In 1951, while playing for the independent Paris Lakers of
the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, Clinton "Butch" McCord
hit .363 while scoring and driving in more than 100 runs.
Despite his prodigious output, no Major League teams came
looking for his services.
Undaunted, McCord put up even stronger numbers in 1952. The
free-swinging first baseman raised his average to .392
while still driving in and scoring runs at a steady clip.
Once again, however, Major League Baseball turned a blind
How could this be? The Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, a
precursor to today's Midwest League, was a competitive
circuit. Several teams had Major League affiliations, and
numbers like McCord's seemed impossible to ignore. Yet
McCord was ignored, simply because he was black.
Significant change, whether in sports or society at large,
usually comes slowly. Although baseball had been integrated
for half a decade when McCord made his Minor League debut,
most big league teams were still wary of adding black
players to their rosters, and several had not done so at
all. In the Minor Leagues, the integration process was
often agonizingly slow, particularly in the Deep South. The
leagues that had integrated usually enforced a quota system
that called for no more than two black players on a team.
Baseball, though moving in the right direction, was still
unwilling to grant truly equal status to black players. In
this context, many spectacularly talented players were
Butch McCord was one of them, and his years with the Lakers
are just a small part of his story. The Nashville native
played four seasons in the Negro Leagues before jumping to
the Lakers, then appeared with nine more Minor League teams
before retiring in 1961. Although he was unfairly denied
the chance to perform at baseball's highest level, his
14-year professional career allowed him to compete with
several Hall of Famers while witnessing firsthand America's
changing racial climate.
Today, McCord lives in his Nashville, where he began his
baseball career. Although he never played organized ball
growing up, he made a name for himself on the sandlots. His
status as a local standout led to an improbable meeting
with Satchel Paige at the age of 16. In 1942, Paige and his
Kansas City Monarchs came through Nashville, looking for an
opponent after a game with the Chicago American Giants had
been cancelled. Locals hastily put a team together, with
McCord playing first base.
"I think Satchel just saw a kid in a grown-up uniform. He
threw me a ball right down the middle, and I hit a triple
off of him," McCord recalled. "My next time up, though, he
let me know who he was. I didn't get the bat off of my
More than 15 years later, while playing with Columbus in
the International League, McCord again faced Paige. He
wasn't about to remind the aging hurler of his short-lived
success against him as a teenager.
"No way was I gonna do that," said McCord. "That's one
thing I've never liked, when players taunt each other. If
you hit a guy good, he knows it. He doesn't need you to
remind him. I like guys who acted like Lou Gehrig. He was
my role model growing up."
But there's only one person McCord calls a hero -- Jackie
"I got to consider Jackie my hero, I just got to!" McCord
said emphatically. "It wasn't just baseball, he got other
sports to start integrating, too. And when he was in the
Army, he was court-martialed when he wouldn't move to the
back of the bus. That was before Rosa Parks!"
In 1945 and 1946, McCord served in the segregated Navy,
where he was unable to play baseball. When he got out, he
enrolled at Tennessee State University. The school didn't
have a baseball team, but McCord was able to work out a
unique agreement with the Negro Leagues' Baltimore Elite
Giants, who had moved from Nashville the year before. After
the school year ended, he would join the Elite Giants and
play the rest of the season as an outfielder.
"I guess they thought I was a pretty good prospect," said
In 1950, he joined the Chicago American Giants. The squad
was managed by Negro League legend Ted "Double Duty"
Radcliffe, who died last summer at the age of 103.
"Double Duty got his name because one day he was catching
Satchel Paige, who threw a shutout. Well, they were playing
a doubleheader that day and needed a pitcher for the second
game. So Double Duty said he'd pitch, and he threw a
shutout, too," McCord said. "So that's how he got the name,
and he kept calling himself that once he realized the girls
liked it. That Double Duty, he was something else. Very
With the American Giants, McCord played against none other
than Willie Mays. The Hall of Fame slugger was a member of
the Birmingham Black Barons, one year before his debut with
the New York Giants in 1951. In fact, one of McCord's most
significant memories from the 1950 season involves an event
that occurred in Birmingham, although it took place off the
field and had nothing to do with the "Say Hey Kid."
"The team decided to integrate in reverse, so the American
Giants added three white players," McCord said. "When we
got to Birmingham, this policeman got on the bus and said
'I hear you got some white players on this team. If you put
them on the field I'm going to close the ballpark down.'
Well, we had to do what he said, so our white players
watched the game in the white section of the segregated
stands. It wasn't until 1965 that I realized that that
policeman had been Bull Connor!"
It was after the 1950 season that McCord decided to leave
the Negro Leagues. Organized black baseball had been dying
a slow death following Robinson's debut with the Dodgers,
as players and fans turned their attention to the Majors.
