Cubs History: Toothpick Sam Jones First Black Player to Throw No Hitter
Several great black players came to the Majors in the late 1940′ s and early 1950’s. On this day in 1955, Toothpick Sam Jones of the Chicago Cubs became the first black pitcher to throw a no hitter in the Majors.
Toothpick Sam Jones had a long journey to the Chicago Cubs. He pitched in the Negro Leagues until 1948, and then spent the 1949 season pitching in the semi pro Southern Minnesota League. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians, but was unable to crack their rotation in either 1951 or 1952, and spent the following two seasons in AAA.
That was where the Cubs came in. Following the 1954 season, they traded future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner to Cleveland in exchange for Jones, inserting him into their rotation. An intimidating presence with a sweeping curveball, a hard fastball, and questionable command, Jones would lead the National League in both walks and strikeouts in three of his first four NL seasons.
His incredible stuff, and shaky command, were on display on this day in 1955. Facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, in front of just 2,918 fans, Jones became the first black pitcher to throw a no hitter in the Majors. He issued seven walks and uncorked a wild pitch, but nullified the damage with six strikeouts.
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Jones also provided plenty of drama in the ninth inning. With the Cubs holding a 4-0 lead, Jones walked the bases loaded, bringing up the heart of the PIrates order. However, he struck out Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Thomas to end the threat, and the game.
That was one of the few highlights of the season for Jones. In addition to leading the league in strikeouts and walks, Jones also led the National League with 20 losses and 14 hit batters. On the positive side, he allowed just 6.5 hits per nine innings, best in the league. However, that lack of command led to a 14-20 record with a 4.17 ERA and a 1.490 WHiP, hardly the numbers that someone with his pure stuff should have had.
Jones would have better days ahead. He was a two time All Star, and in 1959, while pitching with the Cardinals, led the league with 21 wins and a 2.83 ERA. He finished second in the Cy Young award and fifth in the MVP balloting, while being named the Sporting News National League pitcher of the Year.
Quite a few great pitchers came from the Negro Leagues to play in the Majors. However, it took until this day in 1955 for a black pitcher to throw a no hitter, as Toothpick Sam Jones turned the trick for the Chicago Cubs.