R C Stevens
By Alan Cohen
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. – Martin Luther King – 1963
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, broke into Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
On April 17, 1954, Curt Roberts became the first black player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At that time, six of the sixteen Major League teams had yet to integrate.
On May 17, 1954, The Supreme Court ruled, in Brown vs. The Board of Education, that separate was inherently unequal.
As late as 1956, the Louisiana State Legislature sought to outlaw athletic contests between whites and blacks.
In 1958, during Spring Training, players in Florida were housed, bussed, and fed separately.
Through 1959, 120 Black players had made their way to the Major Leagues.
Yet, by 1963, when Dr. King delivered his most famous words, little had changed. During this period, although more than 100 players of color had made it to the Major Leagues, often their stays were far too brief. They experienced severe prejudice.
There were the stars. Even the most casual of fans knows of the exploits and records of Mays and Aaron, Cepeda and McCovey, Gibson and Banks, Campanella and Clemente, and Jackie and Frank Robinson. But so many others were impeded. For some, such as Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, their time had almost passed as they spent their primes in the Negro Leagues. Countless others were allowed to show flashes of brilliance, but “it was not their time.” And R. C. Stevens was one of these players.
R. C. “Seaboat” Stevens was born on July 22, 1934 in Moultrie, Georgia. His parents were I. H. Crapps Jr. and Minnie Stephens Griffin. He attended the Moultrie High School for Negro Youth, and after graduating High School, he worked in construction. In a time when there were not many Black players in organized baseball, Stevens was among the first signed by the Pittsburgh organization. Pittsburgh did not integrate at the Major-League level until 1954.
By 1952, Branch Rickey had left the Brooklyn Dodgers to take over as GM of the Pirates and was on the lookout for talented young Black ballplayers. Rickey had sent letters to baseball coaches at black high schools throughout the South. One such letter arrived at Moultrie. Upon receipt of the letter from Rickey, Stevens’ High School Coach, A. F. “Papa” Shaw had recommended the 6 foot–5 inch first baseman to the Pirates. After a tryout in DeLand, FL, Stevens was signed by Pirates Scout George Platt.
Stevens had a long minor-league career, making six stops before making his big league debut with the Pirates in 1958.
Mr. Rickey, in his days with the Dodgers and subsequently with the Pirates, would send his black players to minor league locales where he hoped the prejudice would not be severe. Jackie Robinson played for Montreal and Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella began their careers in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Stevens’ first stop was the Batavia (NY) Clippers of the Class D Pennsylvania-Ontario New York (PONY) League, where he played for George Genovese. He had several key hits.
On June 1, he drove two runs with a pair of singles in a 6-4 win at Corning. On June 3, his first inning home run put Batavia on the path to a 10-4 home win over Corning. On June 12 his two run triple provided the impetus for a 4-2 win over Corning. But Batavia was in fifth place in the eight team league. On Sunday, July 13, his home run keyed a 9-5 win over the Hamilton Cardinals.
He got into 102 games and batted .246, earning himself a promotion to Class C and the St. Jean Canadians of the Provincial League. He was once again managed by Genovese.
In 1953, He batted .313 with St. Jean, but the team finished in sixth place.
The next stop on Pirates minor-league ladder would be less hospitable.
In 1954, Stevens was off to Class B and the Burlington-Graham Pirates in the Carolina League. As the only black on the team, he encountered more than his share of prejudice. It was still the early fifties. In his first game, and opposing fan brought in a black cat and hurled racial epithets at Stevens. He was denied accommodations with his white teammates and stayed in either black hotels or with families in the area. Despite this, he had a great year on the field, batting .293 with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, and 115 RBI.
His season was highlighted by his performance on July 28, when he had a grand slam and a two run homer in a 9-1 win over Reidsville. In August, in what was to become a habit when he reached the majors, he broke up an extra inning affair by singling in the winning run in the fifteenth inning against High Point-Thomasville.
He tied for the team lead with 149 hits, and the team finished the regular season in second place. In the first round of the playoffs, the Pirates came from two games down and swept the final three games to defeat Greensboro. In the next round, they lost four of five to Fayetteville. Stevens had three home runs in the ten playoff games.
