Baltimore Orioles African-American Pitchers: The Jehosie Heard All-Stars
When the modern Baltimore Orioles began playing in the American League in 1954, a tiny southpaw pitcher named Jehosie “Jay” Heard was the lone African-American player on the roster. The 34-year-old veteran of the Negro Leagues posted a 13.50 earned run average in two appearances before his brief major league career came to an end.
In 54 seasons of Orioles baseball, only 21 African-American hurlers have toed the rubber for the birds in black & orange. Here they are in chronological order:
JEHOSIE “Jay” HEARD – LHP 1954 (0-0 , 13.50 in 3 1/3 IP)
Wearing uniform #38 and believed to be 29-years-old at the time (he thought being younger would improve his career prospects), Heard retired all four White Sox batters he faced in his major league debut on 4/24/54 in Chicago.
CONNIE JOHNSON – RHP 1956-1958 (29-30, 3.42 in 544 IP)
Another ex-Negro Leaguer, Johnson finished his 5-year major league stint with the O’s after coming over in a trade from the White Sox. In his second game with Baltimore, Johnson beat Chicago 3-2 with a complete game 5-hitter at Memorial Stadium to become the first African-American Oriole to win a game. In 1957, he posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League and finished in the top ten in wins, strikeouts and ERA. On 9/2/57, Johnson set a record for African-American Orioles pitchers by striking out 14 Yankees.
CHARLIE BEAMON – RHP 1956-1958 (3-3, 3.91 in 71 1/3 IP)
Beamon defeated Whitey Ford and the Yankees 1-0 at Memorial Stadium in his major league debut 9/26/56, striking out 9. He made just 4 more starts and 22 relief appearances in the big leagues, all with the Orioles.
GRANT “Buck” JACKSON – LHP 1971-1976 (24-12, 2.81, 39 saves in 333 1/3 IP)
Jackson had been an All-Star starting pitcher before coming to the Orioles in a trade, but he found his niche in the bullpen. Jackson’s accomplishments in Baltimore include being the only African-American pitcher in Orioles history to: 1) hit a home run (a game-winner on 6/30/71 off Steve Hargan); 2) pitch in a World Series (game 4 in 1971); and 3) win a playoff game (game 4 of the 1973 ALCS with 2 2/3 hitless relief innings)
JESSE JEFFERSON – RHP 1973-1975 (7-7, 4.13 in 165 2/3 IP)
Baltimore’s 4th round pick in the 1968 amateur draft, Jefferson pitched 10 innings in his major league debut on 6/23/73 to beat the Red Sox 2-1 at Fenway Park. Control problems plagued him throughout his 9-year big league career though, and the Orioles traded him to the White Sox for Tony Muser.
RUDY MAY – LHP 1976-1977 (29-21, 3.68 in 404 IP)
“The Dude” spent only one full season in Baltimore after coming over from the Yankees in a 1976 trade, but his 18 wins in 1977 were the best mark of his 16-year career. On 9/9/77, he beat the Indians in Baltimore with a complete game 2-hitter. May defeated Mark Fidrych in the first major league game I ever attended.
NATE SNELL – RHP 1984-1986 (6-4, 3.18, 5 saves in 180 1/3 IP)
A 32-year-old rookie when he finally reached the big leagues with Baltimore, Snell threw over 100 innings out of the bullpen in 1985 with an impressive 2.69 ERA.
KEN DIXON – RHP 1984-1987 (26-28, 4.66, 6 saves in 482 1/3 IP)
The Orioles had high hopes for the 5’11″ Virginia native, based on performances like his 13-strikeout effort in Chicago on 7/11/86. However, troubles with the longball got him sent to the bullpen and traded to the Mariners, though he never pitched an inning for them as arm troubles ended his career at age 27.
ODELL JONES – RHP 1986 (2-2, 3.83 in 49 1/3 IP)
The journeyman Jones pitched for 5 clubs in 9 big league seasons, and spent two years in the Orioles organization. He spent the second half of the 1986 season in Baltimore, highlighted by a win in Oakland where he struck out 6 in 4 1/3 innings of 1-hit relief.
“Texas” MIKE SMITH – RHP 1989-1990 (2-0, 8.23 in 23 IP)
Not to be confused with “Mississippi” Mike Smith (both shared the middle name Anthony), who was also in the Orioles system at that time, Smith was a Rule 5 pick that contributed 2 victories to the Orioles (almost) magical “Why Not?” season of 1989.
