2024 Program - Issue 8

1955: A Pivotal Year in breaking barriers for the Yankees and the Triplets By: Jim Maggiore

being given to house Andrews or Rivera at the Vance Hotel, the team residence for the Triplets. Instead, Andrews and Rivera were housemates in a private residence near the spring training site. This was the same treatment that Jackie Robinson received eight years earlier when he first joined the Dodgers for spring training in Florida, as he was not welcome at the team hotel. (This Southern protocol of not allowing players of color to stay at team hotels was prevalent throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s.) For the Triplets, having Rivera and An- drews stay in the same residence was a natural. Rivera had been a teammate of Edwards in both 1953 and 1954, for the Orlean Yankees and Norfolk Tars, respec- tively. The versatile infielder hit .339 for Olean in 1953, leading the team in RBIs with 104 while hitting seven homers. Primarily a third baseman, Rivera also saw time at second, along with an occasional stint at short. Interestingly, the leading hitter on this team was Bobby Richardson, who hit .412 in 150 plate appearances with shortstop being his primary position. Rivera followed his successful season in ’53 with another strong showing in 1954, hitting .295 with one home run while knocking in 66 runs for the Tars. His two solid seasons made him an anticipated newcomer to the Triplets, as Stirnweiss looked forward to seeing what Rivera could do at a higher level of play. Once Edwards and Rivera officially made the squad, the Triplets brass was sensi- tive to the segregated travel policies that were standard for the day. On April 14th, reporter John W. Fox of the Binghamton Press explained the team’s travel plans: “Ed Andrews, the big Negro fastballer from New Brunswick, N.J., who had a sore arm last year and has babied his arm here, will make the trip north to Binghamton with Chico Rivera. The pair will travel by train to avoid the hotel and restaurant unpleas- antness they would encounter in the South if they went on the bus with the rest of the club.” When the 1955 season began Rivera was firmly entrenched at third, as the Bing- hamton Press noted: “If Chico Rivera was good enough to play third base for San Juan this winter the trim Puerto Rican should beat any competition he meets here. The rest of the San Juan team con-

sisted of Frank Keller of the Dodgers at first, Gene Freese of the Pirates at second, Woody Held of the Yankees at third, Elston Howard and Bob Cerv of the Yankees in left and center and Nino Escelera in right.” Indeed, Rivera became a mainstay for the Binghamton Triplets that season, hitting four homers and knocking in 66 runs while hitting .255. He became the first man of color to play for the Triplets in an official game, as he batted seventh and played third for the Triplets when the team opened on the road against Elmira on Tuesday, April 19th. He got a single in five trips to the plate and had two assists in the field in a 5-4 losing effort against Elmira that took 13 innings to complete and didn’t get over until 12:05 in the morning. In its preview of the home opener for the Triplets on April 20th, the Bingham- ton Press praised Rivera’s energy during the opening day loss. “Anyone who has accused Chico Rivera of not hustling has excellent reason to change his mind. When Jack Reed sent a line drive to center with Ray Lindquist on second in the eleventh, Chico was sitting in the dugout. But he shot out to home plate in a bolt, clearing Reed’s bat out the way to prevent possible injury to Lindquist. Earlier ‘Cheek’ had done the same thing when he scored after Charley Frey’s bunt. Casey Darrah was behind him and although Casey held up at third, Rivera policed Frey’s bat just in case. What’s more, earlier it took Rivera barely half a second to charge into Ernie Gigliello when that revered umpire called “ball” on what appeared to be an obvious bunt attempt by (Elmira’s) Art McBride.” A week later, after a win by the Trip- lets, Fox noted how Rivera was not only appreciated by the fans, but also popular with his teammates as well: “Chico Rivera gave the fans their biggest kick of the night when, trapped between second and third, he knelt to elude the hurtling Pat Simmons and scurried back to the bag safely…. Rivera was given a big birthday cake by his teammates after the game.” Success on the diamond was not to be for Andrews, however. In 1955 Andrews appeared in only one game for the Triplets, as his sore arm in spring training never responded to treat- ment. It was on a Thursday evening how- ever, on May 5th, that Edwards became the first African-American to set foot on the

1955 proved to be a pivotal year for the New York Yankees as it was the year that Elston Howard became the first man of color to join its squad. From the moment Howard reported to the Yankees for spring training, it was obvious he would have a place on the Yankees, though where and how manager Casey Stengel would get him playing time was an often-mentioned conundrum by the beat writers of the Yan- kees. Howard was a veteran of the Negro Leagues, having played for the Kansas City Monarchs when he was 19 in 1948. Early in March the United Press noted “Manag- er Casey Stengel nursed one of the most pleasant headaches of his recent manage- rial career today when he pondered how to fit hard-hitting Elston Howard into the New York Yankees’ lineup. “It’s taken for granted at St. Petersburg, Florida, that the 25-year-old Howard will become the first Negro to play a regular American League game for the Yankees this year. A .330 hitter for Toronto in the International League last season, Howard is hammering at a .467 clip this spring and has performed smoothly as a catcher and outfielder.” Interestingly, while Howard was bashing his way onto the Yankees squad, two men of color were being welcomed to spring training by the Binghamton Triplets, the Class A affiliate of the Yankees. The very first man of color (post-Bud Fowler) to report to the Binghamton Triplets was pitcher Edward Clemente Andrews. A few days after Andrews reported to the Triplets, German Pablo “Chico” German Rivera, an infielder of Cuban and Puer- to Rican heritage, joined the Triplets for spring training. Triplets manager George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss did not have Stengel’s dilemma—while Andrews nursed a sore arm during spring training and did not appear in a game, Rivera was a mainstay for the Triplets that spring, manning third and usually hitting sixth or seventh in the lineup. Segregated Teammates The spring training home for the Triplets was Statesville, North Carolina; there the team worked out and played exhibition games with other minor league teams. Segregation was in full swing during these weeks of preparation, with no thought

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