Detroit Tigers – A Look Back to the Jackie Robinson Era


Today Major League Baseball commemorates and honors the great Jackie Robinson‘s major league debut.  Players will adorn #42, teams will celebrate their local foundations for Jackie Robinson and fans will remember how he changed the game. 

In fact, owner Walter Briggs refused to have any blacks play for the Tigers.  The Tigers were the second to last team in all of baseball to integrate and did so only when Briggs had passed away.

In Pittsburgh tonight, the Pirates will recognize the winners of the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Jackie Robinson Art, Essay and Poetry contest with an on-field pregame ceremony.  The contestants were tasked with creatively expressing Robinson’s nine values to success.  It is, indeed, one of the best nights during the baseball season.

The Detroit Tigers never had a chance to face or host Jackie Robinson during his career of 1947-1956.  The National League was much quicker to adopt to integrating baseball along race lines than the American League.

The Detroit Tigers, unfortunately, were not quick adopters of integration.  Burton Folsom, a history professor at Hillsday college writes in “The Costs of Segragtion to the Detroit Tigers,” Walter Knorr, the new owner of the Tigers and a graduate of a Hillsdale College, which was an integrated college, brought the first black Detroit Tiger in Ozzie Virgil, Sr. in 1958.

Folsom goes on to suggest that Brigg’s racism was one of the causes of the Tigers to fall from the top of the American League as World Champions in 1945 to last place in 1952.

During the 1958 off season, the Tigers traded with the San Francisco Giants for utility player, Ozzie Virgil Sr.,  who made his debut on June 6, 1958.  Virgil was a native of the Dominican Republic and the first

Credit Flickr photo, Creative Commons – Lauren

Dominican to play in the big leagues.  Some critics point out that he was a Hispanic player and not a black player.  However, for the Tigers it was the first non white player on their roster.

Outfielder Wycliffe “Bubba” Morton was the first black player the Tigers signed in 1955 and he played in the minor leagues until making his debut with the Tigers in 1961.

In 1959, Hall of Famer Larry Doby made a brief eighteen game stint for the Tigers who traded the Cleveland Indians for him.  Doby was the first black player to play in the American Leagues, the second black player to play in the major leagues for the Cleveland Indians in July 1947 and the first black player along with Satchell Paige in 1948 to win a World Series for the Indians.

Tiger great Willie Horton remains the only black Tiger to have his number retired by Detroit.  Horton played for Detroit from 1963 to 1977 and was a career .273 hitter with 325 home runs and 1,163 RBI’s.

Take a moment today to celebrate the greatness of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Ozzie Virgil, Bubba Morton,  Willie Horton and every black player, Hispanic player and Asian player that has made this great game even better.

Next: Detroit Tigers five defensive questions