NEW FOR 2014! Blog posts titled “Today’s African American fact from baseball’s golden era (1947 – 1960)” will highlight, young, non-Negro League, African American players who broke into the Major Leagues during the period called “baseball’s golden era”; 1947 – 1960. Although the color line had been broken, integration was still a slow process and these players still had to overcome racial discrimination (quota systems, segregated spring training accommodations, etc.) to make it in Major League baseball.
Although born on February 17, 1934 in Siluria, Alabama; Willie Charles Kirkland had moved to Detroit by the time he was signed by the New York Giants as a nineteen year old teenager in 1953. In three minor league seasons, Kirkland displayed himself as a speedy, strong-armed outfielder that hit with power. After one year in the military, he started alongside Willie Mays in the 1958 Giant outfield; the team’s first year in San Francisco. In three seasons with the Giants, 1958 – 1960, Kirkland hit 57 home runs. However, by 1960 the Giants began to have a surplus of African American and Hispanic outfielders. Along with Mays and Kirkland were Leon Wagner, the Alou brothers (Felipe and Matty), and even Orlando Cepeda was moved to the outfield making way for Willie McCovey; an African American at first base. Saying Kirkland never matched his 30+ minor league home run power; the Giants traded him to the Cleveland Indians.
Kirkland hit 63 home runs in three seasons (1961 – 1963) with the Indians, the team leader with 27 in 1961. However, his batting average declined; .200 in 1962 and .230 in 1963. The team traded him to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1963 season and he was then traded to the Washington Senators early in 1964. After his last Major League season in 1966, Kirkland played six years in Japan hitting 126 home runs.
Who was the former American League Batting Champion the Giants received in the Kirkland trade with the Indians?