05/18/2002 00:01 am ET
Baseball remembers Joe Black
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
Former Brooklyn Dodgers right-hander Joe Black died Friday of prostate cancer at the age of 78. He was the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game when he beat the New York Yankees in the opening game of the 1952 Fall Classic.
Current and former baseball stars fondly recalled the man who once roomed with fellow Dodger Jackie Robinson.
"The first time I saw Joe Black was in spring training of 1952," longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said. "He wasn't on the Dodger roster, and you know how first impressions are. My very first thought was, 'He's an ebony statue' -- he had what I thought to be the perfect body. He started Game 1 of the 1952 World Series, which was huge, considering the fact he had been a relief pitcher. And Joe won the game, he beat the Yankees.
"I'll always remember Joe as a very nice man. He was easy to talk with, he had a wonderful smile. And I think his legacy will be to give hope to all the players who are not superb athletes and who aren't on a roster in spring training. And just think, to go from relative obscurity to pitching Game 1 of the 1952 World Series was a remarkable achievement for Joe. The Rookie of the Year honors and everything else were well deserved. But I think his legacy will be one of hope: If you really want it bad enough, you can do it. And do it with style and be a nice fellow along the way."
Black appeared in 56 games for the Dodgers in 1952, making just two starts before picking up the historic win in the World Series. He went on to pitch five more seasons in the big leagues for Brooklyn, Cincinnati and Washington. He finished with a 30-12 career record and a 3.91 ERA.
Former Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe played against Black as a youth on sandlots across northern New Jersey and as a young man in the Negro Leagues before becoming his teammate on the Dodgers.
"My memories of Joe go back when we were kids in New Jersey. He was from Plainfield and I was from Elizabeth and we were starting our baseball careers as it were," Newcombe said. "Joe was 17 and I was 15. I always remember this great big guy named big Joe Black playing against us on the sandlot with a team from Plainfield, N.J. I was with a team from Elizabeth, N.J., and just a kid.
"Joe got a chance to play with Roy Campanella on the (Negro League) Baltimore Elite Giants and I played with the Newark Eagles," Newcombe said. "He was very much of a power pitcher, much the same as I was. We threw our fastball and our curveball and told them here it comes and hit it. He always gave his best and he was a hard worker."
Black started his Major League career with the Dodgers after seven years in the Negro Leagues. He was 28 when he first pitched for Brooklyn in 1952, a year in which he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award after posting a 15-4 record with a 2.15 ERA.
Giants manager and former Dodger Dusty Baker was very close with Black. "He was one of my mentors, a guy that I could call for anything when I was on the Dodgers," Baker said. "I'd been tight with him ever since. He always knew when to call me, in the morning or the night or when I had something on my mind, it was like he could read my mind. A very intelligent man, he's send me books to read all the time. We'd talk about anything, baseball life."
Black worked for the Greyhound Corp. in Phoenix and was a board director of the Baseball Assistance Team after his retirement.
"He was very much involved in change. He cared very much about change," Baker said. "He was involved in B.A.T. since its inception. Joe was a good man. He enjoyed his life. He had a lot of fun."
In recent years, Black played an active role in the Community Affairs department of the Arizona Diamondbacks, making appearances and speeches on behalf of the organization.
"He was just somebody whose company you would always look forward to," pitcher Curt Schilling said of Black, who in past years would visit the Diamondbacks clubhouse often.
Black would visit individually with players who were struggling to lend them support as well as swap baseball stories.
"He always had something to offer," Schilling said. "I appreciated talking baseball with him, but I appreciated him for things other than baseball too."
Those who remembered Black noted his accomplishments as a ballplayer, but saved their biggest praise for his personality and character.
Matt Williams, who Black had talked to numerous times over the years when the slugger would go through injuries or slumps, said Friday was a sad day for baseball and particularly the Diamondbacks organization.
"What a great baseball mind he had," Williams said. "It's good to have somebody like that in your corner and part of your organization. He gave so much to this team and to this organization. You got the feeling when you talked to Joe that he cared about you and your family and wanted the absolute best for you. A lot of guys lost a good friend today and we as an organization lost a valuable part."
Arizona manager Bob Brenly said Black had given him some advice when he was hired that he remembers to this day.
"It's a sad day for baseball," Brenly said. "Joe Black was a tremendous human being forget whatever he did on the field of play, he was a guy that I confided in often last year and he always had positive words for me. His parting words were always, 'Do it your way. Make sure you do it your way.' That's what I'll remember about Joe Black.
"He was a die-hard Diamondbacks fan," Brenly said. "He loved this team and I'm just glad we had a chance to win a World Series for him.
Black, who was a graduate of Morgan State College, is survived by his son Joseph "Chico" Black and daughter, Martha.
Steve Gilbert is an editorial producer for MLB.com. Ken Gurnick and Josh Rawitch contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.