He was initially scheduled to play in New Orleans in 1955, but shortly before the end of Spring Training he was sent to the Pirates affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, the Hollywood Stars.
In those days, the Pacific Coast League did not have a designation (i. e. Triple A, etc.). It was “Open” and many of the teams were not affiliated with Major League teams. The Westernmost Major League city was Kansas City, and for most West Coast residents, the PCL was a close to the Major League experience as they would get. Many PCL players were career minor leaguers or former major leaguers past their prime. There were relatively few major league prospects on the team that R. C. Stevens joined in 1955. R. C., at age 20, was one of the younger players. Other prospects included outfielder Bobby Del Greco and an 18-year-old shortstop turned second baseman named Mazeroski.
R. C.’s first batting practice proved interesting. He stepped into the batter’s box and the catcher, Bill Hall, was quick to strike up a conversation with the big first baseman. Hall asked Stevens where he was from, and Stevens replied that he was from Moultrie, GA. Hall couldn’t help but laugh, as he was also from Moultrie. Eventually, Hall and Stevens were teammates on the 1958 Pirates. Hall and Stevens were two of five Moultrie natives to make it to the Majors.
Stevens spent 1955 and 1956 with Hollywood, and in 1957 split his time between Hollywood and Columbus in the International League.
His 1955 campaign started poorly. Although he got two hits in the team’s opener, a 4-3 loss to Sacramento, he went hitless in the next four games. His first home run of the season came in his team’s twentieth game, a 6-4 win over San Francisco at Seals Stadium on April 24.
He put together an eight game hitting streak in May, going 13-for-30 with 3 doubles, 1 home run, and 5 RBI. He raised his batting average to .301, but his strikeouts were a problem. He struck out 42 times in his first 38 games.
On June 5, 1955, Stevens had two home runs and three RBI in a 5-1win at Portland in the first game of a doubleheader. This capped a 10 game hitting streak for Stevens, during which he went 13-for-31 with 3 doubles, four home runs, and 9 RBI. During that stretch, the team won seven times.
The team was surging into contention. They were in the basement on May 24, 13 and 1/2 games out of first place. They proceeded to win 18 of their next 23 games and climb to third place.
Unfortunately, both R. C. and the team were unable to keep it going as the team lost six of seven to the Portland Beavers at Hollywood’s Gilmore Field, and Stevens saw his average drop to .272. Manager Bobby Bragan lost some confidence in Stevens, removing him for a pinch-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning in a game at Oakland on June 23. At the time of the change, there was a 0-2 count. The pinch hitter, Curt Roberts, eventually struck out, and the strike out went against Stevens’ record.
But, now and again, there was the highlight. Stevens was part of a triple play in a 6-2 win over Sacramento on July 1. Centerfielder Bobby Del Greco made a tumbling catch, threw to Curt Roberts at second who threw on to R. C. at first, completing the triple play.
He injured his knee on July 3 and was used sparingly for the balance of the season. He got into only 18 games during July and August, mostly as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement. But the team went well, moving into first place on September 1. Down the stretch, however, they lost 9 of 13 games to slip into a third place tie with the Los Angeles Angels. Stevens’ average dropped to .241 for the season.
Hollywood and Los Angeles contested a five game playoff for thing place, and the Stars won 3-2. In the second game of that series, Stevens was in the middle of a come from behind rally, driving in one run and scoring another in the ninth inning as the Stars scored three times to win 7-5.
Winter ball was the norm in the 1950’s and Stevens was off to the Mexican PCL where he and other Pirate minor leaguers played for Mazatlan.
Prior to the 1956 season, Hollywood acquired Paul Pettit, a $100,000 bonus baby who never bloomed. . Pettit was a converted pitcher who swung with power from the left side of the plate. He started the season at first base, and Stevens was used sparingly for the first seven games of the season.
Once he got into the lineup, he produced. Two home runs came in a 3-for-3 performance on April 21, when he drove in four runs in an 8-6 win over Vancouver. His fourth home run of the season on April 25 was the difference in a 4-3 win over Vancouver, and he was leading the Stars with 5 home runs and 14 RBI when he was hit by a Jerry Casale fastball in a 5-0 loss to San Francisco on May 2. He suffered a broken hand which caused him to miss a month of play, but upon his return, he picked up where he left off.
