The Greatest Black Baseball Players in American League History

Frank Robinson, the first black manager, was also a player when the Cleveland Indians hired him.Photo byPublic domain

By Matt Whitener

In part two of an observation in honor of Black History Month, we are taking a look at the best African-American player in history of each MLB franchise. After starting with the senior circuit last month, we’ll take a look at the American League this time, via their respective places in history, contributions to each franchise, their era, and the history of the game, at large.

Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson

Robinson made an immediate impact upon arrival with O’s in 1966, leading the American League with 49 home runs and 122 RBI, and helping the club to a World Series title. The standout season saw him win AL MVP and become the first player to ever win the honor in both leagues. For his career, Robinson would be elected an All-Star 14 times, hit .300 nine times and total 586 home runs, while also becoming the first African-American manager in MLB history.

Boston Red Sox: Jim Rice

Rice spent his entire 16-year career making Fenway Park his home, hitting 382 home runs, driving in 1451 runs and owning a .298 career average. An eight-time All-Star, Rice was elected AL MVP in 1978, when he led the league in hits (213), home runs (46), RBI (139), triples (15), OPS (.970). It marked a stretch of three consecutive years of Rice leading the AL in total bases, with a career-best 406.

Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas

Perhaps no player has ever had more fitting nickname than “The Big Hurt”. Thomas was the premier right-handed hitter of the 1990s, hitting .320 during the decade and winning consecutive MVP awards in 1993 and ’94. For his career, Thomas hit 521 home runs, with five seasons of 40 or more long balls. Thomas remains the White Sox’ all-time leader in home runs, RBI, runs scored, extra base hits, doubles, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, among other figures.

Cleveland Guardians: Kenny Lofton

Lofton leveraged his substantial speed to become one of the most exciting leadoff hitters, base thieves and centerfielders of all-time. He led the AL in stolen bases five straight seasons between 1992-’96, averaging 65 per season and finished with 622 lifetime, 15th most all-time. A lifetime .299 hitter, with eight seasons of a .300 or better average, Lofton also brought home four Gold Glove Awards and four-times led the AL in outfield assists.

Detroit Tigers: Lou Whitaker

Whitaker spent his entire 19 year career as a Tiger, playing in the third-most games in club history. Along with Alan Trammell, Whitaker formed one of the great double play combos in baseball history. A five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger winner and three-time Gold Glove recipient, Whitaker’s 75.1 WAR is the seventh-highest among second basemen all-time, with ranked above him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Kansas City Royals: Frank White

White spent 18 years at second base in Kansas City and was one of the most outstanding defensive infielders in the game. White earned eight Gold Gloves in his career, earing six consecutive coming between 1977 and 1982. In 1980, White won the first ALCS MVP award, after hitting .545 against the New York Yankees. In 1985, he contributed seven hits and six RBI during KC’s World Series win over the Cardinals.

Los Angeles Angels: Garrett Anderson

Anderson spent 15 years with the Halos and finished his career as a .293 hitter and owner of over 10 club records. Although mostly a quiet and somewhat overlooked contributor, the loudest moments of his career came during the 2002 All-Star Game, when he surprisingly won both the Home Run Derby and claimed All-Star Game MVP. To cap that career-best summer, he played a vital role in club’s lone World Series title, hitting .306, driving in a career-best 123 runs and leading the AL with 56 doubles.

Minnesota Twins: Kirby Puckett

The heart and soul of multiple World Series runs for the Twins, Puckett was one of the best centerfielders of his era. A .318 lifetime hitter with four 200 hit seasons, 10-time All-Star (all consecutive), six-time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner, he could truly do it all. The most enduring moment of his career via his Game 6 walk off home run in the 1991 World Series, which set the table for a legendary Game 7 and a second World Series title for Puckett.

New York Yankees: Derek Jeter

There are plenty of numbers that can be attributed to the career of Jeter. Whether it is the five World Series titles, the shortstop and Yankees career hits record, his iconic #2 or even number 1, for the number of votes that left him short of being a unanimous Hall of Famer. But the real legacy of Jeter was to see him perform in the moment, when the stakes were the highest. His impeccable knack for making just the right play or pulling off the big hit is his greatest contribution to the history of the game.

Oakland Athletics: Rickey Henderson

There is no more singularly unique player in history than Rickey (and if you don’t think so, just ask him). Unquestionably the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, Henderson holds the all-time records for runs scored (2,295), leadoff home runs (81 – 27 more than any other player) and, of course, stolen bases. His 1,406 steals are 468 more than his closest competition and included three seasons of 100+ and 70 more seasons of 60+. Rickey even swiped 66 bases at age 39 – ridiculous.

Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey, Jr.

‘The Kid’ remains the icon for an entire generation of baseball fans born in the 1980s, as his jaw-dropping home runs, exhilarating leaping catches in centerfield and unparalleled swagger set him apart from every athlete not named Michael Jordan in the 1990s. A 10-time Gold Glove winner with 630 home runs, Griffey remains one of the greatest superstars in the history of the sport and put baseball on the map in Northwest.

Tampa Bay Rays: David Price

Tampa made Price the top pick in the 2007 Draft and he made a beeline to the Majors shortly afterwards, debuting a year later and making an impact in pushing the Rays to their first World Series appearance. Price would go on to make four All-Star appearances in Tampa and win the 2012 Cy Young Award, going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA. Lifetime, his 82 wins are second-best in franchise history.

Texas Rangers: Darren Oliver

Oliver spent three separate tenures in Texas, where he spent time as both a starter and operating out of the bullpen. He twice reached double figures in wins in 1996-97, making 30 starts in each season. His biggest impact in Arlington came over a decade later however, when he worked to a 2.40 ERA over 125 relief appearances in 2010 and 2011 as he entered his 40s.

Toronto Blue Jays: Joe Carter

Carter’s career went to another level when he arrived in Toronto in 1991. He made the first of five All-Star teams he would appear on as a Blue Jay and enjoyed the first of five 30 homer/100 RBI seasons he would post for the club. However, his most iconic moment would come two years later, when he connected for a World Series-ending walk-off homer in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies, delivering a second-consecutive championship to Toronto.

Matt Whitener is a St. Louis-based writer, radio host and African-American baseball historian. He can be found on Facebook at his name, on Instagram at @CheapSeatFan and via email at

Comments / 26

Published by

The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America represents hundreds of writers and content creators wherever baseball is played all over the world, ranging from hobbyists to professionals and everywhere in between. Learn more at or follow @ibwaa on Twitter.

New York, NY

More from IBWAA

Comments / 0