Black History Month: The Top 5 Black Players in South Bend History
February 4, 2022
South Bend has a long history of getting players to the big leagues and in honor of Black History Month and Minor League Baseball’s “The Nine” initiative (which is a Black-community focused outreach platform designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact of Black baseball pioneers made on the sport)
South Bend has a long history of getting players to the big leagues and in honor of Black History Month and Minor League Baseball’s “The Nine” initiative (which is a Black-community focused outreach platform designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact of Black baseball pioneers made on the sport) here’s our look at the top five Black players in our franchise history to make it to the MLB.
1) Mike Cameron
The former centerfielder from La Grange, Ga. was drafted in the 18th round of the 1991 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox. Cameron played a whopping 17 years in the MLB and took the field with eight MLB franchises, ultimately playing his final game with the Marlins in 2011. He spent the entirety of the 1993 season in South Bend with the then Silver Hawks, playing in 122 games and batting .238.
1997 was his first full season in the big leagues and he blew past expectations, finishing sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting (an award won by Nomar Garciaparrra). Four years later as a member of the Seattle Mariners, Cameron put up the best numbers of any season in his career. His .353 OBP, .480 SLG, 25 homers, 110 RBIs and his stellar glove in centerfield were rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game, a gold glove and a 16th place finish for AL MVP. Cammy was a human highlight reel over four years with the Mariners, providing fans with jaw-dropping highway robberies in center like this…
But don’t discount his hitting prowess. Cameron launched 278 career homers and had one of the best offensive performances in MLB history when he homered in four-straight at-bats on May 2, 2002 vs the White Sox.
Incredibly three of those homers came with two strikes and all of them traveled over 405 feet.
When his career was all said and done Cameron had won three gold gloves, appeared in an All-Star Game, accumulated 24 or more homers in five seasons, finished with a .444 career slugging percentage and tallied a .338 on-base percentage. Baseball Reference ranks him 35th all-time among centerfielders in WAR.
2) Justin Upton
Upton was named the USA Today Player of the Year and the National Gatorade Player of the Year during his senior year at Great Bridge High School in Virginia. After his senior year he was drafted with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, signing for $6.1 million.
The 18-year-old, drafted as a shortstop, spent his entire first pro season with the South Bend Silver Hawks. He picked up 115 hits in 113 games and finished the year with a slash line of .263/.343/.413, plus 12 homers and 66 RBIs. At the end of the regular season he led the team in doubles (28) and finished second on the team in homers, walks (52) and stolen bases (15). South Bend is where Upton first played competitively and consistently in the outfield, logging 105 games in centerfield and the other eight at DH.
Upton made his MLB debut in 2007 and 2022 will mark his 16th season in the bigs. Even with all the pressure of being a number one pick, Upton achieved tremendous success: four All-Star appearances, three Silver Slugger awards and a top five in MVP in 2011. He’s currently on his fifth team and this will be his sixth year in Los Angeles with the Angels, as he enters the final year of his five year/$106 million contract.
Justin’s older brother B.J. played 12 years in the MLB and was selected with the number two overall pick three years prior to Justin going first in the draft.
Justin sits 59th all time in career WAR among left fielders.
3) Scott Hairston
Hairston comes from quite the baseball pedigree. His brother Jerry played 16 years in the MLB, his father (also Jerry) spent 14 years in the MLB, his uncle John played three games with the Chicago Cubs in 1969 and his grandfather Sam played five years in the Negro leagues and one in the MLB. In fact when John debuted with the Cubs that marked the first ever father-son duo to appear in the majors. Three generations of Hairstons graced MLB diamonds, but none had the historical impact as Scott’s grandpa.
Sam Hairston was a two-time All-Star in the Negro American League with the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns. In 1950 Sam won the triple crown with the Clowns, batting .424 with17 long balls and 71 RBIs (in 70 games no less). The White Sox signed him with one month left in the NAL season and those triple crown numbers held out. On July 21, 1951 nearly two months after Minnie Miñoso (a native of Havana, Cuba) broke the White Sox color barrier, Sam became the first African-American to ever play for the White Sox.
Scott’s career wasn’t historic like Sam’s but it did span 11 seasons in the MLB. He was selected in the third round in 2001 by the Diamondbacks and would go on to produce respectable numbers: seven seasons with double digit home runs, a lifetime .442 slugging percentage and a career on-base plus slugging of .738. He also became the 10th Met to ever hit for the cycle.
Scott played in 109 games with South Bend in 2002 and amassed a slash line of .333/.426/.564 in 109 games, with 16 homers, 72 RBIs and 131 hits.
4) James Baldwin (No not the famous writer)
Just like Hairston, Baldwin played 11 seasons in the MLB. A fourth rounder in the 1990 draft by the White Sox, he debuted with the "South Siders" in 1995 and spent his first seven big league seasons with the team that drafted him. In 1995 during a spring training intrasquad game Baldwin became the first pitcher to face Michael Jordan. In 1996 the right-hander went 11-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 169 innings and finished second behind Derek Jeter for Rookie of the Year. Four years later his 14-7 record helped him garner his first and lone All-Star Game appearance. His final season was split between the Orioles and Rangers in 2005 at the age of 33. He finished with a career mark of 79-74 and a 5.01 ERA.
In 1994 Baseball America ranked Baldwin as the number eight prospect in baseball, two years prior was the lone season you could’ve seen him trotting around the ballpark in South Bend. That season as a 20 year old he tore up the Midwest League to the tune of a 2.42 ERA in 137.2 IP. Across 21 starts he only allowed 37 earned runs and had 137 Ks compared to 45 walks.
5) Keon Broxton
Broxton made a massive leap in seemingly no time, going from a 29th round pick by the Phillies out of high school in 2008 to a third rounder the following year by the Dbacks. He didn’t make his big league debut until 2015 with the Pirates and from 2009-2013 he spent each season in the Arizona farm system. In Broxton’s second MiLB season he played 133 games with South Bend, picking up 121 hits (5 HR) and tying the Midwest League record with 19 triples. The following year he started the year with South Bend and appeared in 20 games before his promotion to high-A Visalia to replace the injured Adam Eaton.
Broxton has played 5 years in the MLB with his best season coming as a rookie in 2016 with Milwaukee where he played 75 games and slashed .242/.354/.430, went 23-for-27 stealing bases and cranked nine homers. The following season he played a career-high 143 games and clobbered a career-high 20 homers. He is currently on a minor league deal with the Brewers and finished last season in AAA Nashville.
If you haven't gotten to see him play let me just tell you he had a proclivity for robbing home runs with Milwaukee (especially in the ninth). But don't just take my word for it...
Honorable mention to Rodney McCray who made the most ridiculous, preposterous, unbelievable...ah just watch with your own eyeballs...