By the time he returned on June 3, the Stars had dropped to seventh in the standings as Stevens was one of several players who missed time due to injury. On June 4, the Stars began to win, putting together a twelve game winning streak, the longest in team history. They wound up winning 15 out of 16 and climbing to third place. R. C. capped that 15th win on June 19. After striking out twice early in the game, he came through with a ninth inning bases loaded game-winning single off Vancouver’s Charlie Locke.
In July, R. C. went on a tear, hitting seven home runs in his first twelve games, as the Stars solidified their hold on third place. For the month, he had nine home runs and twenty-five RBI.
By August, it was apparent that nobody was about the catch Los Angeles for the Pennant. The Angels won the title by 16 games. Hollywood’s hold on third place took a jolt when they lost twelve of fourteen games in late August and early September. They scored two runs or less in ten of those losses. Stevens slumped along with his teammates, going 9-for-51 during that stretch.
The battle for third place was settled in a season-ending five game series with the Portland Beavers at Portland. The teams entered the series tied for third place and split the first four games. After falling behind, Hollywood tied the game with two runs in the top of the sixth, but Portland pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh to win the game and capture third place. In the final series, R. C. went 7-for-19 with four home runs and six RBI.
Stevens wound up the season with a .262 batting average. He finished third in the league with 27 home runs and had a team leading 72 RBI. He was able to cut his strikeouts down from 102 (in 316 at-bats) to 92 (in 427 at- bats). In 1956, Mazeroski, batted .306 before being called up by the Pirates, and another future major leaguer of note batted .359. That player, Luis Arroyo, went 14-for-39 as a pitcher, and would gain fame in the majors with the New York Yankees.
That off-season, he played winter ball for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican League. He was among the league leaders in batting, with a .291 average.
He trained with the Pirates in Fort Myers in 1957, but began the 1957 season with Hollywood.
After an early season slump, his bat came alive, and he had several key hits as the Stars gained first place. Over a twenty-four game span from April 23 through May 17, he had 6 home runs and 20 RBI, as the team went 18-6. By that time the talk was focused on the possible move of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles the following season.
Nevertheless, the season went on and the race for the pennant became a three team affair with Vancouver and San Francisco battling it out with the Stars. Stevens’ playing time diminished some. Although he led the team in home runs and RBI, his batting average was mired in the low .200’s. Manager Clyde King suggested he choke up on the bat and Stevens emerged from his slump going 11-for-28 as the Stars took five of seven games at Vancouver in mid-June. During the series, Stevens had two home runs and three RBI, and increased his average for the season to .254. It was all downhill from there. Stevens went into a prolonged slump, going 1-for-27 against Portland, and sprained his back at the end of June. He was forced to the bench at the beginning of July, missing a series with San Diego.
His average had slipped to .221, and he was reassigned to the Columbus Jets of the International League on July 9. Suffering from the effects of the back injury, he did not see any action with Columbus until July 19, and in his first weeks with his new team, he and the squad faired poorly. He contributed a key two run double in a 4-3 win over Buffalo on July 25, but the team at one point lost fourteen of seventeen games.
In August, things changed. The team briefly escaped the cellar by winning eight straight games between August 11 and August 17, and R. C. Stevens, between August 5 and August 31, batted .327 with six home runs and 22 RBI. His August was capped on August 29 when he doubled and homered off the legendary Satchel Paige as the Jets the Miami Marlins 3-0 in the first game of a doubleheader.
By the time the season wrapped up on September 8, Stevens had raised his International League batting average to .294 by batting .341 in his last 39 games. With Columbus, he had 8 home runs and 37 RBI. Columbus snuck ahead of Montreal for seventh place by winning the last two games against Richmond.
Spring training in Fort Myers in 1958 afforded Stevens ample opportunity to show his stuff when the team’s other first base candidates Ted Kluszewski and Dick Stuart were sidelined. Big Klu was having back problems, due to a slipped disc, and Stuart came down with the flu. In the span of a few days, Stevens clobbered a triple and two home runs while keeping down his strikeouts. He would go north with the Bucs.
