Washington Nationals Legacy: Carlos Paula Broke DC’s Color Barrier
As we celebrate Black History month, we take a closer look at the first player of color with the Washington Nationals. Carlos Paula’s impact is deep in DC’s baseball history.
In the opener of a Labor Day doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, the Washington Nationals finally became integrated.
His name was Carlos Paula. A 26-year-old outfielder from Havana, Cuba, this six-foot-three man became the first person of color to play with the original Nationals/Senators.
Before that doubleheader at Griffith Stadium—now the site of the Howard University Medical Center—several Negro League teams called the place home. From the Washington Black Senators of the 1930s to the primary home of the Homestead Grays during the 40s, there was a strong Negro League presence in the nation’s capital.
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The most famous player to call Washington home was the Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson. It did not matter where he played, prodigious home runs followed and Griffith Stadium was no exception.
At a time, however, when baseball integrated, the Senators waited until the end of the 1954 season to do so. Remember, the Washington Redskins were forced by the National Football League to do so in 1962, after the original Senators moved to Minnesota.
Purchased from Paris out of the B-Level Big State League, Paula spent most of the 1954 season with Charlotte Hornets of the A-Ball South Atlantic League. While in Charlotte, he tore the cover off the ball.
As he hit .309 with the Hornets, Paula slashed 13 triples while slugging 14 home runs. The September call-up to Washington was earned.
Earning the start against the Athletics, Paula’s first at-bat came to start the second inning against rookie pitcher Arnie Portocarrero. Paula fanned, the lone strikeout that afternoon for Portocarrero.
In his second time up, Paula smashed a double to center field, scoring Mickey Vernon and Pete Runnels. That hit gave Washington a 6-0 lead and chased Portocarrero from the game. Paula would later get a single and finished the twinbill two-for-nine.
A bench player the rest of 1954, Paula won the right field job the next spring and played in 115 games. His seven triples were eighth in the American League. His 10 errors in right led the league. Although he hit .299 his first full season, his glove cost him.
A slow .183 start to 1956 saw Paula demoted to Triple-A Miami. Sent to Louisville, he wound up in the New York Giants organization for 1957. With the Triple-A Minneapolis Millers, the bat came back, but not the power.
Paula spent the next two years with Sacramento of the Pacific League and Havana of the International League before retiring from organized baseball.
Not much is known about him after his playing days except he died in Miami at 55 on April 25, 1983.
Although those original Senators left Washington nearly 60 years ago, Paula deserves to be more than a mere footnote in Minnesota Twins and Washington’s rich baseball history.
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He was a pioneer. One of 16 men to be the first to fully integrate baseball on a team level.