John Wright with the Montreal Royals in March 1946 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
By Cary Osborne
Though John Wright, the second black player ever signed to a baseball contract, never made the Major Leagues, his signing further represented the vision of Branch Rickey and the progressive thinking of the Dodgers. And it was another step in the integration of baseball.
A right-handed pitcher with the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, Wright signed with the Dodgers’ farm team, the Montreal Royals, almost three months to the day after Jackie Robinson on October 23, 1945.
The headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on January 29, 1946 (click image above right to enlarge) read: “Dodger Farm Signs 2d Negro Player.”
Wright, a native of New Orleans, played 10 seasons in the Negro Leagues. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted that Wright had faced big-league competition, including the Dodgers, while pitching for a Navy team prior to 1945.
Despite his experience and accomplishments, including a 2.55 ERA in 141 1/3 innings for Homestead in 1943 (according to Baseball Reference), Wright was seen by some as a player whose role was to keep Robinson company.
“John Wright, the pitcher who is to keep Jackie from growing homesick for his own race …” started a sentence in a March 2, 1946 Brooklyn Eagle article.
Wright was Robinson’s teammate in Montreal at the beginning of the 1946 season and faced the same discrimination as the legendary figure. Another article mentioned that some Montreal exhibition games had to be cancelled in April 1946 because some cities had regulations against “mixed athletic competition.”
Wright was in the Dodger organization just one year. In 1947, he was back in the Negro League pitching for the Grays.
Wright died in 1990, reportedly at the age of 73. Though he didn’t make the impact that his former teammate did, Wright has a place in baseball history.