Lots of baseball talent used to flow through HBCUs

Fred Jeter | 4/18/2024, 6 p.m.
Fans don’t often see them now in Major League baseball, but HBCU players have left a star-shaped mark on the ...
Ralph Garr

Fans don’t often see them now in Major League baseball, but HBCU players have left a star-shaped mark on the sport.

The illustrious list of long-ago standouts includes numerous Major League Hall of Famers and several others with local connections.

Monte Irvin (Lincoln, Pa.); Lou Brock (Southern University); Bill Foster (Alcorn State); Hilton Smith (Prairie View A&M); Andre Dawson (Florida A&M); and Ray Brown (Wilberforce) are all enshrined in the Hall at Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Hall of Fame honor roll grows if you count Larry Doby, who played basketball but not baseball at Virginia Union in the early 1940s.

The first Black player in the American League, Doby went on to help Cleveland win the 1948 World Series. The slugging outfielder walloped 273 home runs and was twice the AL homer leader.

Brown, Foster and Smith all played exclusively in the Negro Leagues and reached the Hall of Fame through the Veterans Committee.

Local baseball fans haven’t forgotten Ralph Garr, who played for the Richmond Braves in 1969 and 1970, or Al Bumbry. Garr, the “Roadrunner,” is likely the most exciting player to come through Richmond. The lefty swinging outfielder hit .329 with 63 stolen baes in 106 games in 1969, and then .386 with 39 swipes in 98 games in 1970.

Garr went on to a brilliant big-league career and is a member of the Atlanta Braves’ Hall of Fame.

Bumbry, the “Bumblebee,” played one season of baseball at Virginia State after enrolling at the Ettrick school on a basketball scholarship.

Al Brumby

Al Brumby

The fleet outfielder went on to be the American League rookie of the year with Baltimore in 1973 and is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame.

Other notable HBCU athletes to reach big leagues:

Tommie Agee (Grambling): AL Rookie of the Year in 1973, the centerfielder was a two-time All-Star, twice winner of the Golden Glove Award and starred on the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series club.

Ray Brown (Wilberforce, Ohio): Was among the top pitchers in the Negro Leagues while also excelling with the bat and on the basepaths. He played mostly with the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh.

Cecil Cooper (Prairie View A&M): The left-handed first baseman compiled a career .298 average with 241 homers with Boston and Milwaukee. He was a five-time All-Star and later managed the Houston Astros.

Bill Foster (Alcorn State): The pitcher posted a 110-56 mark, twice winning All-Star honors and twice helping Birmingham to Negro World Series titles. Alcorn State’s field is named in his honor.

Hilton Smith (Prairie View A&M): The powerful right-handed pitcher (70-38 career record) was on the same staff with legendary Satchel Paige for the Kansas City Monarchs.

Donn Clendenon (Morehouse): The powerful first baseman was MVP of the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series champs.

Before that, he starred in baseball, basketball and football at Morehouse, where his freshman “Big Brother” (adviser) was Martin Luther King Jr.

Rickie Weeks (Southern): In 2002, the slick second baseman hit .495 with 20 homers for Southern to win the NCAA batting title. Weeks played in the majors from 2003 to 2017 and is among the youngest HBCU ballplayers to reach the top.

It’s fair to say that it’s getting tougher for HBCUs to attract future big-league talent. Most young Black prospects nowadays go pro straight out of high school or enroll at colleges with higher profiles and likely more lucrative Name-Image-Likeness (NIL) possibilities.