Monday, March 3, 2014

Charles Thomas: Inspiration to Integrating Pro-Ball

Spring training has started and baseball season is just around the corner. Today I'd like to share the story of Charles Thomas, the man who inspired Branch Rickey to integrate professional baseball.

Below is information compiled from the American Dental Association News. Not only was Thomas an extraordinary athlete, he went on to become a dentist.

Charles Thomas was born in West Virginia in 1881, but his family moved to Zanesville, Ohio, when he was 3 years old. In high school, Thomas was a star athlete in baseball, football and track.  In 1903 he began college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio where he played fullback on the football team. 

While at Ohio Wesleyan, he met Branch Rickey, the future Brooklyn Dodgers' executive, who was also a two-sport college athlete. When Rickey's playing days ended, he became Ohio Wesleyan's baseball coach and recruited Thomas to replace him as the team's catcher.

At the time, Thomas was Ohio Wesleyan University's only black ballplayer. Several times, Thomas-led teams were refused admission onto their opponents' field because of his skin color.

It's said that Branch Rickey's vision of integrating America's pastime stemmed from his time at Ohio Wesleyan in the early 1900s, and several accounts reveal that Thomas had a lasting impact on him.

During a 1903 road trip, the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team traveled to South Bend, Indiana. When Thomas was refused lodging at a hotel, Rickey asked that Thomas be allowed to sleep on a cot in his room.

Later that evening, Rickey found Thomas upset and crying. According to Rickey, Thomas said, "It's my skin. If I could just tear it off, I'd be like everybody else. It's my skin..."

Years later, Rickey told the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber about Thomas. Barber recounted this story in "Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns."

"For 41 years, I have heard that young man crying," Mr. Rickey told Mr. Barber. "Now, I am going to do something about it." 

To read more about Charles Thomas and Branch Rickey, check out Black Pioneers of College Baseball.

Had you ever heard of Charles Thomas? And by the way, are you looking forward to baseball season? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!


Norma Beishir said...

I hadn't...but I'd heard of Branch Rickey. Thanks for yet another informative post!

Hockey is my sport...but I'm looking forward to the start of baseball season, too!

Maria McKenzie said...

You're welcome, Norma! I'd never heard of him either. In the movie 42 the branch Rickey character made mention of a black ball player but didn't say his name.

shelly said...

It's sad to think someone would want to tear off their skin. We're all the same on the inside. And we all will stand before God one day.

William Kendall said...

Oh, yes, I know the name well. I first heard of him through the Burns documentary. When you hear that story, it becomes very understandable how deep an effect it had on Rickey.

I watched the movie again the other night, and I love that scene in the locker room when Branch tells Jackie: "you made me love baseball again."

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I had not heard of Charles Thomas. So hard to imagine, but back then, it's surprising that he was even allowed on the team - a true talent to have overcome that kind of adversity!

Maria McKenzie said...

@Shelly: Well said!

@William: Awesome movie! You never what effect something can have on someone's life!

@Jenette: So true!

Kittie Howard said...

Hi, I'm dropping by from William's blog. Glad I did as you've got a really interesting blog. My hub's a huge b-ball fan (Red Sox Nation) so sent him your post.

I hadn't heard of Charles Thomas (not surprising as I'm not into baseball) and felt a deep pang at how he suffered.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi Kittie,
Thanks for visiting! My hubby's a huge b-ball fan too. I hadn't heard of Thomas either, but his story is a very touching one.