(UNDATED) – Chuck Harmon, the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds and a Washington, Indiana native, has died at age 94.
Harmon broke in with the Reds in 1954. He played with the team until 1956 when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. A first baseman/third baseman, Harmon hit .236 with seven home runs and 59 RBI in his time with the Reds.
Harmon was born in Washington, Indiana. He was a standout in basketball as well as baseball and led his high school basketball team to back-to-back state titles. He was part of the Hatchets 1941 and 1942 Indiana Basketball Championships. At the time of his death, he was believed to be the oldest living member of the IHSAA championship team.
The Washington Little League program is named in his honor and he was the Grand Marshall of the Washington Bicentennial Parade in 2016.
“The entire Reds family is saddened to lose one of its great ambassadors. The first African American to play for the Reds, Chuck Harmon was much more than a ballplayer,” said Reds Chief Executive Officer Bob Castellini. “He represents a pivot point in Reds history. Chuck’s positive attitude and disposition helped diffuse the adversity he faced and set the tone for those following in his footsteps. He was beloved by his teammates during his career and remained a treasure to this franchise and its fans throughout his life. He will be missed.”
Rick Walls, Executive Director of the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, said Harmon was a symbol of greatness and inspiration, and his life story will live on forever in the museum, being told countless times to generations of Reds fans.
He earned a scholarship to the University of Toledo, where he played basketball and baseball.
According to SABR Society biography, in 1943 Harmon scored six points in the Rockets’ 48-27 loss to St. John’s in the National Invitation Tournament Finals at Madison Square Garden.
Harmon served three years state-side in the Navy during World War II, then returned to Toledo.
He signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1947, the same year that the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, but he was stymied in the Browns organization despite hitting well in the minors.
Harmon was traded to the Reds in 1952 and made his first appearance in the big leagues as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning on April 17, 1954, at age 30. The Reds were the 11th team of the 16 major league teams at the time to fully integrate, seven years after Robinson had broken the game’s color barrier.
“Name ’em and I played with the best of them,” Harmon told the Washington Post in 2011. “Willie Mays was the best, no question about it. … But all the things Jackie Robinson did, and not only for baseball but for humanity and for everyone else – Jackie did it all.”
Harmon was married to Daurel “Pearl” Harmon for 62 years until her death in 2009. They had three children. After his playing career, Harmon worked as a baseball scout and then as an administrative assistant for the 1st District Court of Appeals.
Harmon was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1989, and the team erected a plaque outside Great American Ball Park in 2004. In Golf Manor, where Harmon lived, Chuck Harmon Way was named in his honor.