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*On this date in 1917, Sam Jethroe was born. He was a Black center fielder in the Negro Baseball League and Major League Baseball.
From East St. Louis, Illinois, Samuel Jethroe was an all-around athlete. His father taught him to play baseball, and at Lincoln High School, he played football, basketball, and boxed. After high school, he began playing semipro ball with the East St. Louis Colts and the St. Louis Giants. He began his professional career with the Indianapolis ABCs. It wasn’t until he was with the Cincinnati & Cleveland Buckeyes he won a pair of batting titles, hit .340 over seven seasons from 1942 to 1948, and helped the team to two pennants and the 1945 Negro World Series title. He was named the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1950 with the Boston Braves and led the NL in stolen bases in his first two seasons.
On April 18, 1950, Jethroe became the first Black player on the Boston Braves roster and collected two hits, including a home run. He was named Rookie of the Year that season at age 32 (although he was then believed to be 28) after hitting .273 with 100 runs, 18 home runs, and 58 runs batted in; his 35 stolen bases topped the National League and were the most by a Brave since Hap Myers stole 57 in 1913. He remains the oldest player to have won Rookie of the Year honors. Jethroe enjoyed a slightly improved season in 1951 when he posted better figures in batting (.280), runs (101), RBI (65), hits (160), doubles (29), and triples (10), and again hit 18 homers. He also repeated his 35 steals, once again leading the league. After his baseball career ended, Jethroe settled in Erie, Pennsylvania. He worked in a local factory for several years, played in the city's semi-pro Glenwood League, then opened a bar.
In 1994, Jethroe sued Major League Baseball to collect pension payments, as he was one of a host of other former Negro leaguers who couldn't qualify because of the racial discrimination of the 1940s and 1950s, which delayed their professional careers. While a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, in 1997, Major League Baseball decided to give a yearly payment plan to Negro league veterans, including Jethroe. Nicknamed "The Jet," Sam Jethroe died on June 16, 2001, in Erie, PA. In 2019, the International League announced that Jethroe would be inducted into its hall of fame.