Jimmy Claxton

 

More than 30 years before Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jim Claxton became the first black man to play organized white baseball in the 20th Century.

Born December 14, 1892, in Wellington, British Columbia, Claxton moved with his parents to Tacoma just a few months after his birth. His multiracial background led to him and his siblings being classified as white, black, and mulatto by various census-takers, while his World War I draft registration card listed “Ethiopian” as his race.

Living in Roslyn, Washington, Claxton began his playing career at 13 years of age, initially catching before moving to pitcher. After moving to Oakland, California, and playing for an all-black team, Claxton was introduced to the team owner of the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks as a Native American, which allowed him to join the team. Or, at least, that’s how the story goes.

Claxton became the first black player in white professional baseball in the 20th Century on May 28, 1916, when he pitched in both ends of a doubleheader. The team was bad, and his two outings didn’t go particularly well: totaling 2 1/3 innings while allowing four hits, two earned runs, and four walks.

Unfortunately, those proved to be his only appearances. The truth about Claxton’s race was discovered a few days later, and he was released on June 2. Through a lucky coincidence of timing, however, he became the first black player on a baseball card, as his short tenure with the Oaks lined up with a visit from the photographer for the “Zeenuts Cards” line.

Claxton went on to pitch in Negro and semi-professional leagues until 1946. During his more than-30-year career, he accumulated more than 350 wins and 4,000 strikeouts. He also became the first black manager for an integrated semi-pro team when he returned to Roslyn and coached the Yippers from 1926-31.

Photo Credit: Marc Blau Collection