McCord didn't think the Negro Leagues could provide him
with much of a future, so he signed on with the Paris
Lakers in 1951, his first of 11 seasons in Minor League
While Major League clubs may have ignored McCord during his
stint in Paris, fans didn't. As a result of his dominating
play during the 1951 and 1952 seasons, he was honored with
his own "night." This was unprecedented in Minor League
baseball, especially for a black player. Hall of Fame
broadcaster Harry Caray and former Giants and Cardinals
catcher Gus Mancuso were recruited to attend, in order to
lend a big-name aura to the proceedings.
McCord spent 1953 and 1954 with the Western League's Denver
Bears, hitting .281 and .358, respectively. In 1955, he
signed on with the International League's Richmond
Virginians, becoming the first black player in team
"The stands were segregated, but the fans were kind to me,"
One highlight of his 1955 season came when he connected for
a home run off Don Drysdale, who was pitching for the
"I remember there was this fellow who was yelling at me
from the dugout after I hit the home run, saying, 'You
little hot dog!'" said McCord. "That was Tommy Lasorda. I
reminded him about that when I saw him at the Negro
Leagues' museum in Kansas City."
Hard as it may be to believe, given today's political
climate, the International League was a three-country
circuit during the 1950s. In addition to the United States
and Canada, Cuba's Havana Sugar Kings were members of the
league. Traveling to Cuba was always a highlight for
"Castro was still in the hills, getting his act together.
Batista was president," said McCord. "I remember sitting in
the dugout in Havana and I hear someone ask me for my
autograph. I turn around, and the guy asking me was none
other than Cab Calloway."
McCord remained in the International League in 1956, this
time playing for Columbus. In 1957, he moved on to
Louisville of the American Association. In Louisville, his
roommate was pitcher Davis Hoskins, who integrated the
Texas League in 1952 as a member of the Dallas Eagles.
Prior to the 1958 season, McCord's contract was bought by
the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the first and only time he
was affiliated with a Major League club. He spent spring
training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., where he faced
Sandy Koufax in an intrasquad game. But one incident from
Spring Training stands out in McCord's mind.
"Roy Campanella had been in a car accident that winter, and
they brought him to spring training to help rehabilitate
him. He was paralyzed," McCord said. "I remember sitting
across the table from him while he was re-learning how to
eat. Right behind where Campanella was sitting was a mural
of him tagging a guy out at the plate. I was thinking about
how self-sufficient he had been and how helpless he now
"I had to turn away, it was so sad."
After Spring Training, McCord was scheduled to report to
Triple-A Spokane. To his surprise, the team changed course
and opted to send him to Macon of the South Atlantic
League, two levels below where he should have been.
"The ballpark was segregated down there and they wanted me
on the team to increase attendance," McCord said. "I said
'No way!' and went home. Then Macon's general manager
called me and asked what it would take to get me to come
down there. I said 'Pay my expenses on the road and at
home.' I didn't think he'd do it, but he said 'C'mon down.'
So I went."
McCord hit .305 in Macon and won the first of consecutive
Silver Gloves for his work at first base. Still, the fact
that he was playing below his level was a continual source
Outside of a brief stint with the American Association's
St. Paul franchise, McCord spent the final three years of
his career in the Texas League. Most of that time was with
Victoria, where in 1959 he was a teammate of Marvin
Williams, a familiar face from his Negro League days.
"Marvin Williams, Jackie Robinson and Sam Jethroe tried out
with the Boston Red Sox in 1945," McCord recalled. "After
the Red Sox tryout was over, the players were supposed to
stay until the Boston Braves came in and gave them a look.
But, you know, President Roosevelt died that day and the
tryout was canceled. Just think how history would have been
different if Jackie was on the Braves."
After McCord retired from baseball in 1961, he spent 24
years working for the U.S. Postal Service while his wife
made a living as a third grade teacher. While he admits to
being disappointed at how baseball treated him, he has few
"Very few guys can say they faced who I faced -- Drysdale,
Koufax, Juan Pizzaro, Ryne Duren, Connie Johnson, even
Gaylord Perry before he was throwing spitballs," McCord
said. "He would just throw hard stuff down by my knees,
where I liked it. I was what you'd call a 'Bible hitter'
because my philosophy was 'Thou Shalt Not Pass.'
"I went to the plate swinging every time up. When I hit
.300, it was a hard .300 because the only walks I got were
Today, McCord remains passionate about baseball and is
dismayed by the lack of black youths playing the sport.
"Major League Baseball's not looking for black players
because they're not playing," he said. "The leagues aren't
segregated, but the system is. There's not enough space in
the cities for kids to play. I work with Nashville RBI now
because they help give these kids in the city a chance to
Considering the obstacles he faced throughout his career,
it's inspiring that McCord continues to work for the good
of the game. He believes one can learn a lot from playing
the national pastime.
"Baseball is the only sport that's like life," he said.
"Before a play is committed you have time to think of the
situation and act accordingly. That's something that I
always try to do."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.