Sammy Bankhead

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Samuel Howard Bankhead

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 8", Weight 175 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Sammy Bankhead played from 1930 through 1950 in the Negro Leagues, primarily for the Homestead Grays. He was a speedy, versatile, good-hitting infielder-outfielder. During the winters, Sam also starred in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.

A hard-nosed leader on the field, Sam became a manager late in his career. While still playing shortstop, he was skipper of the Vargas Sabios (Wise Men), champion of the Venezuelan winter league in 1946-47. Sam then led the Grays during their last two years as an independent club (1949-1950).

In 1951, Bankhead signed with the Farnham Pirates in the independent Provincial League as player-manager. He is recognized as the first African-American skipper of a predominantly white professional team. The team went 52-71, finishing 7th in the eight-team league.

Sam was the oldest of the five ballplaying Bankhead brothers. He worked in the coal mines of Alabama as a young man. Brother #3, Dan Bankhead, was the first African-American pitcher in the major leagues. His other brothers Fred, Joe, and Garnett also played in the Negro Leagues.

Negro Leagues author John Holway contends that Sam inspired Troy Maxson, the lead character in August Wilson's award-winning play Fences (1985). He also features prominently in The Summer King, an opera about long-time teammate Josh Gibson that received its premiere in 2017. Sam died by gunshot after a quarrel in 1976.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 8-time NNL All-Star (1933, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1942-1944 & 1946)
  • NNL At-Bats Leader (1936)
  • 2-time NNL Hits Leader (1935 & 1936)
  • NNL Doubles Leader (1936)
  • 4-time NNL Stolen Bases Leader (1938, 1939, 1943 & 1944)
  • Won three Negro World Series with the Homestead Grays (1943, 1944 & 1948)

Year-by-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs
1951 Farnham Pirates Provincial League 52-71 7th none

Further Reading[edit]

  • Richard "Pete" Peterson: "Why Isn't Sam Bankhead in the Baseball Hall of Fame?", in Cecilia M. Tan, ed.: Steel City Stories, The National Pastime, SABR, 2018, pp. 52-54.

Related Sites[edit]