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When Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play big-league baseball I was a kid on the Oakland sandlots, already planning to be a ballplayer. I told my mother that's what I wanted to be and she said, "Then that's what you will be." Being black didn't seem to be a factor particularly.
Then after I'd been in the big leagues myself for five or six years I thought, "I want to stay in this game," and I started looking forward to managing. It didn't seem to me that the color of my skin would be a problem. By the time I was ready, I figured, baseball would be.
In Santurce, Puerto Rico, in winter ball, I proved to myself that I could manage. The major leagues, however, seemed to be resisting the notion of a black manager. I decided that I'd been wrong to assume that I'd get a chance. It appeared that the first black manager wouldn't be hired until after Frank Robinson was out of the picture. I thought it was five or six years away, even though it was already long overdue.
So when the Indians offered me the job I was surprised. But ready. When Phil Seghi, the general manager, met with me he didn't warn me about the perils of being a pioneer, the way Branch Rickey did Jackie. Seghi didn't say anything about a barrier falling. He'd known me since we were both in the Cincinnati organization, and he just said I was the type of person the Indians wanted. I'm an objective person, one who likes to talk things out personally with ballplayers—black, white or Latin. I'm not going to manage according to race.
I did tell my wife Barbara that we'd probably have greens and black-eyed peas in the clubhouse now. She said, "You don't even like greens."
"I do, too," I said. "I like cabbage."
"Cabbage isn't greens!" she said. "Imagine that, he's black and doesn't know what greens are."
"Well, I like neckbones," I said. But what I am really partial to is winning.
After all the years of expectation and wondering, the job came to me all of a sudden. I didn't even know the Indians had offered it to me until three days after they had. I didn't get the word until 24 hours before the Oct. 3 press conference at which it was announced that I was taking it. The Indians went first to my agent, Ed Keating, who didn't want me to get excited until he knew the deal was firm.
For years now people have been telling me, "Whenever the black-manager thing happens, you are going to be the first." I couldn't be so sure. I had gone on record that there ought to be a black manager and I wanted to manage, but after a while, as club after club passed up all the qualified blacks, there wasn't much more for me to say about it. I was tired of making the same statements. There was no new angle. Whenever I'd see Maury Wills or one of the other blacks who were being mentioned as candidates, we'd just say something light—"Hey, you think the thing is ever going to happen?" or "If you get it first, hire me as a coach and if I do I'll hire you." I knew it was going to be a case of somebody being in the right place at the right time. Bouncing around from club to club, I hadn't established myself with any one, and teams usually like to hire someone out of their own organization. That worried me.