Atlanta Braves' first African-American player was also their first Rookie of the Year, Sam Jethroe
A Too-Short Career
At 32 years old, Sam Jethroe beat an Olympic Silver Medalist in a 75-yard dash, and his 5.9 second, 120-yard sprint equates to a 30.5 feet/second bolt speed. The fastest 90-foot bolt speed last year was 3.66 seconds by 21-year-old Corbin Carroll; Harris checked him at 3.80 for 90 feet.
Jethroe’s defense wasn't a match for that of Harris, he got late jumps on the ball and took awful routes; all caused, it seems, by bad eyesight. Jethroe admitted to never having an eye exam until the middle of the 1951 season.
He was also known for having a noodle arm, but it wasn't always that way. In a pre-season exhibition against the Red Sox at Fenway, he chased a fly ball into the triangle and slammed his throwing shoulder into a concrete wall. Despite a "weak arm", Jethroe, ed the NL in assists by a center fielder in 1950 and 1951, ranked second in outfield assists in 1950, and third in 1951.
The Jet checked in at 6'-1", 170 lbs. at 33 years old. He was faster at 33 than Billy Hamilton in his prime and posted an .816 OPS at 34. Imagine everything we heard about Billy Hamilton being true; double-digit homers, 40+ steals, Gold Glove defense in center, and a .340 OBP with an .800 OPS, but as a switch hitter, and you have today's Sam Jethroe.
That’s A Wrap
Every Atlanta Braves fan knows Michael Harris, but Mikey may not know about Jethroe; his name hasn’t come up in any of the stories about Harris’ season, and Harris hasn't mentioned him in interviews. The Jet's contribution is lost in the noise. Larry Doby might say, hold my beer.
Doby was the second African-American to sign and shared the same battles as Robinson, but his name is often an afterthought. If number two is an afterthought, number four is a trivia question in an Atlanta sports bar. I’m not suggesting everyone be regaled with stories about Jethroe’s illness and injury-shortened career. But Atlanta Braves players should, at the very least, know his name.
Think how Jethroe's career might have turned out, given the same chance to succeed as everyone else and a better standard of healthcare. Then make a note to enjoy the enormous talent in the leagues today.