Daniel Robert Bankhead (May 3, 1920 – May 2, 1976) was the first black pitcher in Major League Baseball. He played in Negro league baseball for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox from 1940 to 1947, then played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1951. During World War II, he served in the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1945.
After a strong career in Negro league baseball playing for the Birmingham Black Barons and Memphis Red Sox, Bankhead was signed at age 24 by Branch Rickey to play in the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm system. Bankhead, an excellent hitter who was leading the Negro League with a .385 batting average when purchased by the Dodgers, hit a home run in his first major league at bat on August 26, 1947, in Ebbets Field off Fritz Ostermueller of the Pittsburgh Pirates; he also gave up ten hits in 3-1/3 innings pitching in relief that day. He finished the season having pitched in four games for the Dodgers with an earned run average (ERA) of 7.20.
Bankhead was shipped to the minor leagues for the 1948 and 1949 seasons. Pitching for clubs in Nashua, New Hampshire and St. Paul, Minnesota in 1948, he recorded 24 wins and six losses. He returned to the Dodgers for the 1950 season, appearing in 41 games, with twelve starts, and finished with nine wins, four losses and a 5.50 ERA. In 1951, his final year in the majors, he appeared in seven games, losing his only decision, with an ERA of 15.43. After he played his final major league game, Bankhead spent time in the Mexican League, playing with various teams through 1966.
He died of cancer at a Veterans Administration hospital in Houston, Texas on May 2, 1976.
By Dean Hanley
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