Sam Jethroe was 32 years old when he became the second Boston Braves player to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1950. I won’t insult your intelligence by stating the obvious of why he was so old when debuting in the big leagues. We all know. He could have debuted earlier though. He was a part of a sham try out for the Red Sox in 1945 that included Jackie Robinson. The workout was only done to get a city councilwoman off the team’s back and Jethroe was not offered a contract. (Instead of being the first team to integrate, the Red Sox were the last team.)
When Branch Rickey was ready to integrate the big leagues, Jethroe was under consideration. After choosing Jackie Robinson, Rickey did sign Jethroe to a minor league deal where Jethroe spent two years as one of the best players in minor league baseball at Montreal. The Dodgers would sell him to the Braves before the 1950 season where he would integrate the Boston NL team. He would light up the National League with two superb seasons for Boston, but problems with his eyesight and other physical ailments shortened his career. Truth is, by the time he debuted, his talent was already declining. (He did have several excellent minor league seasons before retiring.)
To compound the tragedy of segregated baseball, MLB would refuse to offer pensions to Major Leaguers who lost a portion of their career to the segregation years. They would relent in 1997 due to pressure from politicians and the public. The meager payments would help Jethroe in the later years of his life.
If you want to learn more about Jethroe, I highly recommend the terrific article about him on the SABR website. I think it’s time for the @Braves to consider honoring Jethroe’s legacy at Suntrust Park as well.