Editor’s note: An earlier version misspelled the name of Giants Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. We regret the error.
GAME CHANGERS: This is the fourth in a series of stories chronicling the Bay Area’s rich history of sports figures fighting for equality. Click here for a look at what Tommie Smith and John Carlos — the enduring emblems of athlete protest — think about today’s movement, what Curt Flood did for racial equity with his fight for free agency in baseball and how USF’s Phil Woolpert pushed the racial boundaries in NCAA basketball.
How was a quiet, self-effacing baseball owner like Horace C. Stoneham supposed to draw notice with his media-savvy rivals making a Jackie Robinson splash? He wasn’t.
But that doesn’t diminish what Stoneham, who owned the Giants from 1936-76, did to help change the face of baseball.
The New York Giants owner who moved the team West in 1958 remained in the background while the Dodgers’ Walter O’Malley and Branch Rickey and Cleveland owner Bill Veeck received credit for advancing social issues at the ballpark.
Meanwhile, to far less fanfare, Stoneham integrated Latin-American players into the game as well as embracing Black stars such as Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.
“Horace Stoneham was every bit as important and impactful as any one of those other folks,” said Steve Treder, who has an upcoming biography, “Forty years a Giant: the Life of Horace Stoneham.”
The Dodgers’ landmark signing of Robinson in 1947 is a celebrated moment in U.S. sports history. Veeck followed by signing Larry Doby in ‘47 as the first Black player in the American League.
Two years later, Stoneham signed Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin, the third and fourth African-Americans to join the major leagues. And in 1951 the New York Giants started the first all-African-American outfield — Irvin in left, Thompson in right and Mays in center.
In another baseball first, the Giants, in 1963, started three brothers in the outfield — Felipe, Jesus and Matty Alou from the Dominican Republic.
Stoneham’s lasting contributions include building one of sports most integrated teams in the 1960s. His early San Francisco Giants rosters featured Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Jose Pagan, Tito Fuentes, the Alou brothers and other non-white stars.
Stoneham also broke another barrier in 1964 by signing the majors’ first Japanese player. The presence of pitcher Masanori Murakami furthered the Giants’ reputation as MLB’s true melting pot.
Granddaughter Jaime Rupert of Hillsborough said the modern game owes a great debt to Stoneham.
“There were episodic people along the way — Bill Veeck, Walter O’Malley,” she said. “But he’s the continuum from New York to Japan to Latin America to Cuba, to the Negro leagues and African-Americans. That is the part of his legacy that is not known and the context of why he belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
Stoneham, who died in 1990 at age 86, remains little recognized. He is not a member of the Bay Area Hall of Fame nor the Giants Wall of Fame.
But Stoneham was part of many significant steps that advanced the game after World War II.
In 1947, the New York Giants joined Cleveland in moving spring training camps from Florida to Arizona to start the Cactus League.
A year after Robinson and Doby entered the majors, Stoneham forged a deal with owner Alejandro Pompez to make the New York Cubans of the Negro League a Giants farm club.
The Cubans had played at Stoneham’s Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan but Pompez saw the Negro League’s end coming with MLB integrating, according to Treder.
Stoneham, who became MLB’s youngest owner at age 32, saw the Cubans as a stepping stone to future ballplayers. He hired Pompez, an Afro-Cuban, to the front office to develop Latinx players, Treder said.
It now is difficult to imagine an MLB team without a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, among other Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Under Stoneham’s stewardship, the Giants won five pennants, one World Series crown and a divisional title. But integrating the team was not always easy.
During the 1964 season, Stoneham wanted to fire manager Alvin Dark for disparaging minority players in an interview with a Newsday columnist, Treder said. Confidants including Mays dissuaded the owner from taking immediate action. They worried the sacking would turn Dark into a martyr to those sympathetic to racist views. Instead Stoneham waited to fire the manager the day after the season ended.
“For me and many of my teammates, including Ruben Gomez, Ray Noble, Hank Thompson and many others, Mr. Stoneham provided support during a time when players of color were not always welcome to play alongside white players,” Cepeda wrote to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Stoneham is eligible to get inducted through the Golden Days (1951-69) and Early Baseball (before 1950) committees. The Hall announced last month that both committees will induct classes in 2022, bypassing this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After that, Golden Days Era candidates will not be eligible again for five years; the Early Baseball Era elections are now scheduled once every 10 years.
Newspaper obituaries in 1990 focused on Stoneham’s role in moving to the West Coast with O’Malley and the Dodgers. The reports did not mention his role in diversifying baseball.
Treder, a management consultant from Santa Clara, said Stoneham’s broader accomplishments were not even celebrated after he sold the team in 1976.
“He walked quietly away into the sunset and he was forgotten,” Treder said.
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