Move Over, Shoeless Joe: Willie Tasby Was Baltimore's Own Player Without Cleats

Matthew TaylorContributor IAugust 14, 2009

Baltimore once had its own shoeless baseball player, and his name was Willie Tasby.

On July 19, 1959, the center fielder found himself standing in puddles following a rain delay with two outs in the top half of the ninth inning of a home game against the Tigers.

Spooked by a thunderstorm that caused the delay, Tasby removed his spikes and placed them in the Memorial Stadium bullpen.

"He gambled he could catch up with anything hit his way in his stocking feet," The Milwaukee Sentinel reported.

Tasby's theory was never tested as Tiger pinch-hitter Lou Berberet did him the favor of fouling out to Brooks Robinson to end the game.

The Orioles defeated the Tigers 2-1 on their way to a 74-80 overall record.

"Man I was scared of that lightning," Tasby said after the game. "I was standing in pools of water and didn't want those spikes on my feet at a time like that."

Tasby's feat became the stuff of local legend, but the player's quirky actions on a single day shouldn't obscure a career filled with notable moments and a significance beyond the game.

More about Willie Tasby:

-Tasby helped preserve the first no-hitter in modern Orioles' historyโ€”Hoyt Wilhelm's effort versus the Yankees on Sept. 20, 1958โ€”when he snared a powerful first-inning drive to right-center off of Mickey Mantle's bat.

-Tasby was the first everyday Black player for the Boston Red Sox in 1960 after Pumpsie Green filled a utility role for the team the prior season.

He hit ahead of Ted Williams before the Splendid Splinter went deep off of Baltimore's Jack Fisher at Fenway in the final at-bat of his career.

John Updike wrote in The New Yorker that the only time he saw Williams grin that afternoon was when he played catch with Tasby before the game.

-Tasby helped integrate the minor leagues in the Deep South.

He reflected on the experience, including his stint with the San Antonio Missions in the 1950's, for an April 18, 1999, Charleston Gazette article about integration after Jackie Robinson.

"I think all the black guys who played in the minor leagues at the time were like Jackie Robinson. We didn't eat right. But when we played, we had to have endurance, stamina. There weren't any places for us to eat at certain times at night," Tasby said.

"I guess God took care of us. I guess he kept us from doing things that probably could have gotten us killed or hurt. A guy could come over from Italy and play, from Mexico and play. I was born here, and I couldn't play. What the hell was going on?"

-Tasby was tied for second among the 1961 Washington Senators for home runs with 17, one of whichโ€”a June 18, 1961 grand slamโ€”put the Senators in the record book alongside the Red Sox among a handful of teams to each hit grand slams in the same inning.

The grand slams came as part of a wild ninth inning at Fenway when the Senators scored five runs only to be topped by Boston's eight runs in the bottom of the frame. The Red Sox won 13-12.

-He inspired Washington, D.C., baseball fans who, then without a team of their own, wore "Willie Tasby Fan Club" T-shirts to Memorial Stadium when the Red Sox visited town.

Tasby played for the Senators, Orioles, and Red Sox as well as the Indians during his six-year career.