Homestead Grays 1947-48
Cleveland Indians 1949-54
The integration of Major League Baseball came
too late for many African-American ballplayers. Sadly, Josh Gibson had passed away, and "Cool Papa" Bell was well passed his
prime when Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Others, like Luke Easter, got a taste of the big
leagues late in their careers, leaving us to wonder what might have been.
Luke Easter was born on August 4, 1915 in
Jonestown, MS. Sometime after that he moved to St. Louis where he picked up the game of baseball on local sandlots.
He began his career with the semipro Cincinnati Crescents before moving up to the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues in
1947. With Hall of Famer Buck Leonard manning first base, the 6-4, 240 lb. Easter was forced to play right field despite
his limited defensive skills.
Easter was slated to replace the power in the lineup that had been previously supplied
by the late Josh Gibson. He did not disappoint. The slugger finished third in the league in home runs in 1947,
and led the circuit the following year while hitting .403. The following winter, Easter was tearing up the Puerto Rican
League when the Cleveland Indians purchased his contract from the Grays for $10,000.
The hulking first baseman began
the 1949 season with the San Diego Padres, Cleveland's Pacific Coast League affiliate. After smacking out 25 home runs
in 80 games, Cleveland promoted Easter to the big club. Although he hit just .222 without a home run in 21 games, Cleveland
thought enough of the 34-year-old (they believed he was just 28) to deal their incumbent first baseman (batting champ Mickey
Vernon) that winter and give the job to Easter.
"Luscious Luke" rewarded the organization's confidence in him, by
belting 28 home runs, driving in 107, and batting a solid .280. He followed up that strong showing with a 27 home run,
103 RBI campaign in 1951, and a 31 homer, 97 RBI season in 1952. Easter was off to another strong start in 1953, but
a broken foot ended his season after just 68 games. The left-handed slugger spent most of the 1954 season back in the
minors, appearing in just six games with Cleveland as a pinch hitter.
At the age of 39, Easter's days in the majors
were over, but he was nowhere near finished playing. He joined Charleston of the American Association in 1955, and smacked
30 home runs. From there he moved to Buffalo of the International League, where he spent the next four seasons hitting prodigious
home runs on his way to becoming a local legend. In 1960, Easter jumped to the Rochester Redwings, also of the International
League, where he added to his legend. Finally in 1964, at the age of 49, he retired.
In his major league career,
Easter hit 93 home runs and posted .274 average in 1725 at bats. He hit .336 in the Negro Leagues and .296 as a minor
leaguer. In all his stops, Easter hit a combined 385 home runs.
After hanging up his cleats, Easter moved to
Ohio and began working as chief union steward for the Aircraft Workers Alliance at TRW Inc. On March 29, 1979, Easter
entered a branch of the Cleveland Trust Company bank in Euclid, OH and cashed $5,000 worth of payroll checks for the company.
In the parking lot, he was confronted by two men who took the money and shot him twice in the chest. Luke Easter was
dead upon arrival to the hospital. He was 63.
Today, Easter's legend lives on. He is a member of both
the Buffalo Athletic Hall of Fame, and Rochester Redwings Hall of Fame, as well as one of the most popular players in Cleveland
-David Zingler, October 2003
Easter @ Baseball-Reference.com
Simply Baseball Notebook
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