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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Apr 13, 2022

The first African American player to suit up for a St. Louis baseball team was second baseman and outfielder Hank Thompson.  Hot on the heals if Jackie Robinson breaking the color line, Hank Thompson would have several firsts himself.  Just press play to hear the whole story. ------ 

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Adam Kloppe, public historian with the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ——

Today, Jackie Robinson is a name that is recognized by millions, and for good reason. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson officially became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, a sport that had been segregated for decades. For his actions both on and off the field, Robinson is recognized as a hero by millions. He is the subject of documentaries and films, and Major League Baseball has retired his number 42 league-wide. ———

After Robinson broke baseball’s color line, more Black players began signing with Major League Baseball teams. These players all followed in Robinson’s footsteps, but they also trod on new ground as the first Black players for their respective franchises. ———

The first African American player to suit up for a St. Louis baseball team was second baseman and outfielder Hank Thompson, who began his Major League Baseball career with a start for the St. Louis Browns on July 17, 1947. But that wasn’t the only barrier the 21 year old Thompson would smash through that summer. On July 20, 1947, he started a game for the Browns with future Hall of Famer Willard “Home Run” Brown—marking the first time two Black players had ever played in a Major League baseball game together. Later that same season, when the Browns played Cleveland, Thompson played in the first game to ever feature two teams with a Black player. ———

However, Thompson’s tenure in St. Louis wasn’t easy. Reports claim that many of his white teammates shunned both Thompson and Brown, leaving them to warm up together. Thompson got limited chances with the Browns, leading to inconsistent production on the field. After only 27 games, he was released. ———

Thompson’s pioneering career was not over, though. He later broke another color line when he became the first Black player to suit up for the New York Giants in 1949. With more consistent playing time, Thompson thrived with the Giants, and he played eight seasons with them. Thompson also kept breaking barriers. In 1951, he became a part of baseball’s first all African-American outfield with future Hall of Famers Monte Irvin and Willie Mays. In 1954, he helped power the Giants to a World Series victory over Cleveland. Thompson retired from baseball in 1956, an unsung titan in the history of desegregating America’s pastime. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam Kloppe, and this is eighty-eight one, KDHX, St. Louis. ———