Eleven years to the day after Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers, Stevens finally arrived with the Bucs in 1958 and got off to an unbelievable start. He entered the April 15 opener against Milwaukee as a defensive replacement for Ted Kluszewski in the bottom of the ninth and proceeded to go 2-for-2 at the plate, as the game went into extra innings. His first hit was off Gene Conley in the 12th inning, but the score remained tied at 3-3. His second hit, in the fourteenth inning off Conley, drove in Dick Groat with the winning run. Four days later, he hit a pinch-hit two-run homer off Harvey Haddix of the Reds in a 9-6 loss. The next day he knocked a ninth inning walk-off homer against Willard Schmidt of the Reds, as the Bucs won 4-3. After three games, he was 4-for-4 with two home runs, and he had driven in the decisive run in each of the Bucs’ first two wins.
His third home run of the season came in a 3-1win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles on May 3.
His opportunities were rare, but he had a knack for getting the game winning hit. After striking out in his first three at-bats, he broke up a scoreless game, singling in Dick Groat in the top of the eleventh inning to give the Bucs a 1-0 win over Philadelphia on May 11.
But his role in 1958 was as a replacement. He had only 19 starts in the early part of the season, playing behind Ted Kluszewski. Big Klu continued to be beset by back problems. He clearly was not the answer, and, on July 10, the Bucs elected to bring up Dick Stuart from the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League and send down Stevens who, despite his few clutch hits, was striking out far too much. He had 25 K’s in 85 at-bats. Salt Lake City was the new home of the transplanted Hollywood Stars.
Before he was sent down, Stevens had one special moment with the Pirates. On May 5, the Pirates were playing the Giants in San Francisco, and R. C. got the start at first base, batting cleanup. He was hitless in his first three at bats. He came up in the seventh inning with Dick Groat and Bob Skinner on base. He sent a fly ball beyond the reach of Willie Mays for a three run home run that put the Bucs ahead 8-1. It was Stevens’ fourth home run of the year, and he gained the distinction of having hit home runs in the same ballpark (Seals Stadium) as both a major leaguer and a minor leaguer. Pittsburgh held on to win by an 11-10 score and moved into first place tie with Chicago.
On Memorial Day, he drove in a pair of runs with a triple as the Bucs won 12-6 to gain a doubleheader split against the Braves and, for the moment, occupy third place, four games out of first.
His seventh, and last, home run, again off the Giants came in a 5-4 win on June 10, giving Bob Friend his ninth win of the season. But the Bucs had fallen back into the second division.
At Salt Lake City, he roomed with Joe Christopher. Joe Christopher is one of the more insightful players to come into baseball and feels that the Pirates had done a grave injustice in sending Stevens back to the minor leagues. Christopher and Stevens remained close friends after their careers were over, and Christopher made it standard practice to call R. C. on his birthday.
Stevens returned to Pittsburgh late in the season, but saw very limited action.
However, he did become part of history. On September 22, in the first game of a doubleheader, he struck out in the thirteenth inning. His was the nineteenth strikeout by the Phillies pitching staff, as they went on to strikeout a record 21 Pirates. In the second game of the doubleheader, the Phillies’ Jack Sanford stuck out 10 Bucs, bringing the doubleheader total to a record 31.
For Pittsburgh in 1958, he batted .267 with 7 home runs and 18 RBIs in 90 at-bats. Interestingly, his .556 slugging percentage was tops on the team, but the Bucs, who finished second in the standings with an 84-70 record, made the decision that Stuart was to be their first baseman. Stevens would never again see meaningful playing time in Pittsburgh.
Of course, the one question on everyone’s mind was, “What does R. C. stand for?” It seems that R. C. was given the initials, rather than a name, at birth. His Pirate teammates decided that R. C. stood for “Real Cool”, and that was his nickname during his limited time with the Bucs.
