Nicknames: Sam, Sambo, The Jet
Positions: cf, lf, c
Teams: Indianapolis ABCs (1938), Cincinnati Buckeyes (1942), Cleveland Buckeyes (1943-1948), minor leagues (1948-1949, 1953-1958), major leagues (1950-1952, 1954)
Height: 6' 1'' Weight: 178
Born: January 20, 1918, East St. Louis, Illinois
Died: June 18, 2001, Erie, Pennsylvania
He was nicknamed "The Jet" because of his acceleration and speed, which was described by one player by saying that Jethroe could "outrun the word of God." During his seven years in the Negro American League, prior to signing with the major leagues, the quick outfielder established himself as the premier base stealer in the league. One opponent noticed that the speedster had a habit of pulling his pants leg up when he was going to run, but was still not able to stop him from successfully pilfering a base. In 1944-1945 the switch-hitter led the league in both batting, with averages of .353 and .393, and stolen bases, with 18 and 21. In the latter year the Cleveland Buckeyes won the Negro American League pennant and swept the Homestead Grays 4-straight in the World Series, with Jethroe contributing a .333 batting average. In 1945 Jethroe, Jackie Robinson, and Marvin Williams had a tryout with the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, but despite their ability, they were not signed.
Jethroe was an all-around athlete. His father taught him to play baseball, and at Lincoln High School, he played football, basketball, and boxed. After high school he began playing semipro ball with the East St. Louis Colts and the St. Louis Giants. Jethroe began his career as a catcher, appearing briefly with the Indianapolis ABCs in 1938, but it was not until he joined the Cincinnati Buckeyes as an outfielder in 1942 that his baseball talents began to shine, and he made his first All Star appearance that season. Offensively his only shortcoming was a tendency toward too many strikeouts. Defensively he had great range in the outfield but had difficulty on ground balls and had only an average arm. After signing with the Buckeyes, owner Ernie Wright gave him a job tending bar at the Pope Hotel, and he also worked for General Electric in the off-season.
Incomplete statistics show batting averages of .487 and .286 in 1942-1943, and he was runner up for the Negro American League MVP the latter season. In an exhibition game that year he hit a grand slam off Dizzy Dean, and three years later Jethroe faced Bob Feller when he played on Satchel Paige's All-Stars, who toured with Feller's All-Stars in postseason exhibitions.
Paige's All-Star team was not the first he had played with, as he was a member of the American All-Star team that went to Caracas, Venezuela, in the winter of 1945, with the fleet outfielder taking the honor as the top base stealer. The excursion to Venezuela was not his only season in Latin America, as he had played the previous winter (1944-1945) with San Juan in the Puerto Rican League, and he played three winters with Almendares in Cuba. His best season on the island was 1947-1948, when he posted a .308 average, and he followed with a .273 average the next winter. After an absence of seven years he finished his Cuban career with a .276 average in 1954 55, giving him a .274 lifetime average in the Cuban League.
With Jackie Robinson playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Jethroe was being sought by the major leagues. In 1946 he had batted .310 and played in both All Star games played that season. In 1947 he was again selected to play in the East-West All Star game, bringing his total All Star appearances to five. At the All Star break he was hitting .321 and leading the league with 21 stolen bases. He finished with 90 runs, 52 stolen bases, 35 doubles, 10 triples, 7 home runs, a .353 batting average, and a .601 slugging percentage. The next season, his last year in the Negro Leagues, the outfield flash again led the league in stolen bases with 29 while batting .296, to close his Negro League career with a lifetime average of .347.
His last year in the Negro Leagues was also his first in organized baseball, and he took a pay cut to play in organized baseball, from $700 to $400 a month. After being signed by the Dodgers, he was assigned to the Montreal Royals, where he hit .322 for the remainder of the season. In the spring he was timed in the sprints, and his time was close to a world record. Later, in a running exhibition, he defeated Olympic champion Barney Ewell, and in 1949, his first full season at Montreal, he hit .326 and led the league in stolen bases with 89.
The Boston Braves' organization acquired his contract, and he joined the team in 1950. As a major league rookie with them he hit .273 and led the league in stolen bases with 35, to earn Rookie of the Year honors. He followed this with a near duplicate season, hitting .280 and again leading the league in stolen bases with 35.
After an off-season with the Braves, he was assigned to Toledo in the International League in 1953, and hit .309 to get another chance in the majors, and he closed out his abbreviated major-league career in 1954 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After being sent down to the minors by the Pirates, he spent five seasons (1954-1958) with Toronto in the International League where he hit .305, .262, 287. .277, and .234 to end his professional baseball career. He returned to Erie, Pennsylvania, opened a tavern, and played semi-pro ball.
Baseball Career Highlights:
As a 20 year old, Sam Jethroe joined the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1942. This extraordinary hitter played in the East-West All Star Classic four times in his six years as a Cleveland Buckeye. In 1945, he led the league with an amazing .393 average. Jethroe tallied 90 runs, 52 stolen bases, 35 doubles, 10 triples, 7 home runs, a .353 batting average and a .601 slugging percentage in 1947. His lifetime Negro Leagues' batting average was .345.
Signing with the Boston Braves organization's International League affiliate in 1949, Jethroe stole an incredible 89 bases and was quickly promoted to the major league squad. Jethroe was nicknamed "Jet" for good reason. During his rookie season with the Braves in 1950, he hit .273 (including 18 home runs), scored 100 runs and stole 35 bases. That stellar performance earned Jethroe the National League "Rookie Of The Year" honors.
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• Led Negro American League in Hits - 1944-1945
• Led Negro American League in Stolen Bases - 1944-1945
• Negro American League Pennant Champion - 1945
• Negro Leagues World Series Championship - 1945
• Selected to East West All Star Classic - 1942, 1944, 1946, 1947
• National League "Rookie of the Year" - 1950
• Led National League in Stolen Bases - 1950-1951
NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.
James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Samuel "The Jet"