American right-handed pitcher in Negro League and Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Redlegs, and Washington Senators who became the first black pitcher to win a World Series game, in 1952. Black died of prostate cancer at age 78.
A native of Plainfield, New Jersey, he starred at Plainfield High School. Black attended on a baseball scholarship and graduated from Morgan State University in 1950 and later received an honorary doctorate from Shaw University. He was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He appears prominently in Roger Kahn's classic book, The Boys of Summer.
Strapped for pitching, Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen brought Black out of the bullpen and started him 3 times in 7 days in the 1952 World Series against the New York Yankees. He won the opener with a 6-hitter over Allie Reynolds, 4–2, then lost the 4th game, 2–0, and the 7th, 4–2.
The next spring after the World Series, Dressen urged Black to add some pitches to his strong slowball, which was his favorite pitch. In six seasons, he compiled a 30–12 record, half of his wins coming in his rookie season.
After his career ended, Black taught health and physical education at Hubbard Junior High School in Plainfield, N.J., and later became an executive with Greyhound in Phoenix, Arizona.
In addition to lobbying for black players, he remained in baseball through his affiliation with the commissioner's office, where he consulted with players about career choices.
In 1991, Black appeared as a fictional character 'Joe 'Playday' Sims', in TV's Cosby Show, in the 7th Season episode, "There's Still No Joy in Mudville", which originally aired April 4, 1991.
He was a board director of the Baseball Assistance Team and worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks in community relations after they joined the NL in 1998. Black was a regular in the Diamondbacks' dugout during batting practice and in the press box. He also did a lot of charity work in the Phoenix area.
He wrote a syndicated column, "By The Way," for Ebony magazine and an autobiography, Ain't Nobody Better Than You.
Black was interred in the Hillside Cemetery of Scotch Plains, New Jersey.
"Joe Black was a tremendous human being," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "He always had positive words for me. His parting words were always, `Make sure you do it your way.' He must have told me that a hundred times last year. "He was a diehard Diamondbacks fan. He loved this team and I'm just glad we had a chance to win a World Series for him."
"He was a Dodger, but he was a giant of a man," former NL president Len Coleman said. "He was the greatest friend, and his loss leaves the world a lot more empty."
"His legacy is the thought that unheralded players can rise to the heights, that someone who at the time was considered an ordinary athlete could wind up pitching Game 1 of the World Series," said Vin Scully, the Dodgers' play-by-play announcer since 1951.
"He loved the game and he loved to talk the game," said Montreal manager Frank Robinson, who was friends with Black and visited him this month when the Expos were in Phoenix. "He was a great guy, a jolly guy, a real fun guy," said New York Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, a teammate with the Dodgers. "It's sad to lose him."
Beginning in 2010, the Washington Nationals will present the Joe Black Award to a Washington area organization chosen for its work promoting baseball in African-American communities. The award recognizes Black as the first African American player on the Washington Senators (1957).