By Russ Walsh
On July 11, 1954, between games of a doubleheader featuring the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Athletics, rookie pitcher Bob Trice walked into A’s manager Eddie Joost’s office in the locker room at Connie Mack Stadium and made an unusual request.
“I’d like you to send me back to [Athletics Triple-A affiliate] Ottawa.”
Joost was flabbergasted. Trice was the first African American to play professional baseball for a Philadelphia team. Was he unhappy? Was the team not treating him well?
“Everything here is fine,” Trice responded. “But right now, I think I’d be better off in Ottawa.”
Still, Joost couldn’t understand the request. While Trice had been struggling recently and had been hit around in the first game that day, Trice was his best pitcher. The rookie had recorded seven wins for Joost’s struggling A’s, who had a record of 30-49 after that day. Trice was adamant though.
“I planned to make this move anyway,” he said. “I would have asked to be sent back to Ottawa even if I won today.”
One of the reasons it was so surprising that Trice asked to return to the Minors is that it took him a long time to get to the Majors, largely because of baseball’s color line. Trice was 27 years old when he was called up to the A’s in September 1953. He had virtually forced his promotion by posting a stellar campaign with Triple-A Ottawa in 1953, going 21-10 with a 3.10 ERA.
After pitching well during his September callup, Trice was counted on to be one of the A’s starters for 1954. He did not disappoint, winning his first four starts and compiling a 7-4 record through mid-June. Trice was also one of the better hitters on the team, batting .286 with a home run. Now he was asking to go back to the Minors?
Trice’s journey to the Major Leagues was a circuitous one. A three-sport athlete at segregated Dunbar High School in Weirton, West Virginia, Trice joined the Navy right out of school in 1944 at the height of World War II. In the military, he grew to 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, playing first base on various service teams.
After the war, Trice played ball for the Steubenville, Ohio semi-pro team, where he was recruited by the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League. He was still a first baseman when he joined the Grays, but the Grays needed pitching, so they converted him. After parts of three seasons with the Grays, Trice signed with the Farnum Pirates of Canada’s Class A Provincial League. After two years with Farnum, his contract was purchased by the A’s in 1952.
Trice seemed to find himself once he moved to the A’s, and he quickly rose through their system. Not blessed with overpowering stuff, he once said, “I have made up my mind to let the batter hit my pitch. I pitch to the man’s weakness.” After another season in the Provincial League, this time with the A’s affiliate in St. Hyacinthe, Trice jumped all the way to Triple-A Ottawa and then to the Majors.
But now after overcoming all the obstacles that stood in a Black man’s way to get to the Major Leagues, Trice was asking to be sent back down.
“Everybody I’ve talked to says I’m crazy,” Trice once told Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Art Morrow. “And maybe I am. But I thought about this a long time, and I think I am doing the right thing. I figure in the long run that is what is best for me, and since I can’t seem to win in my current frame of mind, the team shouldn’t miss me.”
Trice seemed to long for the more relaxed atmosphere of the Minor Leagues.
“Things are different there,” he said. “Being in the Minors, everybody’s trying to improve himself, and a fellow can go out an hour or two early and shag flies and work on ground balls in the infield or even get in a few licks with the bat. He can throw as much as he wants.”
The Major League routine did not allow for that, Trice maintained.
“In Philadelphia, I couldn’t do that. Everything has to be run according to schedule,” he said. “In games, I found, everything has to be done according to form. I guess I never was one much for form; I just like to go out there and throw the best I know how. But even when you win, there’s someone in the Major Leagues to tell you you’re doing something wrong.
“It just wasn’t fun anymore; it was work. So, I decided to ask to be sent back to Ottawa where I had a lot of fun last year. I think that I can get back in the groove there. I think everything will work out better this way.”
What Trice did not say was that his shoulder was bothering him. He was unable to follow through on his pitches, and the injury, more than any other single issue, was likely responsible for his lack of effectiveness.
After the 1954 season, the Athletics moved to Kansas City and Trice joined them there, but after some encouraging signs in spring training in 1955 and a couple of good starts at the beginning of the regular season, Trice was hit hard and optioned out to Columbus in the International League. He never returned to the Majors.
In 1956, Trice landed on the roster of the Mexico City Reds in the Mexican League, where he pitched and played the outfield. According to The Sporting News correspondent Miguel A. Calzadilla, Trice was happy there.
“He’s having fun pitching, playing in the outfield, and hitting.”
The reluctant Major Leaguer, the man who broke the color barrier in Philadelphia, had apparently found his niche. For Trice, the game of baseball was meant to be fun, and if you weren’t having fun, it was time to try something different.
In writing this article, I relied on the biography of Bob Trice written by Jack Morris and available here as well as a Philadelphia Inquirer article from July 18, 1954 by Art Morrow, “Promising A’s Hurler (7-8) Wanted Back in Ottawa.”
Russ Walsh is a retired teacher, diehard Phillies fan, and student of the history of baseball with a special interest in the odd, quirky, and once in a lifetime events that happen on the baseball field. He writes for both the SABR BioProject and the SABR Games Project and maintains his own blog The Faith of a Phillies Fan. You can reach Russ on Twitter @faithofaphilli1
Comments / 0