Bob Trice: Baseball’s Forgotten Groundbreaker

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Black History Month Special

Bob Trice

February is a month where many baseball fans’ minds turn to thoughts of Jackie Robinson and the post-integration era of Major League Baseball. Some will remember the stories of Jackie himself either from the 1950s film The Jackie Robinson Story, starring Robinson, or the more recent film 42 starring the late-great Chadwick Boseman. Some might remember the integration of their favorite team, with players like Ernie Banks, Larry Doby, and Monte Irvin. However, many might not know the first African-American to play for the Athletics franchise: Bob Trice.

Bob Trice was born August 28th, 1926 in Newton, Georgia, but soon after moved to Weirton, West Virginia, where Bob would break out as a three-sport athlete in high school. Due to his athletic versatility, Trice was able to play multiple positions including both in the field and as a pitcher. In 1944, Trice joined the Navy and played at first base while in the service. After returning home, Bob played a bit of semi-pro ball before being noticed by the Homestead Grays in 1948.

Due to the amount of talent on the Grays at the time, Trice was more-or-less forced to break into the team as a pitcher. While pitching for the Grays, Bob caught the attention of Farnham Pirates, a short-lived integrated minor league team in Farnham, Quebec, Canada, managed by long-time Homestead Gray: Sam Bankhead. It was in this time with the Pirates that Trice became noticed by the Athletics organization and was signed to the Hyacinthe A’s in 1952.

After leading the Provincial League in winning percentage with Hyacinthe, Trice was signed by the Triple A affiliate, Ottawa, for Spring Training in 1953. Bob pitched well enough to remain on the team and went on the greatest run of his career, going 21-10 with a 3.10 ERA, being the league’s most valuable pitcher, Rookie of the Year, and an All-Star.

It was during this time with Ottawa that Trice’s traits as a pitcher started to appear. Despite being a multi-sport athlete, Bob had very little power behind his pitches, and as such couldn’t really strike out batters at a very impressive rate. Knowing this, he decided to pitch to content and use control and movement to induce outs. By all accounts, he was also an incredibly calm pitcher, never seeming nervous in the slightest no matter the situation.

For those looking for a modern comparison, Trice had very similar Walks/9 and Hits/9 rates to fellow “slow” pitcher Jamie Moyer. This being said, Moyer did have a higher K/9 ratio in every year then Trice ever had, suggesting that Moyer had more power and/or movement in his pitches than Trice. This, unfortunately, would be a sign of things to come for Trice.

After the Ottawa season finished, Trice was called up to pitch in the last few games for the Philadelphia Athletics. His first start would be against fellow rookie Don Larsen (yes that one) and the St. Louis Browns in their final year before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Orioles. It would come to represent how the rest of his Major League career would go.

Despite allowing no walks and not even getting into a three-ball count, Trice was rocked for eight hits and five earned runs in an eight-inning outing. He started to get back into his Ottawa form in his last start against the Senators, pitching a complete game and only allowing two earned runs. This form even continued into the 1954 season where he started the season with four consecutive complete games, including a shut out of the reign champion Yankees. However, an injury appeared around the same time that might have been from the lasting impacts of a training injury in spring training. This injury messed up his mechanics a bit, causing him to lose the last bit of power on his fastball.

After posting a 1.75 ERA to start the season, Trice would finish with a 5.60 ERA before asking to be demoted back to Ottawa in July after a particularly had game against the Red Sox (10 hits and 8 earned). Sources specifically name Bob as the one who asked for the demotion as he was starting to fall out of love with the sport. Trice would have a bit of success in Ottawa and be called up again in 1955 (this time with the Kansas City Athletics), but would never again hit a period of good form in the Major League system. He would bounce around a bit in the minors and independent baseball, reportedly having fun playing in multiple positions, before retiring before the 1959 season at age 32.

Bob Trice is one of the more interesting figures in baseball history. If he didn’t have one huge accolade to his name, the first black player in the history of the Athletics, he would most likely have been completely forgotten by history. Many people reading this article probably didn’t know who Bob Trice was before reading and might not remember after. However, while we remember the great players during this month, we should also remember the lesser-known players that paved the way for the game we love today.

Thanks to Jack Morris and his article in SABR as a great resource and read on Bob Trice.

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Micah Dahlvig

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