Jackie Robinson's debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers happened over 20 years before the San Diego Padres even became a Major League team. A lot of people, especially those born after a certain time, don't really see race as any sort of issue when it comes to baseball and, in many ways, that's a good thing. It's what ending segregation is about, right? Nevertheless, it's there if you look for it.
In fact, our San Diego Padres have played several parts in this story. While not as heralded as the debuts of Jackie Robinson or even Larry Doby, the Padres have always had a place in furthering the cause of racial equality in sports. Everybody knows that the Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate, but the Padres effectively started with a fully integrated team as the very first pick of the 1969 expansion draft went to the Padres and they selected a black man, Ollie Brown from the San Francisco Giants, to forever be know as the First Padre. Our very first star player was Nate Colbert, also a black man.
We can move forwards in time from there to see the very first San Diego Padre being represented in the Hall of Fame in our very own Dave Winfield, drafted and developed by the Padres and moved on to superstardom with the New York Yankees. Obviously, Winfield was followed into the Hall of Fame by Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn. Really the only player we could give that nickname.
So we have our First Padre, our First Padre Star, our First Hall of Fame Padre and Mr. Padre. All black men.
Jackie Robinson did pretty good for our baseball team.
With that sort of pedigree, you might not think there could be more, but there is.
The National League's color barrier was broken in 1947 with Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the American League color barrier later that year. Do you know which team broke the color barrier for the Pacific Coast League?
That's right, the San Diego Padres.
John Ritchey was very first black PCL player and he signed with the San Diego Padres in late 1947, later fully breaking the color barrier by playing in the 1948 season with the team. Prior to the Padres, John Ritchey was also a multi-sport star for the San Diego State Aztecs and played in the Negro Leagues for the Chicago American Giants. He later played for several other minor league baseball teams in the PCL, but never made it to the big leagues.
He was commemorated with a bronze bust on display at Petco Park (in the PCL bar and grill).
So as you're watching today's baseball games and reading and seeing everything about Jackie Robinson and his role in history, take some pride as a Padres Fan. We don't stop to think about it a lot, but our favorite baseball team has had a lot to do with making sure something like racial segregation is left behind and forgotten.
And in the end, that's still a good thing.