Chuck Harmon, the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds, died on Tuesday at age 94, the club announced on Wednesday.
Harmon, who was originally signed by the St. Louis Browns in 1947 and sent to the Reds in 1952, made his major league debut as a pinch hitter on April 17, 1954, against the Milwaukee Braves — seven years after Jackie Robinson broke color barrier.
“The entire Reds family is saddened to lose one of its great ambassadors. The first African-American to play for the Reds, Chuck Harmon was much more than a ballplayer,” Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini said in a statement. “He represents a pivot point in Reds history. Chuck’s positive attitude and disposition helped diffuse the adversity he faced, and set the tone for those following in his footsteps. He was beloved by his teammates during his career and remained a treasure to this franchise and its fans throughout his life. He will be missed.”
Harmon played with the Reds until 1956 and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. A first and third baseman, Harmon hit .236 with seven home runs and 59 RBI with the Reds. He last played the the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957.
Harmon was born in Washington, Indiana, and was a standout in basketball and baseball. He led his high school basketball team to back-to-back state titles and earned a scholarship to the University of Toledo, where he played both sports.
According to a SABR Society biography, in 1943 Harmon scored six points in the Rockets’ 48-27 loss to St. John’s in the National Invitation Tournament Finals at Madison Square Garden.
Harmon served three years stateside in the Navy during World War II, then returned to Toledo.