Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tunnell was minor league "Jackie Robinson"

Regular readers of my blog may remember that on June 9 and 10 of last year I presented a pair of custom cards I had created of Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Emlen Tunnell from his days with the Green Bay Packers.

I can wait here if you want to scroll back to check those out.

Recently I found some details of Tunnell's short, undistinguished (at least on the field) minor league baseball career.

I believe I knew that Tunnell had played minor league ball, and have a vague recollection of having mentioned that in a series of columns I did 25-25 years ago in Sports Collectors Digest about football stars who had also played pro baseball.

What I didn't know is that Tunnell was the "Jackie Robinson" of the Central Association, a Class C minor league circuit. Some sources indicate that Tunnell was the first black to play on any Organized Baseball team in Iowa.

Tunnell had ended his college football career with the University of Iowa in 1947, leaving behind a year of eligibility to join the New York Giants of the NFL.

That spring he had played semi-pro baseball with the Amana Freezers in Amana, Iowa.

On June 15, 1949, Tunnell flow into Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Two hours later he was playing left field for the last-place Cedar Rapids Rockets.

Besides breaking the league's color line, Tunnell helped to break his team's 11-game losing streak. Tunnell went 2-for-5 in a 16-2 win over Kewanee; he struck out twice.

Tunnell played in just five games for Cedar Rapids. He managed just three more hits in a total of 18 plate appearances. Playing in left field and center field, he had one error. 

Because he appeared in fewer than 10 games, Tunnell's complete stats are buried in local box scores only; they do not appear in the annual Baseball Guide or in the online resource www.baseball-reference.com.

Disheartened by his performance and knowing he would have to leave the time on Aug. 1 to join the Giants in training camp, Tunnell ended his pro baseball career after five games over four days. 

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