An Oriole since '54 season, Durham remains in the nest First black to homer for club now works as a minor-league coach

Where are they now?

September 21, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

He came with the franchise from St. Louis in 1954. No player has spent more years in the Orioles' organization than Joe Durham.

He has done it all. Played. Coached. Scouted. He pitched batting practice for 20 years and worked in the front office for four.

In 1954, he became the first black Oriole to hit a home run. In 1987, he became the third black in the club's front office reorganization, as community coordinator for baseball operations, joining Frank Robinson and Calvin Hill.

If it were not for six months with the St. Louis Cardinals (1958-1959), a year (1963) with the New York Yankees' Triple-A Richmond club and three years (1965-1967) out of baseball, Durham's association with the Orioles would be unbroken.

The past six seasons, since giving up the community coordinator position, Durham has been a coach in the minor-league system, the past three seasons with the Single-A Frederick Keys.

An outfielder, Durham signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1952 and started with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro leagues because Browns owner Bill Veeck didn't have room in the organization for all the prospects.

He began 1954 at Double-A San Antonio, batted .318 and was called to Baltimore in September. In 10 games, he hit .225, with one homer, the first by a black Oriole.

"September 12 against the Philadelphia A's, a breaking ball by Al Sima," said Durham, 64, who lives with his wife of 37 years, Sallie, in Randallstown.

Durham, who is recovering from prostate surgery, recalls that the Orioles lost, 5-3, but that his home run and single accounted for all three RBIs.

After two years in the Army while still the Orioles' property, Durham returned in 1957 to the club, which was then managed by Paul Richards. Durham was not a Richards fan.

Noting Durham's uppercut and tendency to lunge, Richards tied a rope around him in the batting cage and pulled it as he swung to keep his shoulders level. To this day, it rankles Durham. He thinks Richards' reputation as a baseball genius was undeserved.

"That rope experiment didn't do any good," Durham said. "George Kell, who was with us that year. was the biggest lunger in the world, and he had won a batting title.

"Richards said, 'You can't lunge like that, son.' He changed me all around, even though I was over .300 at the time and leading the club in hitting during spring training."

The Orioles sent Durham to San Antonio anyway, then recalled him in June. He was hitting .391, swinging the way he always had.

Durham logged three years in the majors and concluded his career with Triple-A Rochester in 1964. He was through as a player, but not as an Oriole.

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