Second baseman Curt Roberts made history on April 13, 1954, when he became the first African-American to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Roberts first made a name for himself in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. He also played in Minor League Baseball (MiLB) and the Mexican League before joining up with the Pirates. General manager Branch Rickey signed Roberts to the team after facing mounting pressure from the local black community. Roberts was chosen not only for his baseball skills, but also for his calm personality, which helped him cope with the racial slurs and heckling he took.
Roberts’ MLB career was destined to be short-lived, however, as his batting average dropped significantly in his second season with the Pirates. As he feared that the mounting racial abuse was affecting Roberts’ game, Brooklyn Dodgers’ second baseman Jackie Robinson contacted Roberts offering support and encouragement. Sadly, it didn’t help, and Roberts was cut from the team in the 1955 season.
MLB.com journalist Tom Singer wrote, “Roberts humanized the ongoing integration of baseball by thrashing the perception that African-Americans had to be superstars to find a place in a big league world of white bench players. He was a flop. Yet the tide of integration continued to roll across the Major League landscape, with healthier expectations.”