Tommy Tatum played parts of fourteen seasons in professional baseball, but it was for a single moment—a product of timing more than anything else—that made Tommy Tatum part of American baseball history. On April 18, 1947, Tatum batted third for the Brooklyn Dodgers in an early season visit to the Polo Grounds for a meeting with the Giants. The third of just four games he would appear in during his final stint with the Dodgers, Tatum found himself batting between fellow rookie Jackie Robinson and star right fielder Dixie Walker. With the score tied at 1–1 in the third inning, Robinson belted a Dave Koslo pitch for his first Major League home run.
As Robinson crossed the plate, Tatum greeted him with outstretched arms. A photographer captured a moment representing racial integration in baseball that made its way to doorsteps throughout the city on the back page of the next day’s Daily News. An encouraging welcome to modern baseball’s first African American was about the biggest contribution Tatum gave Brooklyn in the 1947 season. He would have only one more at bat with the team—an unsuccessful trip as a pinch hitter on May 8 against the Cardinals—before he became the casualty of an unusually deep Brooklyn outfield.
Tommy Tatum played four games for the Dodgers before
they sold him to Cincinnati on May 13.
Tommy was born V T Tatum to Emmit and Lessie Tatum in the north Texas town of Decatur on July 16, 1919. He picked up the name Tommy in his youth, since the “V T” did not stand for anything. Tatum honed his game on the sandlots of Oklahoma City under the tutelage of Oklahoma coaching legend Roy Deal. A talented and polished all-around player by his late teens, Tatum starred on Deal’s Gassers, a sandlot team sponsored by the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company. Known locally as the “Red Fox” for the color of his hair, Tatum caught the eye of Detroit scouts who offered him a contract with the Tigers in 1939, upon his graduation from Capitol Hill High School.