In 1959, Stevens was sent to Salt Lake City and batted .287 with a team-leading 19 home runs and 75 RBIs. On Labor Day, his ninth inning home run gave the Bees a 6-5 come-from-behind 6-5 win over San Diego and extended the Bees league lead to 2½ games. The Bees won the PCL Championship. He had two stints with the Pirates, getting into only 3 games and going 2-for-7.
In 1960, he again spent most of the season in the minor leagues with Salt Lake City, batting .276 with personal bests of a league leading 37 home runs and 109 RBIs. Among those home runs was a blast against young Juan Marichal of Tacoma on May 24. The Pirates called him up on September 10. He got into only nine games, mostly as a defensive replacement. He only had three at-bats and went hitless. However, in the team’s last regular season game, a 9-5 win over Milwaukee on October 2, he entered the game as a pinch runner for Stuart and scored the last run of the season when he was singled in by Dick Schofield.
During his time with the Pirates, Stevens became friends with infielder Gene Baker, and their friendship extended beyond their playing days as Stevens and his wife Carrie relocated to Baker’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa, becoming Baker’s next door neighbor for close to forty years. Baker passed away in 1999. R. C. and Carrie did not have any children.
Another lasting friendship from his years in baseball was with pitcher Dean Stone. They played a season of winter ball in Venezuela in 1959-60 for the Elders of Vargas in the Valencia Industrial League. Stone lived in Silvis, IL, not far from Davenport, and after their baseball careers ended, they were frequent companions on the golf course.
After the 1960 season, he was dealt to the expansion Washington Senators, along with two other players for Bobby Shantz. The Senators had selected Shantz from the Yankees in the expansion draft. Shantz was familiar to Pirate fans from his five inning relief stint in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series. Stevens’ role, once again would be as a backup with Dale Long starting most of the games at first base for Washington.
In 1961 with Washington, he became the team’s first pinch-hitter, grounding out. His numbers with Washington were unimpressive, and he was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He had only 8 hits in 62 at-bats with Washington. His last major league game was on June 10, 1961.
His Major League statistics were not particularly remarkable. But he was part of the show and took away memories to last a lifetime. He appeared in 104 games and batted .210 with 8 home runs and 19 RBIs. His fielding numbers were impressive. He made only two errors in 426 chances at first base.
He played with Toronto for parts of three seasons.
With Toronto, on July 26, 1961, he homered in a 9-8 win over Columbus.
He served in the U. S. Army reserves during his last years in baseball and he was discharged on November 13, 1964.
Towards the end of the 1963 season he played at home for the Quad Cities Angels, getting into 57 games and batting .245.
His minor league numbers were solid and gave a glimpse of what he may have achieved, given the opportunity. Over 12 minor league seasons, he batted .269 with 191 home runs and 459 RBIs.
Once his playing days were over, he moved to Davenport. He worked for Ametek in East Moline before going to work for International Harvester, where he rose to the rank of department manager. He lost his job at International Harvester in 1985 when the company sold off its agricultural division. After leaving International Harvester, he became a Davenport city bus driver for 12 years. Carrie Stevens passed away in 1995.
He was among the first inductees into the Colquitt County (GA) Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
He died on November 30, 2011 at the age of 76, in his adopted hometown of Davenport, Iowa.
Dean Stone, Bob Oldis, Everlene Register, and Joe Christopher were interviewed for this biography.
Richard E. Beverage. The Hollywood Stars: Baseball in Movieland – 1926-1957, Placentia, CA, Deacon Press, 1984.
Articles used in this biography include:
Ned Cronin. The Los Angeles Times, Cronin’s Corner, September 6, 1956, Page A3
Don Doxsie. Quad-City Times, Ex-major leaguer, Q-C resident Stevens dies, December 3, 2010
John Naughton. Des Moines Register, Des Moines Sunday Register’s Sports Hall of Fame: Gene Baker, July 18, 2009
Eric Page. Quad-City Times, Davenport’s Stevens made big splash in majors 50 years ago this week, April 12, 2008
Wayne Grandy. The Moultrie (GA) Observer, December 3, 2010
Edward “Abie” Robinson. Abie’s Corner, The California Eagle, April 10, 1958
Young R. C. Stevens Shows Some Strong Power at Plate. Tonawanda News, April 4, 1958, Page 7
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