Sam Jethroe was nicknamed the Jet because he could run so fast that one of his teammates declared that he could “outrun the word of God.” At Lincoln Senior High, he played football, basketball, baseball and even boxed. His favorite game though was baseball. After graduation, he played for the East Saint Louis Giants, then the East Saint Louis Colts, a semi-pro team from which many people were drafted into the Major Leagues.
As a Negro League player, he proved that he was unstoppable. One opponent noticed that Jethroe had a tell; when he was going to steal bases, he would pull up his pants leg. Even with this knowledge, the opponent could not stop him because he was just that fast. The baseball great even beat Olympic Gold Medalist sprinter, Barney Ewell, in a foot race. But to be a great baseball player you needed more than speed. In 1944 and 1945, the switch-hitter led the league in both batting, and stolen bases with batting averages at .353 and .393 and stolen bases with 18 and 21 respectively. While in the league, Jethroe led his team, The Cleveland Buckeyes, to the Negro American League pennant with a 4-0 sweep of the Homestead Grays.
Years before Jackie Robinson would become the first African American in the major leagues, Jethroe, Robinson, and Marvin Williams, all tried out for the Boston Red Sox, but neither were chosen for the team, despite their prowess as players.
In 1950, Jethroe was the first African-American signed to the Boston Braves, and only the sixth African American in the league. That year, he puts his jets on once again and led the league in stolen bases (35) and a batting average of .273. He claimed Rookie of the Year Honors, and to this day, still remains the record holder for the oldest Rookie of the Year in the League.
Sam “The Jet” Jethroe, your Legendary Local. See Legendary East Saint Louisans by Reginald Petty and Tiffany Lee at http://amzn.to/29Bs21o.