A forgotten part of baseball history

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
5:48
PM ET
Today is Jackie Robinson Day across Major League Baseball, when the sport honors Robinson's legacy.

When this date arrives each season -- this year is the 67th anniversary of Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers -- I'm always reminded of my father-in-law's love of Robinson. He was born and grew up in Brooklyn, a Dodgers fan during their heyday in the '40s and '50s. Robinson was his favorite player and he always tells me, "There was nothing like seeing Jackie dancing around on the bases. You couldn't keep your eyes off him." He's still a baseball fan but says no player has ever matched the excitement Robinson brought to the diamond.

That's also a reminder that Robinson was a great player. We remember him as a trail blazer, but we often overlook his ability on the field. Robinson was 28 when he reached the majors and played through age 37. In those 10 seasons he accumulated 61.5 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That total is 16th-highest among all position players since 1901.

Paul Lukas has a fascinating piece today on his Uni Watch blog titled "Decades Before Jackie." Paul has a photo of two African Americans from 1923 wearing New York Giants jerseys. Fans? Hardly. Paul writes:
Those two guys are Waller Irvin and Emmett Parker, who were hired as trainers for the New York Giants in 1923. That photo was taken during spring training of '23, and they appear to be wearing the Giants' 1922 home jerseys (although Irvin's was apparently modified to look more like a dress shirt, complete with a collar and sleeve cuffs).

When reader Bruce Menard showed me this photo last week, I initially thought these must have been Negro Leagues trainers. But no -- they worked for the New York baseball Giants. Here's a Palm Beach Post article about Parker being hired by the Giants, and you can see Parker and Irvin in this 1923 Giants team portrait.


The rest of Paul's piece details the history of African American trainers in the majors, decades before Robinson donned his Dodgers jersey. As Paul writes, "So as we celebrate Jackie Day, let’s remember these trainers, who are part of the larger story about blacks and baseball."

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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