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Jimmy Claxton Broke Color Barrier to Play Organized White Baseball


Jimmy Claxton is a name that hardly comes up when talking about black players who changed the trajectory of sports, yet his contributions to baseball were significant. He achieved this in the 1900s when segregation was normal and his chance to play baseball was minimal. 

He persisted and in 1916, he broke the color barrier when he represented the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. We revisit his story.

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Jimmy Claxton’s Background

A review of Jimmy Claxton. Video Credit: MLB_TBS

Jimmy Claxton was born to a multiracial family with a heritage in French, English, Native American and black background. He was born in British Columbia, to American parents but grew up in Tacoma, Washington. Claxton’s family was working class so he didn’t have any advantages in baseball in terms of early exposure.

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Baseball Career

He took up the sport at the age of 13 and played as a catcher before taking a pitching position. This is where he became prominent when playing for a local team. His performances caught the attention of the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. 

No other team gave him an opportunity at the professional level due to racism. Claxton met the owner of the team but his friend only introduced him as a native American player. It was one of his backgrounds but also, it’s the only way he’d be allowed to compete professionally. 

Even then, Jimmy Claxton was forced to prove he was a native American before signing a contract and being accepted into the team. 

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Breaking the Color Barrier & Dismissal

In 1916, Jimmy Claxton played for the Oaks and became the first black player in the 20th century to feature in a professional minor league. However, he didn’t have a good game and that attracted criticism.

A week after he debuted, a friend revealed that he had black heritage which led to his firing. In interviews, Claxton said he wasn’t given any reason for his dismissal but believed it was racially motivated. 

He singled out his manager Harold Rowdy Elliot for not giving him a fair chance and frustrating his efforts. 

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In a rebuttal, Elliot explained that Claxton was released for bad performances. Nonetheless, the baseballer achieved yet another milestone despite his two-game career. 

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Baseball Card

spotcovery-Jimmy Claxton Broke Color Barrier to Play Organized White Baseball
The Baseball Card Game card was back in 1904. Source: Wikimedia licensed by public domain

He was the first African American to appear in a baseball minor league card. During his unfortunate week at the Oaks, a photographer from the Collins McCarthy Candy Company, who produced baseball cards, went to the club. 

Claxton was number card number 24 and was reportedly the most valuable of all the cards the company made. The next black player to appear in a baseball card was Jackie Robinson, 30 years after Jimmy Claxton.

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Moving On

After the incident at the Oaks, Claxton had every reason to retire. However, he chose to continue playing the game with Shahta Limited in a semi-professional league.

Jimmy Claxton’s achievement shouldn’t be forgotten. Even though he wasn’t impressive in his two games for the Oaks, he showed that black players can play. His resilience to keep playing demonstrated his love for the game. For his efforts, at least he had a baseball card to show for everything.

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