More Than A Ballplayer

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 10, 2007

Earl BatteyNEW HAVEN, Ct. — In the tradition of great African-American catchers from the past (Josh Gibson, Roy Campanella, Elston Howard), we focus on one of the more underrated backstops in Major League history.

Remembered as a great handler of pitchers, Earl Battey was one of the American League’s best catchers during his era.

Born on January 5, 1953 in Los Angeles, Earl’s mother Esther signed a letter of commitment for him to become a free agent with the Chicago White Sox. He played in Chicago for four years before moving on to the Washington Senators; they became to Minnesota Twins in 1961.

From 1961-66 the durable Battey played in 805 of the Twins’ first 970 games despite injuries. Besides a persistent bad knee, several dislocated fingers, and a goiter problem (at times he ballooned to 60 pounds over his listed weight) he endured.

Battey twice had cheekbones broken by pitched balls and wore a special helmet after 1962. He was an insightful man off the field, understanding racial segregation in ways years ahead of even today?s views.

Battey honored the lingering segregation of the Minnesota Twins in 1962 over separate hotel accommodations for Black and White players. That year this still happened at their southern baseball spring training facilities.

He was not on the bandwagon of the desegregation efforts of the Minnesota State Commission Against Discrimination (SCAD). When interviewed by them Battey said that pending integration robbed Black businesses (hotels, restaurants, etc.) of income and excluded Black kids from access to Twin players who were Black.

He also noted that most of the white players hung out at the Black businesses anyway and thus something valuable in the name of Black culture and ownership would be undermined.

Also as a player in Game Three of the 1965 World Series, he ran into a neck-high crossbar in Dodger Stadium while chasing a foul pop. He played the remainder of the series even though he could barely speak or turn his head.

A three-time Gold Glove winner, Battey topped all MLB catchers in 1962 with a .280 batting average, threw out 24 runners, and picked off 13.

He had career highs of 26 homers and 84 RBI in 1963. He was also the top vote-getter on the 1965 AL All-Star squad.

After he retired in 1967, his next stop was to give back to the community. He worked in New York City as a recreation specialist with young disturbed boys; a position he held for 12 years.

In 1980, Battey fulfilled a promise he made to his mother, enrolling at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. He took 34 credits a semester and coached the Wildcats basketball team.

By finishing his undergrad studies in two and-half-years, Battey was accorded the distinction of Summa Cum Laude honors. After graduating from Bethune-Cookman, he became a high school teacher and baseball coach in Ocala, Florida.

Earl Jesse Battey Jr. died of cancer on November 15, 2003.

With no African-American catchers currently on a Major League roster, the legacy of Earl Battey and the great Black catchers that came before and after him becomes very important to remember.

NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this article.