Managing Integration: Clemente, Wills, "Harry the Hat," and the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1967 Season of Discontent

By Ingham, John N. | Nine, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Managing Integration: Clemente, Wills, "Harry the Hat," and the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1967 Season of Discontent


Ingham, John N., Nine


The Pirates had a powerful team in 1966. Winning ninety-two games, they were in the pennant race to the end, battling the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. A doubleheader sweep of the Phillies on September 2.8 put the Pirates just a game and a half behind the Dodgers entering the final weekend. The Bucs then lost three straight to the Giants in Pittsburgh to finish in third place. The Pirates, nonetheless, had one of the most powerful offensive teams in the 1960s, with a .279 team batting average and 759 runs scored. Roberto Clemente won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Matty Alou led the league in batting, and second baseman Bill Mazeroski set a record for double plays. The two weaknesses of the team were pitching and at third base. The Pirates general manager, Joe L. Brown, addressed both issues in the off-season by trading for pitchers Juan Pizarro and Dennis Ribant and pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers for baseball's stolen-base king, Maury Wills. (1)

Brown was euphoric about the Pirates' chances in 1967, saying: "This is the best Pirate team since I became general manager in 1956. We've added three men since the season ended, and any one of them could have won the pennant for us last season." (2) Most baseball pundits, Las Vegas bookmakers, and other observers tended to agree. Arthur Daley of the New York Times stated that the Pirates were "overwhelming pennant favorites, assuming they get any decent pitching." (3) Yet, the 1967 season turned out to be a profound disappointment, as the team was mired in dissension and discord while struggling to finish in sixth place. What happened?

It is not unusual for teams that are favored to win the pennant to falter as the Pirates did, and certainly the under-performance of Pirate pitchers, as Arthur Daley feared, was part of the problem. The cause, however, apparently lies elsewhere. Clubhouse dissent was a major factor and was commented on frequently by local sportswriters, despite constant denials from team officials and players. What is not clear is the source of this conflict. This article contends that the Pirates were ultimately brought down by varying currents of racism pulsing through the nation in the 1960, as well as by interethnic and intraracial hostilities among American and Latino blacks that played out in the clubhouse and on the field.

The story of integration in baseball, until very recently, has been bimodal, with African Americans struggling for acceptance and recognition from Major League Baseball and from white society, finally achieving success in the 1940s. It is an uplifting and dramatic story with Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey understandably at the center. Recently, however, scholars like Adrian Burgos Jr. have demonstrated that the story of the integration of baseball and, in fact, of American society, is more complex than previously believed. (4) As he has demonstrated, complicating that earlier story is the nearly simultaneous entry of many Latinos and especially black Latinos into the national pastime. The 1967 Pirates provide an excellent place within which to view this complex story of race, culture, ethnicity, racism, and intraracial hostility.

Of the twenty-seven players who spent the greatest amount of time on the team's active roster in 1967, 48 percent were white, 29 percent were Latino, and 20 percent African American. The only major-league team with remotely similar percentages of these two minority groups on their roster was the San Francisco Giants, who were 75 percent white, 14 percent Latino, and 11 percent African American. The Dodgers, who had pioneered African American integration, had four American blacks on their roster, but no Latinos, and the team would not have a prominent Latin player until Fernando Valenzuela in the 1980s. In addition, the 1967 Pirates were managed by a white southerner with a reputation for racism against African Americans and a demonstrated affection for black Latinos. …

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