Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June 24, 1954: Brooks Lawrence Shines In His Major League Debut

     On June 24, 1954, Brooks Lawrence became the first African American to pitch for the Cardinals, and he helped lead them to a 5-1 victory with a complete game four-hit performance against the Pirates at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Lawrence was provided with plenty of offense, as the Redbirds rocked out 16 hits, with 12 of them coming off of the Pirates starter Vern Law.

     The run support came early, as Red Schoendienst capitalized on a leadoff triple by Wally Moon in the first, by knocking him in with a double. Stan The Man moved Red over to third, then the redhead came trotting into score the second run of the opening frame on a sac fly off the bat of Ray Jablonski. Law was able to limit the damage to just two runs, but in the end all Lawrence would need was two runs to secure the victory. Despite that fact, the Birds piled on a few more.

     The third Redbird run came after Tom Alston, the first African American to play for the club, tripled to leadoff the fourth. Catcher Bill Sarni made the most of that one by dropping a single into left-center, and the Redbirds were up 3-0. Alston then extended the lead to 4-0 with a ribbie in the fifth. The Pirates looked like they had something going against the 29-year-old rookie hurler in the bottom of the fifth inning, as they picked up three of their four hits in the frame, and scored their lone run of the contest. Lawrence put that fire out by inducing a double play ball, then retiring the next man with a lineout to center. Bill Sarni got that run back by knocking in Tom Alston for a second time of the day in the eighth. From there Lawrence turned the lights out on the Corsairs, as he sailed to a historic victory.

     Brooks Lawrence posted a 15-6 record during that 1954 season, and by doing so he showed great promise. However, in 1955, he ended up fighting ulcers that put him in the hospital, and after overcoming the medical issues he was sent to the minors to regain his form. He did make it back to the big league club that season, but went 3-8 down the stretch, then was ushered out of town, as the Frank "Trader" Lane era was ushered into the Redbirds front office. Before the '56 campaign began Lane sent Lawrence to Cincinnati for a bag of balls named Jackie Collum who went 6-2 in what proved to be his only season with the Birds. Meanwhile, Brooks Lawrence enjoyed an All Star campaign that season and won a career high 19 games. He followed it up with a 16 win campaign, but could not sustain the success. He failed to post a winning record in 1958 and 1959, and by the Spring of 1960 his career on a major league diamond came to a close.

     Some might say Brooks Lawrence came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. I would say he had to have a heart of a lion to be one of the many men who helped baseball integrate. Imagining what all of those men went through is not something that I can do because one has to wear the shoes to know how the shoes feel. I have no doubt that he faced many obstacles to simply make it to the major leagues, and he overcame every single one of them. He helped the Cardinals turn a page in history that should have been turned long before he went the distance in Pittsburgh. All of Cardinal Nation should tip their caps to Lawrence for being a man that helped open doors.

If you would like to learn more about the life and times of Brooks Lawrence check out his SABR bio here:

Check out the box score here:

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