Ahead of His Time
Vic Power starred after trade from Yankees
Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime.
The debate as to who the first black player to suit up for the fabled New York Yankees was newsworthy in the early 1950s. Jackie Robinson had broken the modern “color barrier” when he made his big league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, but the Bronx Bombers, a team in the midst of five straight World Series titles (1949-53), had not yet integrated its roster.
“The Yankees have never been adverse to having a Negro player,” said Yankees general manager and future Hall of Famer George Weiss at the time. “Our attitude has been that when a Negro comes along who can play good enough baseball to win a place on the Yankees we will be glad to have him, but not just for exploitation.
“The first Negro to appear in a Yankee uniform must be worth waiting for.”
The time finally seemed right when flashy first baseman/outfielder Vic Power, a native of Puerto Rico, batted a league-best .349 with 16 home runs, 93 RBI and 115 runs scored for the 1953 Kansas City Blues, a minor league affiliate in the American Association of the Yankees. In fact, in October 1953, the Yankees added a pair of dark-skinned players from Kansas City, Power and Elston Howard, to the big league roster with the expectation that the following year, in Spring Training, they would be the first members of their race to wear a Yankees big league uniform.
While Howard would eventually become the Yankees first black player in 1955 and enjoy a productive 14-year big league career, Power was sent to the Philadelphia Athletics as part of an 11-player trade on Dec. 16, 1953.
“I’ll have a better chance to make the grade with the Athletics,” said the 26-year-old Power after the trade was announced. “I have read where the Athletics say nobody has a position assured. That suits me. That’s why I believe the change favors me.”
Power did get an opportunity with the Athletics, eventually going on to play 12 big league seasons for five different franchises, collect seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1958-64) for his stellar defensive play at first base, and earn All-Star Game selections in four seasons.
Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’Neil, Elston Howard, Rachel Robinson, the Evolution of Night Baseball, Welday Walker, Herb Washington, Connie Morgan, Bill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius Catto, Willie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson.
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum