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Wednesday, March 30, 2005 | The San Diego Padres play San Diego State University today. Prior to the game, thanks to Padres owner John Moores and Bill Swank, a local baseball historian, there will be a ceremony and unveiling of a bust of John Ritchey, the first black to play for both SDSU and the Padres. At the same time, Jackie Robinson was getting enormous, deserved attention in the big league cities of the east, Johnny quietly became the first black to play in the Pacific Coast League and the first professional black player to play in all the major cities from Seattle to San Diego. Later, he was the first to play in the Texas League in all the major cities of Texas and Oklahoma, where segregated bleachers still existed.
I played with him during those years and saw and heard the abuse heaped upon him. Johnny did not consider himself a crusader, but he was. He made it a lot easier for those who followed. John is a native San Diegan, a graduate of San Diego High School and a member of two national champion American Legion teams, San Diego’s first national championships. When his team traveled east, he was not permitted to play in some of the ball parks, simply because he was black. Johnny was not a crusader, but he was a hero to all black players (most of whom never heard of him), and he was a hero to San Diego. At the same time, Bill Starr, owner of the PCL Padres, is also a hero. Bill Starr stepped out of the pack, took a chance, signed John to a contract, changed baseball and accelerated social change in the western part of the United States.
Jim Gleason is a native San Diegan who played with John Ritchey at SDSU, and was with the Padres when John made his debut. He played on an opposing team when John was introduced to segregated bleachers in the Texas League. He and John were friends for over 50 years.
The San Diego Padres will unveil the bust of John Ritchey at 5:45 p.m., prior to the team’s exhibition game against San Diego State University, Wednesday at Petco Park.