Minor League Baseball has announced the launch of “The Nine,” a new, Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport. It’s named for the number Jackie Robinson wore during his only season playing in MiLB with the
Minor League Baseball has announced the launch of “The Nine,” a new, Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport. It’s named for the number Jackie Robinson wore during his only season playing in MiLB with the Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1946. The Albuquerque Isotopes will look back at the rich history of Black ballplayers in the Duke City by highlighting the Top Nine over various eras.
1B Ryan Howard -- 2017
When news broke that Ryan Howard was attempting a comeback, that he signed with the Colorado Rockies, and was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque, the initial thought was disbelief. Really? The three-time All-Star first baseman, the 2005 Rookie of the Year, the 2006 Most Valuable Player, the slugger with 382 home runs is really coming to the Isotopes? Yes, it was true. Howard made his Isotopes debut on August 13, 2017. He played in 16 games over the last three weeks, and while his batting average was only .192, seven of his 10 hits were for extra bases, including a walk-off home run to defeat Reno on August 30.
Manager Glenallen Hill – 2015-19
Once or twice a year, Glenallen Hill stepped into the batting cage at Isotopes Park, and with an effortless swing, launched balls out of the ballpark and into the CNM Parking Lot. It was a reminder of the feared slugger who blasted 182 home runs over 13 years in the majors, including one onto the Rooftops across the street from Wrigley Field. Hill’s job with the Isotopes was manager, however, and his calm demeanor was appreciated by Triple-A players whose careers are often at a crossroads. Hill nearly guided the Isotopes into the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, and always had a knack for finding a creative way to tell players they were going to The Show.
Hitting Coach Franklin Stubbs – 1983-85, 2013-14
The baseball life of Franklin Stubbs went full circle when the Dodgers made him their hitting coach at Triple-A Albuquerque for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. As a player, Stubbs was a former first-round pick by the Dodgers in 1982 and played parts of three seasons with the Dukes from 1983-85. Stubbs etched his name into the baseball history books on June 2, 1983, when he hit four home runs in one game at the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium. After his playing career ended, Stubbs took to mentoring younger players as a coach. Stubbs’ star pupil in 2014 was Joc Pederson, the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player.
1B John Lindsey – 2010
“Big John” was a baseball lifer who played 21 seasons of professional baseball, appearing in 2,277 games and accumulating 9,213 plate appearances. His best season came in 2010, at age 33, when Lindsey slashed .353/.400/.657 for the Isotopes. Lindsey just missed a batting title by percentage points, but that .353 average remains the best in Isotopes history. Lindsey added 41 doubles and 25 home runs, drove in 97 RBIs, and was rewarded with his only callup to the Major Leagues in September. The only thing bigger than Lindsey’s potent bat was his constant smile. Isotopes fans voted him their “Fan Favorite” by the end of the season.
OF Trayvon Robinson – 2011, 2014
It seemed like destiny that Trayvon Robinson would play for the Dodgers organization. He attended Crenshaw High in Los Angeles, the same as Darryl Strawberry. His last name was the same as Jackie, the trailblazer whose uniform is retired by all MLB teams. The Dodgers selected Trayvon in the 10th round and his five-tool prowess was on display in 2011, when he was selected to the PCL All-Star Game, hit 26 home runs, drove in 71 runs, compiled a .938 OPS and elegantly chased down flyballs in the spacious Isotopes Park outfield. Robinson returned to the Topes in 2014 and was ecstatic to catch the ceremonial first pitch thrown by Petie Gibson, the grandson of Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, on Negro League Tribute Night.
OF Tony Gwynn, Jr. – 2012-13
The first time Tony Gwynn Jr. played at Isotopes Park was during his collegiate years at San Diego State, when his Hall of Fame father was the head coach. Tony has another family connection to the Duke City. His uncle, Chris Gwynn, played for the Dukes from 1987-89. As a Topes player, Tony left his biggest mark in Albuquerque during Game Four of the 2012 playoffs, when the Topes trailed, 10-3, in the seventh inning and were facing elimination. Gwynn’s go-ahead, three-run homer capped a nine-run rally that sent the ballpark into delirium. Gwynn hit an even .300 in 2013, and compiled a .393 on-base percentage, with his discerning eye. But fans also recall the numerous catches Gwynn made on the unique “Topes Slope” in center field.
CF Matt Kemp – 2012-13
Some rehab assignments are more famous than others. When Kemp came to Albuquerque in 2012, he was coming off a runner-up finish in the Most Valuable Player voting, a Gold Glove award in center field, a Silver Slugger, and he’d come tantalizingly close to joining the “40/40 Club” with 39 home runs and 40 stolen bases. On May 27-28, Kemp put on a show, going a combined 5-for-7 with a home run in each game and five RBIs. He returned later in 2012 and again in 2013 on rehab assignments, adding demand at the box office and electricity in the stands.
SS/2B Dee Strange-Gordon – 2011-13
Before he was a two-time All Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner in the Major Leagues, Gordon terrorized Topes opponents with his speed and hand-eye coordination for the Isotopes. He first arrived at Triple-A in 2011 as a shortstop, hit .333, scored an astounding 51 runs in 70 games, and was successful on 30-of-34 stolen bases, a pace of 118 runs and 69 steals for a 162-game season. After the Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez, Gordon was back with the Topes late in the 2012 season and helped them reach the playoffs. Then, in 2013, Gordon made the successful conversion to second base, led the league with 49 stolen bases, and compiled a 20-game hitting streak before returning to the majors for good.
OF Wynton Bernard – 2021
Even before he arrived in Albuquerque, outfielder Wynton Bernard knew all about the city, the food, and the sports facilities. His older brother, Walter, was all All-Conference defensive back for the University of New Mexico football team, and family outings to the Duke City were a regular occurrence. On the diamond, Bernard joined Lindsey and Robinson in getting selected “Fan Favorite” by Isotopes fans in 2021. Bernard wowed fans with his speed, once scoring a game winner on a shallow flyball to left field once, and scored from second base on a groundout to the pitcher. The highlight was making a circus catch, falling down on The Hill in center field, then waving and blowing kisses to the fans while still seated.
Other The Nine Articles
The Nine: Triple-A Dukes Era (1972-2000)
The Nine: The Early Years (1888-1971)