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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 ABC’s. 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 to lead the league.After his baseball career ended, Jethroe settled in Erie, Pennsylvania, where 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 in order 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 the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge, 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.