Wendell Smith: Major League Baseball’s unsung hero

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While April 1947 is considered the date on which the walls of segregation came tumbling down in Major League Baseball, the catalyst for the radical change took place many years before that and little or nothing to do with Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.

The spark that ignited the brushfire of integration took place at a relatively obscure American Legion All-Star game near Detroit, Mich., back in 1933. It was then and there that a budding young pitching star handcuffed an opposing team with a 1-0 masterpiece.

The talented hurler was named Wendell Smith and what transpired that day would prove to have a profound effect on him, the national pastime and, to a larger degree, the whole of American society.

According to Jules Tygiel, author of “Baseball’s Great Experiment,” present that day was a scout from the Detroit Tigers who, though impressed with Smith’s prowess, inked a contract with Smith’s catcher Mike Tresh…and the losing pitcher. Tresh, it should be noted, went on to play and coach in the Major Leagues. His son, Tom Tresh, likewise carved out a mediocre career in the bigs mostly as the shortstop for the New York Yankees.

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