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Morning Shift

Gene Baker, Not Ernie Banks, Was Cubs’ First African-American Player

Monday marks an important anniversary in professional baseball. It was 74 years ago on Dec. 4, 1943, that baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis decreed that major league teams could sign African-American players.

It took four more years for Jackie Robinson to take the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and 10 full years for the Cubs to sign a black man. Many people think that man was “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks, but in reality it was Gene Baker. 

When Banks joined the team, Baker and Banks became the first black double-play combo in baseball. Baker also went on to become the first black manager in the majors.

Morning Shift talks to Gary Gillette, creator and editor of The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia and historical consultant for Baseball-Reference.com, about Gene Baker’s life, career, and influence. 

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