Major League Baseball opening day always presents the prospect of hope of what could be. But the game, historical in nature, also lends itself to examining the past and all who contributed to its richness.
Several HBCU players were among them, carving out Hall of Fame careers that paved the way for future Black college talent to ascend in the sport.
Here are the nine most notable HBCU baseball players who made an impact in the show.
Tommie Agee, Grambling State
Tommie Agee’s 12-year career in the majors may not have gotten off to the best start, but he still ended up having a solid one.
After enduring four years of start-and-stop callups with the Cleveland Guardians (then Indians), Agee finally got his chance to shine playing for the Chicago White Sox.
Agee was named to the All-Star Game twice, won the 1966 American League Rookie of the Year, and won the 1966 Gold Glove (he won another in 1969) in his three seasons with the White Sox.
In 1969, the Grambling alum won the World Series as a member of the New York Mets.
He had his best season in 1970, recording a .286 batting average, 182 hits, and scoring 107 runs (all career-highs). In addition, he also posted 24 home runs and 75 RBI.
Lou Brock, Southern
Beginning his career with the Chicago Cubs, Lou Brock was traded midseason to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964, a move that eventually jumpstarted a Hall of Fame career.
Brock’s impact was felt immediately after leading the Cardinals to the 1964 World Series championship, his first of two with the team.
He spent the remainder of his 15 seasons with the Cardinals staking his claim of being one of the most prolific base stealers the MLB has ever seen, leading the league in stolen bases eight times.
Elsewhere, Brock was selected to six All-Star games and ranks second all-time in Cardinals history in hits (2,713) and runs scored (1,427).
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985.
Ray Brown, Wilberforce
The first Negro League player to be featured on this list, Ray Brown is one of the most successful pitchers in the league’s history.
In his 14-year career, Brown finished with a 121-45 overall record as the starting pitcher, including a perfect 14-0 record in 1938.
It was in the 1938 season that the Wilberforce alum became the only HBCU player to ever win the Triple Crown. In addition to his perfect 14-0 record, he compiled a leading 1.88 ERA and 70 shutouts.
Playing the majority of his career with the Homestead Grays, he led the team to four World Series winning two championships while being named two All-Star teams.
Brown was a model of consistency for the Grays leading the Negro Leagues in complete games seven times, leading in innings pitched four times, and leading in ERA twice.
Cecil Cooper, Prairie View A&M
Cecil Cooper is one of the greatest batters to ever step on the baseball diamond for the Milwaukee Brewers.
He ranks third in franchise history in batting average (.302), third in RBIs (944), fourth in hits (1,815), and fourth in runs scored (821).
In addition, Cooper was selected as an All-Star five times and won three Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves. He led the majors in RBI and doubles twice, respectively.
Andre Dawson, Florida A&M
Andre Dawson is the longest-tenured player on this list, playing 21 seasons and compiling a laundry list of accomplishments along the way.
He was named the 1977 NL Rookie of the Year, was selected to eight All-Star teams, and won eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers.
Dawson had his most successful run as a member of the Chicago Cubs, being named an All-Star five times in his six seasons with the team.
This includes a 1987 season in which he was named NL MVP after leading MLB with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. Currently, an annual HBCU baseball showcase, the Andre Dawson Classic, is named in his honor.
Bill Foster, Alcorn State
Alcorn State’s Bill Foster was one of the first great pitchers in the beginning years of the Negro Leagues, playing the majority of his 14-year career with the Chicago American Giants.
Foster finished with a 110-56 overall record leading the league in ERA four times. He also led in shutout victories three times and led in complete games three times.
In addition, Foster was named an All-Star twice and won two World Series championships. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Monte Irvin, Lincoln (PA)
Monte Irvin’s pro career spanned 17 seasons, spending 10 seasons with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues and the remaining seven with the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs.
In the Negro Leagues, Irvin was named to four All-Star teams. He had his first breakout season in 1941, leading in batting average (.395), RBIs (48), and doubles (12).
After playing sparingly from 1942-1945 due to serving in World War II, Irvin returned to baseball in 1946, having yet another strong season.
He finished with a league-leading .369 batting average, and 54 RBI in a World Series run with the Giants.
Hilton Smith, Prairie View A&M
Hilton Smith played 13 seasons in the Negro Leagues, including 12 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs.
He finished his career with a 70-39 record, being selected as an All-Star six times consecutively from 1937-1942. It was in 1942 that he helped lead the Monarchs to a championship win over the Homestead Grays.
Rickie Weeks, Southern
Weeks had a storied college career, setting the SWAC record for career batting average (.465) and leading Southern to three consecutive SWAC championships.
In 2003, he also was named Baseball America College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the top amateur player. Weeks is the only ever HBCU baseball player to win those awards.
After being selected No. 2 overall in the 2003 MLB Draft (the highest-ever selection by an HBCU player), Weeks went on to have a 14-year in the MLB, including 11 years with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was named an All-Star in 2011 on a Brewers team that made it to the National League Championship Series.