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Remembering the St. Louis Browns and their role in integrating Major League Baseball

Hank Thompson pictured left and Willard Brown pictured right courtesy of Ed Wheately
St. Louis Browns Historical Society
Hank Thompson and Willard Brown of the St. Louis Browns in 1947

Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier 75 years ago. The integration of America’s pastime marked a pivotal moment in the nation’s society around race relations and cemented Robinson’s stardom as a renowned Black American ballplayer. However, many are unaware of St. Louis’ place in introducing Black American athletes to MLB.

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Miya Norfleet
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Ed Wheatley is the president of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society.

The same year Robinson broke the color barrier, St. Louis Browns owner Bill DeWitt Sr. signed Hank Thompson and Willard Brown from the Negro American League’s Kansas City Monarchs, the team Robinson had played for before hitting the big leagues. Thompson and Brown became the third and fourth Black American ballplayers on an MLB team. On July 20, 1947, the two took the field together at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox, making history as the first two Black players fielded in a game at the same time.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Ed Wheatley, St. Louis Browns Historical Society president and author, shared how much pressure Thompson and Brown were under as they faced fans in St. Louis. At the time, St. Louis was the southernmost city in the league.

Wheatley’s dedication to baseball history puts him in partnership with many baseball museums, clubs and stakeholders. That includes current Cardinals team owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who shared with Wheatley his recollections of witnessing Thompson and Brown taking the field.

Remembering the St. Louis Browns and their role in integrating Major League Baseball

“Bill DeWitt Jr. was a batboy for the Browns,” Wheatley explained. “I asked him ‘What happened that day when you came out [on the field]?’ And he said, ‘Well, they were standing out in left field. And I thought how nice it was that they have each other.’”

Although the team moved to Baltimore in 1953 and became the Orioles, the legacy of the St. Louis Browns is still alive. July 28 will be St. Louis Browns Day with the Gateway Grizzlies, a minor league team in Sauget, Illinois. Fans at the game can expect to see the Grizzlies decked out in St. Louis Browns replica jerseys and exclusive memorabilia for sale featuring Satchel Paige — another legendary Black ballplayer who played for the Browns.

“Satchel, his presence, his esteem, is just unbelievable. He is one of those men when you think about the greatest of baseball,” Wheatley said. “This is going to be a special night to be able to honor him.”

Related Event

What: Satchel Paige Bobblehead Night
When: 6:45 p.m. July 28
Where: GCS Credit Union Ballpark
2301 Grizzlie Bear Blvd., Sauget, IL 62206
More information

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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