ANNAPOLIS – In 1953, before the St. Louis Browns crossed the mighty Mississippi River headed for Baltimore, their roster contained future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, a pitcher for the ages.
“Like Joe Louis, only one arm like this comes along in 50 years,” legendary sports writer Red Smith is quoted by the Baseball Almanac as having written.
In 1954, when the Browns landed in Baltimore and became the Orioles, that arm could have been attached to the franchise’s first black player. Instead, the Orioles let Paige walk, paving the way for Jehosie Heard.
“It’s an interesting story,” said Mid-Atlantic Sports Network contributor and Washington Examiner columnist Phil Wood. “Because the first African-American for the Orioles should have been Satchel Paige.”
Wood explained that Paige had been an All-Star with the Browns in 1953 and when the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954, Paige could have become the Orioles’ first black player.
Except, Wood said, some in the organization believed Paige to be, in Wood’s words, “too high profile.”
“Which is probably a way of saying, we don’t think he knows his place,” Wood said.
Paige was released before spring training started.
And so Jehosie “Jay” Heard became the first African-American player for the Baltimore Orioles.
Not much is known of Heard. His time with the Orioles was brief, appearing in just two games, completing just 3 1/3 innings.
“They signed Jehosie Heard who had played in the Negro leagues,” Wood said. “This was not a guy who had really been on anybody’s radar.”
A five-foot-seven-inch lefty, Heard had some success in the minor leagues with Portland in the Pacific Coast League.
“The Orioles bought his contract in 1954,” Wood said. “But they didn’t give him much of a look. He only got in two games.”
Heard was traded back to Portland at the end of the season and never made it back to the major leagues. He died in 1999 in Birmingham, Ala. according to an Orioles spokesperson.
In 1971 Paige was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.