56 years ago: Detroit Tigers integrated

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Few recall it now, but it’s something of a mark of shame that, relatively speaking, the Tigers were one of the last teams in baseball to integrate. The Tigers organization held the color line until 1958, only the second-to-last team in Major League Baseball to field a black player. Baseball historians largely blame the Boston Red Sox stubborn resistance on owner Tom Yawkey, whom Jackie Robinson once called “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.”

The Detroit team wasn’t far behind in bigotry, as Tigers owner Walter Briggs Sr. was portrayed by sports writers as being staunchly opposed to putting black players on the field as long as five years after the Brooklyn Dodgers put Robinson on the team.

But Briggs can’t get all the blame, since a full five years passed after his death with no black ballplayers on the Tigers roster. Detroit-area civil rights groups pushed the team to integrate and, at last, on June 6, 1958 — 56 years ago today — the Tigers added Ozzie Virgil Sr., a dark-skinned player from the Dominican Republic, to the team. (The first Dominican player in the major leagues, Virgil is still alive today, at 82 years of age.)

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