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The reverend returns


The man who broke Oklahoma’s baseball color barrier is back to celebrate the feat’s 60th anniversary.

Brendan Hoover August 29th, 2012

At 87, Rev. William “Bill” Greason has had more life experiences than many of us ever will. He grew up in poverty. He served in two wars. And, in 1952, he broke Oklahoma’s baseball color barrier.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of that historic achievement, Greason will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Oklahoma City RedHawks game against the Albuquerque Isotopes at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

It will mark a different kind of delivery for the pastor and ex-pitcher, who for more than 40 years has delivered the Sunday sermon at the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

An Atlanta native, Greason served in a segregated unit during World War II and fought at Iwo Jima. The ordeal, he said, led to a spiritual awakening.

“I prayed and asked God to enable me to get off that island, and he did,” Greason said. “He let me get by, but I didn’t get away. So, he laid it upon my heart to be a servant for him.”

After the war, Greason broke into the Negro Leagues with the Nashville Black Vols in 1947. That same year, Jackie Robinson made history on the Brooklyn Dodgers breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, although full integration of the national pastime was still several years away.

Greason went to the Birmingham Black Barons the following year, where he began a lifelong friendship with Willie Mays.

After service during the Korean War, Greason signed with the Oklahoma City Indians in July 1952, becoming only the second black player in the Texas League.

“We are keeping up with a popular trend in baseball,” Indians President Jimmie Humphries told The Oklahoman at the time. “I’ve seen Greason pitch and feel confident he can win for us.”

Fans flocked to see the new pitcher. Texas League attendance soared in the wake of integration.

Greason finished his first OKC season with a 9-1 record and a 2.14 ERA, leading the Indians to a playoff victory over Dallas.

While he said OKC fans treated him cordially, everyday life remained segregated. He had a room at the YMCA and did not fraternize with his white teammates. On the road, he endured his share of abuse: Fans hurled racial epithets; in Dallas, a fan dumped beer on him while he sat in the bullpen.

“When you’re brought up in the South, you know who you are,” he said. “My parents told me, ‘If people can’t see your character because of your skin, then they are the ones who are blind.’” After the ’53 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals organization, becoming the team’s first black pitcher. He played in only three games before being sent back down. But he didn’t mind.

“When I look at my life and how God has dealt with me,” he said, “that was all in the plan, for me to get a taste of it to see what it was like. I have no regrets. I made it, so that’s all that matters.”

 
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