Feat that occurred on Sept. 1, 1971, has never been repeated
As “outer space” as it sounds, it’s true—more people have walked on the moon than the number of times there’s been a starting lineup in a Major League Baseball game made up entirely of people of color.
Only once in the roughly 220,000 Major League Baseball games has there been such a lineup, where it featured all nine players who were either Black or Latin; and it happened on Sept. 1, 1971.
The team? The Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rennie Stennett. Gene Clines. Roberto Clemente. Willie Stargell. Manny Sanguillen. Dave Cash. Al Oliver. Jackie Hernandez. And pitching, Dock Ellis.
These nine players—five Black, four Latin—had no idea they were making history as they took the field before 11,278 fans at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh on that otherwise conventional, commonplace Wednesday evening.
THE LIVING MEMBERS OF THE PIRATES’ 1971 TEAM that fielded the first and only all-minority starting lineup: Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, Gene Clines, Dave Cash. Roberto Clemente Jr., pictured at far right, is the son of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, who was part of the 1971 lineup. (Photos by Courier photographer Brian Cook Sr.)
Back in those days, Black players in the Major Leagues was nothing new —Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in 1947 and they showed they belonged, as Robinson, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and Elston Howard were among African Americans who won a league (American or National) MVP in the following years.
For the Pirates, Black players were the rule, not the exception, and when you combined them with Latin players, oftentimes the 1971 team would have seven of the nine positions on the field filled with people of color on any given night. So when Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh filled out his lineup card on the first day of September, 50 years ago, he just put the best lineup he had available on the field; they just happened to be all-minority.
“We didn’t realize that we were making history at the time,” said Cash, speaking at a forum with the other living members of that lineup, Sanguillen, Clines, and Oliver, at the Heinz History Center, Sept. 1, 2021. Clemente’s son, Roberto Clemente Jr., was also part of the panel. “But looking back at it, it’s something special, and it’s going to be something special for a long time. I can’t be more proud to be a part of this team, the brotherhood, the compassion, the drive, the dedication, the work ethic that these guys had. It’s not easy to win a championship. You have to put in the work, and we did every day to be the best that we could be.”
Cash, Clines, Oliver, Stargell and Ellis were the Black players in the lineup. Stargell died in 2001. Ellis died in 2008.
“To see that you were part of something that was very special, and it means more now, 50 years later, than it did when it happened,” added Clines, who played right field. Clines said records are made to be broken, but still, 50 years later, no other team has yet to field an all-minority starting lineup.
MANNY SANGUILLEN was behind the plate, as the catcher on Sept. 1, 1971, the date the Pirates fielded MLB’s first all-minority starting lineup. (Photos by Courier photographer Brian Cook Sr.)
And at this rate, it may never happen again. Baseball is becoming Whiter, for lack of a better term. In 1975, Black players comprised 18 percent of all players in the Majors. Fifteen years later, in 1990, the percentage dipped slightly to 17, but still respectable, as Black players flooded the All-Star Game that year in Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field — Andre Dawson, “The Wizard” Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn, Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson, and the Pirates’ own Barry Bonds, to name some.
Fast forward to today, and you have to “round up” to get to 8 percent Black players in MLB. Most Black players in pro baseball today are standout players, as there were six Black players on the 2021 All-Star roster. But on individual teams, you’re lucky to have two African Americans on a 25-man roster. The Pirates currently have two Black players on its 40-man roster (rosters get expanded from 25 to 40 in September) — rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes and outfielder Anthony Alford.
The Pirates went on to win the World Series in 1971. That’s what everyone remembers, and rightfully so. But, just like fine wine, the history made 50 years ago this month with MLB’s first all-minority lineup seems to appreciate as the time travels.
ROBERTO CLEMENTE JR.
“It is a shame that MLB has not really embraced (the moment) because I believe that it is as big as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier,” said Roberto Clemente Jr., at the Heinz History Center event, drawing stern affirmations from some in the crowd.
Clemente Jr. was six years old in 1971, watching his iconic father playing left field on Sept. 1. Usually, Clemente would patrol right field, but on this day, Clines played right field.
PIRATES GREAT Al Oliver.
Oliver, known as “Scoop,” told that crowd that what stood out for him was that “we lost Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. three years prior. This is what he was wanting to happen, for all of us to pull together, and that’s what we did in 1971. We all pulled together starting in spring training to bring a world’s championship to Pittsburgh. The only way that we were going to do that was pull together as one, pull for one another, help one another. We were a team that could hit anybody. The confidence, the unity, you couldn’t have asked for more than anything else.”
In addition to hosting the event at the Heinz History Center, the Pirates created a commemorative logo celebrating the 50th anniversary, the current team wore T-shirts with the logo prior to its Sept. 1 game in Chicago against the White Sox, and held a pregame ceremony with the living players from that lineup on Sept. 6 at PNC Park.
Oliver, when asked by forum host Rick Dayton of KDKA Radio to give one word to describe his feelings on being part of the only all-minority starting lineup in MLB history and its place in history 50 years later, said: “Gift.”
Cash replied: “Incredible.”
Clines said: “Thankful.”
Sanguillen responded: “Hope.”
And Clemente Jr. said: “Blessing. It’s a blessing for these gentlemen to be recognized at last.”
THE LIVING MEMBERS OF THE PIRATES’ 1971 TEAM that fielded the first and only all-minority starting lineup: Front row: Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, Gene Clines. Back row: Dave Cash, left. Roberto Clemente Jr., pictured at top right, is the son of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, who was part of the 1971 lineup. (Photo by Brian Cook Sr.)