DORN TAYLOR – RHP 1990 (0-1, 2.45 in 3 2/3 IP)
The last 4 appearances of Taylor’s brief major league career came in September, 1990 with the Orioles. Not much to say, but I can tell you that 45 of the 74 pitches he threw for Baltimore were strikes.
ARTHUR RHODES – LHP 1991-1999 (43-36, 4.86, 9 saves in 622 1/3 IP)
A hard-throwing, 2nd round draft pick, Rhodes hurled 3 shutouts but went just 18-22 as a starter before swithching to the bullpen full-time in July, 1995. When the Orioles made the playoffs the next 2 years, Rhodes was a vital member of the bullpen. He compiled a 1.17 ERA in 8 post-season games for Baltimore.
ALAN MILLS – RHP 1992-1998 & 2000-2001 (32-21, 4.16, 14 saves in 480 IP)
The Orioles traded for the former Angels 1st round pick on 2 seperate occasions, and he enjoyed a lot of success in Baltimore despite averaging 5.5 walks per 9 innings. A key member of the bullpen crew on the 1996-97 playoff teams, Mills had a 2.70 ERA in 7 playoff games.
LEE SMITH – RHP 1994 (1-4, 3.29, 33 saves in 38 1/3 IP)
Big Lee, who retired as the all-time saves leader (before Trevor Hoffman passed him) won the Rolaids Relief Man award in his lone season in Baltimore. He got off to a great start, saving 20 of his first 21 chances successfully with a 0.95 ERA & becoming the only African-American Orioles pitcher to appear in an All-Star game. Smith blew the save in the mid-summer classic when Fred McGriff took him deep with a man aboard in the bottom of the 9th, though. He may have set the single-season club record for saves, but 1994 was the year players walked out on strike and didn’t return.
GENE HARRIS - RHP 1995 (0-0, 4.50 in 4 IP)
The O’s traded Andy Van Slyke for Harris in 1995, so they got the last 3 appearances of his 7-year (with 6 teams) career. He got into three games in 5 days, earning a hold and blowing a save. His most impressive outing as an Oriole came when whiffed 4 Red Sox in 2 innings.
ARCHIE CORBIN – RHP 1996 (2-0, 2.30 in 27 1/3 IP)
Archie helped the Orioles make the playoffs in 1996, earning 2 wins and 3 holds in the last 46 games after earning his second call up. He walked 22 in 27 1/3 innings though, and that type of control explains why he only got brief big league looks in 1991, 1996 & 1999.
BRIAN WILLIAMS – RHP 1997 (0-0, 3.00 in 24 IP)
Williams never became the starting pitcher the Astros thought they were getting with their 1st round pick in 1990. He was already a full-time reliever by the time he got to Baltimore, and the fact that the Orioles lost 11 of the 13 games he appeared in shows that he wasn’t getting work in high pressure situations.
HEATHCLIFF SLOCUMB – RHP 1999 (0-0, 12.46 in 8 2/3 IP)
The Orioles took a chance on Slocumb, a former All-Star closer, by signing him as a free agent following a down year in 1998. He was so awful (9 walks & 15 hits in 8 2/3 IP) that they released him after 10 appearances. In his last act as an Oriole, Slocumb served up 7 runs in the 9th inning of a 15-5 loss to the Royals at Camden Yards, including home runs by the mighty duo of Tim Spehr and Carlos Febles.
CHUCK McELROY – LHP 2000-2001 (4-2, 4.97 in 108 2/3 IP)
The Orioles were stop number 8 in McElroy’s 13-year career with 9 different teams. The southpaw did a pretty good job shutting left-handed hitters down his first year in Baltimore, but got released the following summer when they not only hit him, but hit him very, very hard.
JAMES BALDWIN – RHP 2005 (0-0, 3.20 in 39 1/3 IP)
Baldwin was a former All-Star trying to work his way back from injuries when the Orioles signed him. Making 19 of his 20 appearances in games the Orioles lost, he put up decent stats, but other than 3 innings pitched in AAA the following year, Baltimore represented the end of the line.
LaTROY HAWKINS – RHP 2006 (3-2, 4.48 in 60 1/3 IP)
He’d been a starter, then a closer earlier in his career, but Hawkins was merely an OK setup man his only season in Baltimore. Opponents batted an even .300 against him, and both player and team went their seperate ways at the end of the year without any regrets.
compiled by MAL ALLEN