Daniel Robert Bankhead
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 184 lb.
- Debut August 26, 1947
- Final Game July 18, 1951
- Born May 3, 1920 in Empire, AL USA
- Died May 2, 1976 in Houston, TX USA
"Dan was a happy-go-lucky sort of guy. Wouldn't bother anyone. A great guy who loved baseball. Could run like a deer. Could he run! Oh, could that guy run! But he never did make it as a pitcher. What I remember most about him was how he used to stamp his foot down so hard, whoom, stamp the hell out of the rubber when he pitched. And I remember in his first at bat he hit a home run against Fritz Ostermueller of the Pittsburgh Pirates." - Al Gionfriddo, discussing Dan in Peter Golenbock's Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers
The brother of Negro Leaguers Sammy Bankhead, Fred Bankhead, Garnett Bankhead and Joe Bankhead, Dan Bankhead was the first African-American pitcher in the majors. He crafted impressive winning percentages first in the Negro Leagues, then later in the affiliated minors and majors. His baseball career covered a 26-year period with a couple of breaks and saw him move gradually from pitching to the field.
Dan, primarily a fastball and screwball pitcher, was hyped as the next Satchel Paige early in his career, which started on an impressive note. After a 2-1 season for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940, Dan went 6-1 in 1941 with a 0.96 RA. He led the Negro American League in RA by .71 over Lefty McKinnis and was third in wins behind Hilton Smith and Satch. In the 1941 East-West Game, the 21-year-old pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk for the West. He started 1942 3-0 to run his career record to 11-2 before his career was halted by World War II, serving in the US military from 1943 through 1945.
In 1946, Dan returned to the mound with the Memphis Red Sox. He went 7-3 with a 3.14 RA, third behind Paige and Gentry Jessup. He tied Jimmy Newberry and Jessup for second in wins (behind Connie Johnson) and his 42 strikeouts led the NAL. He was Memphis's highest-paid player at this point in time. In the first 1946 East-West Game, he started for the West but allowed two runs in 3 innings. He pitched three relief innings in the second 1946 East-West Game, allowing no runs and getting the win for the West. In the winter of 1946-1947, Bankhead struck out 179 in the Puerto Rican Winter League for Caguas and went 12-8. For Memphis in 1947, he went 4-4 but ranked fourth in RA (4.85) and led the NAL in strikeouts once more with 113. Starting for the West in the first East-West Game of 1947, Dan pitched three innings and allowed one run and one hit, again picking up the win. Overall, he was 23-9 in the Negro Leagues and 2-0 in East-West Games.
He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to become the first African-American pitcher in the major leagues. He was the roommate of Jackie Robinson, who had broken major league baseball's color line only five months earlier. Making his debut on August 26th, he homered in his first major league at-bat but allowed 8 runs and 23 baserunners in 10 innings over four games. Sent to the minors in 1948, Bankhead won 24 games. He went 20-6 with a 2.35 ERA and a no-hitter for the Nashua Dodgers, leading the New England League in wins and finishing second in ERA. He was also 4-0 with a 3.60 ERA for the St. Paul Saints. In 1949, Bankhead went 20-6 with a 3.76 ERA for the Montreal Royals. He was second in the International League in wins, two behind Al Widmar, and led in starts (34) and strikeouts (176). He also hit .323/~.353/.449 and took turns in the outfield, at first base and as a pinch-hitter. His 170 walks led the IL, though. In the 1949-1950 Puerto Rican League, Bankhead struck out 131 for Caguas. He blanked the defending champion Almendares Blues in the first game of the 1950 Caribbean Series, outdueling Connie Marrero 1-0. Bankhead led the Series with 16 strikeouts in 16 innings, but lost his other two decisions.
