating around the web, as well as websites to remain up to speed on all recent developments.

The lineup:

2B – Rennie Stennett

CF – Gene Clines

RF – Roberto Clemente

LF – Willie Stargell

C – Manny Sanguillen

3B – Dave Cash

1B – Al Oliver

SS – Jackie Hernandez

P – Dock Ellis

More of the September 1 story can be found here on the SABR website. A story from The Athletic by the staff’s black authors outlining racism and discrimination they’ve experienced. A story from The Atlantic. Former ESPN employee Jemele Hill writes about the NFL and the current climate. Finally, a link to NPR and the Associated Press. Finally, a link to the Black Lives Matter movement itself.