Top 5 Black Players in Visalia History
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Visalia Rawhide.
Kirby Puckett was named California League Rookie of the Year in 1983, when he hit .309 with 172 hits, 97 RBI, and 48 stolen bases. He went on to win two World Championships with the Minnesota Twins. Puckett compiled a career batting average of .318 and was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. His home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series remains an indelible moment from one of the most exciting series in baseball history. He was inducted into the Rawhide Hall of Fame in 2011 as a part of the inaugural class. Kirby Puckett’s number 28 is the only retired number in Visalia franchise history, other than Jackie Robinson’ number 42.
Napoleon “Nap” Gulley
Napoleon Gulley, affectionately known as “Nap,” was one of the first African-American players in the California League. He holds Visalia’s Franchise Record for most career hits with 507. He ranks among franchise leaders in career home runs and batted .307 over four seasons. Gulley never had the chance to play in Major League Baseball, but was a supremely talented outfielder who played for Jackie Robinson’s barnstorming teams and was a Negro League and Mexican League Star..
David “Dave” Roberts played for the 1996 Visalia Oaks in the Detroit organization. In 126 games, Roberts scored 112 runs, slashed .272 and led the minors 65 stolen bases. He went on to play in the Majors, becoming a World Series Champion in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox. Roberts became manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. He led the Dodgers to the World Series in 2017, 2018, and 2020, winning it all in the latter year. In doing so, he became the first manager of Asian heritage and second Black manager to lead his team to a World Series title.
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Upton with the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft. He began a stint with the Visalia Oaks in 2007, where he stole 9 bases and had an .341 on-base percentage before getting promoted to the Double-A Mobile Baybears. Upton has gone on to become a four-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger.
Vada Edward Pinson, Jr.
Vada Pinson, Jr .dominated the California League in 1957. He batted .367 with 209 hits, 40 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, 165 runs scored, and 349 total bases while playing every game that season. He is highly regarded as a legend to all who saw him play at Recreation Ballpark. Pinson spent 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, primarily with the Cincinnati Reds, collecting over 2,700 career hits in the Majors. He remained close friends with Visalia’s Taylor Family (the founders and owners of the iconic Taylor's Hot Dogs) until his death in 1995.