Bankhead spent his only full season in the majors with the Dodgers in 1950. He batted .231/.268/.256 and went 9-4 with 3 saves, but with a 5.50 ERA and 88 walks in 129 1/3 innings. He was 0-1 with a 15.43 ERA and 2.93 WHIP in 7 games for the Dodgers in 1951 and was sent to the minors, not to return. He had crafted a 9-5 record overall in the major leagues. For the 1951 Montreal squad, Dan hit .364/~.417/.500 but was just 2-6 with a 3.91 ERA on the mound in 10 games. He was 0-1 with a 6.92 ERA for Montreal in 1952 and was subsequently let go by Brooklyn. He had gone 46-19 in the US-based minor leagues and was now 78-33 in the regular season between the minors, majors and Negro Leagues. He would spend the rest of his career mostly as a hitter.
Dan split 1953 between the Drummondville Royals (.275/~.383/.413 in 47 games, mostly at first base) and the Monterrey Sultans (1-0, 3 H and 12 K in 10 innings, .281/~.405/.448). In 1954, Bankhead hit .273/~.351/.460 for Monterrey, with 7 homers in 198 at bats. On the mound, he was 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA and 31 walks in 34 innings. The next year, the 35-year-old batted .316/~.368/.488 with 9 homers, 54 runs scored, 46 RBI and 10 steals in 297 at bats. He was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in his brief pitching time. In 1956, Bankhead hit .288/~.330/.425 for the Veracruz Eagle and Mexico City Tigers and won his lone decision. In 1957, he played for the Rieleros de Aguascalientes, moving down to the Central Mexican League. Used as a utility infielder, he hit .361/~.433/.528 with 52 RBI in 252 at bats and would have been 8th in average had he qualified - he was about 26 plate appearances shy. On the mound, the veteran was 2-2 with a 6.30 ERA and 22 walks in 30 innings.
Bankhead does not appear to have played in 1958. In 1959, he returned to the Eagle and hit .244/~.320/.289 in 28 games. He then joined the Puebla Parrots and hit .378/~.440/.451 in his age-40 season. He went 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA on the mound, seeing more regular pitching action than he had in 8 years. In 1961, he was 8-2 with a 5.14 ERA for Puebla and hit .253/~.325/.320. 1962 saw him pitch 47 games, 42 out of the bullpen, with a 9-6, 4.06 record. He batted .310/~.355/.333. During 1963, age finally caught up with Dan. He was 2-5 with a 5.23 ERA and hit .231/~.333/.282. He went down to the Mexican Center League in 1964 with the Leon Broncos and went 4-1 with a 4.20 ERA while hitting .441 with 4 homers and 41 RBI. He did not play in 1965. In 1966, his age-46 season, Dan went 1-0 with a 4.74 ERA for the Reynosa Broncos. He was 6 for 14 at the plate and was the club's player-manager. Overall, Bankhead had gone 29-18 with a 4.67 ERA in the Mexican League and 6-3 in minor Mexican loops. At the plate, he had hit .293/~.359/.421 in the LMB.
Bankhead's overall record, discounting All-Star competition, postseason play and winter ball, was 113-54. He died of cancer one day prior to his 56th birthday in Houston.
Year-by-Year Managerial Record
|1952||Escogido Leones||Dominican League||NA~||NA||NA||Replaced Félix Delgado;|
fired after several games following brawl.
|1961-62||Acámbaro Trains||Bajío League||NA||NA||NA|
|1962-63||Martínez de la Torre||Veracruz League||6-4@||NA||NA||Fired for cryptic reasons.|
|1962-63||Caguas Criollos||Puerto Rican Winter League||NA$||NA||NA||Interim manager after Preston Gomez resigned /|
replaced by Jim Rivera
|1964||Leon Broncos||Mexican Center League||1st||Reynosa Broncos?||none League Champs||replaced Santos Amaro on April 11|
|1965||Leon Diablos Verdes||Mexican Center League||81-58||2nd||none|
|1966||Reynosa Broncos||Mexican League||8th||none||replaced Carlos Ramirez on June 2|
|1967||Aguascalientes Broncos||Mexican Center League||--||none||--||replaced by Nazario Moreno on June 6|
Sources: The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester, The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics by Marshall Wright, The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, 1954 and 1958 Baseball Guides, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo
- Bill Ladson: "Remembering Jackie's first black MLB teammate", mlb.com, June 3, 2020.