Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Negro League baseball history fact for today - Dan Bankhead

On August 26, 1947 Dan Bankhead became the first African American in the 20th Century to pitch in a Major League game.  Playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Bankhead entered the game at Ebbets Field in relief of starting pitcher Hal Gregg in the second inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Born on May 5, 1020 in Empire, Alabama, he was the youngest of five brothers who all played Negro League baseball; Sam, Fred, Garnett, and Joe being the other four.  Dan Bankhead was one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues in 1947.  He was selected three times to play in the Negro League East-West All Star Game; 1941 while with the Birmingham Black Barons, 1946 and   1947 while with the Memphis Red Sox.   The 6’1”, 184 pound right hand hurler had a fastball that traveled to home plate at 95 miles per hour, a good curveball, and a screwball.  However, he lacked control of his pitches at times, walking as many batters as he struck out.  Bankhead was also one of the best hitting pitchers in the Negro Leagues during the 1940s.
The Dodgers desperately needed pitching for the 1947 National League pennant race.  Also;  Dodger Jackie Robinson, who had become the first African American to play in the Major Leagues since the turn of the century earlier that season, needed a roommate for road trips.  After hearing good scouting reports and seeing him pitch in person, Brooklyn Dodger Managing Partner Branch Rickey signed Bankhead on August 24.  Rickey did not first send him to the minor leagues to help prepare him for the pressure of being one of the first African American players in white organized baseball as he had done Jackie Robinson.  For Dan Bankhead, one day less than a month after being the winning pitcher in the first 1947 Negro League East-West All Star Game, he was on the mound in Ebbets Field.
His Major League debut was a pitching disaster.  In three and one-third innings, Bankhead gave up 8 runs and 10 hits in the Dodgers 16 – 3 lost to the Pirates.  However, in his first Major League at bat, he hit a two run home run.  He pitched in only three more Dodger games that season, in 10 total innings he walked 8 and struck out six.
While spending the next two seasons in the Dodgers’ minor league system, Bankhead showed the form that made him a success in the Negro Leagues.  He won 20 games both in 1948 (Nashua, Class D) and 1949 (St. Paul, Class AAA), but still at times had control issues with his pitches.   The next season, 1950, was his best with the Dodgers.  In 41 games, 12 as a starting pitcher, Bankhead was 9 – 4.  He pitched 2 complete games, 1 shutout, but had a 5.50 ERA.   In 129.1 innings, he struck out 96 batters, walked 88, and gave up 16 home runs.  He pitched well enough to be in the team’s starting rotation by mid-season, but strained his shoulder and struggled the last half of the season. 

After giving up 27 hits, 14 walks, and 5 home runs in 14 innings the first part the 1951 season, Bankhead was sent to the minor leagues.   He never pitched again for a Major League team.  

What team did Dan Bankhead pitch his only Major League shutout against in 1950? 

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