Jimmy Claxton

From BR Bullpen


James Edgar Claxton

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 160 lb.

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Jimmy Claxton was the first black player in organized baseball in the 20th century. He pitched in two games for the the Oakland Oaks of Pacific Coast League in 1916. After it was discovered that he also had African-American heritage, he was released. He would later play in the Negro Leagues.

Claxton was born on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada in 1892; the son of an Irish-English mother and an African-French-Native American father. By 1910, he was living in Ravensdale, WA with his father and in his early twenties he played in semi-pro leagues in the Pacific Northwest. By 1916 he was dominating local competition in the San Francisco Bay area, striking out 23 batters in a single game.

A part-Native American friend introduced Claxton to the secretary of the local PCL team, the Oaks, who claimed that he was a "fellow tribesman" from the midwest United States. Claxton was quickly signed to shore up the pitching (the team would finish in last place). He was described in the San Francisco Call as "the Indian southpaw recently nailed by the Oaks from an Eastern reservation."

Claxton debuted for the club on May 28th in a doubleheader against the visiting Los Angeles Angels; both games were Oaks losses. He finished the first game, walking the first batter he faced and retired the second. Claxton then started the second game, pitching into the 3rd inning, allowing three runs (two earned) and four hits while issuing three walks. In his two games, he pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing four hits, three runs, and two earned runs while walking four batters, striking out none.

The following day the San Francisco Chronicle reported that "[Claxton] was obviously nervous and cannot be fairly judged by his showing..." while the Call stated "The Redskin had a nice windup and a frightened look on his face... He lasted two innings. However, he may do better in the future."

Claxton's race was discovered within a few days of his appearances. On June 2nd he was released. According to Claxton in a 1964 newspaper interview with Dan Walton of the Tacoma News-Tribune: "I had been with Oakland for about a month when I got notice that I was released... No reason was given, but I knew." He also suspected that one of his teammates told the club about his racial background.

Despite only playing in only two games for Oakland, Claxton became the first black player on a baseball card. He appeared on #25 of 143 of a 1916 series of "Zeenuts cards", produced by the Collins-McCarthy Candy Company. Claxton's tenure with the Oaks coincided with a visit by the candy company's photographer.

After his brief minor league appearance, Claxton played in Negro and semi-professional leagues. Claxton claimed to have pitched in all but two of the 48 contiguous states of the United Sates, having never pitched in Maine nor Texas. In 1932, he played for the Cuban Stars where he had a 0-2 record. Claxton also played for the Washington Pilots, the Chicago Union Giants and the barnstorming Nebraska Indians.

After his career ended in his early fifties, Claxton returned to his home in Tacoma, WA. He was inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame in 1969. He died a few months later.

In 1910, Claxton's race was recorded by a census taker as being "mulatto." Claxton's sister, four years his junior and raised by their maternal grandparents, was listed as white by census workers. In 1920, he was working as a dockworker in Oakland, CA and his race was recorded as black by a census taker.

In Walton's 1964 interview, Claxton was described in the following manner; "When he bares back his shirt his skin is as white as that of a Nordic... Perhaps from his Indian blood his hair is straight and jet black -- or was before grey hairs and a high forehead came with the years." In 2021, he was inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as part of its large class of Canadian baseball pioneers.


Further Reading[edit]

  • Tom Hawthorn: "The rocky saga of vagabond 'tribesman' Jimmy Claxton", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 44-45 & 126.

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