60 years ago in April 1954, first baseman Tom Alston became the first African-American player to wear the Birds on the Bat. Six weeks after Alston’s debut, the Cardinals called up a 30-year old righthander from Triple-A Columbus. On May 31st, 1954, Bill Greason became the first black pitcher in Cardinals franchise history. Bill’s pitching career in St. Louis was brief – he appeared in only three total games before being sent back to Columbus. He spent another six years in the Cardinals minor league system and upon retirement from baseball, he began another storied phase of his life as a pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham.
The Reverend Bill Greason has worn many hats and seen a lot of history in his long and storied life. A native of Atlanta, GA, Reverend Greason grew up as a child in the same neighborhood as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reverend Greason was a Montford Point Marine, part of the storied detachment that landed on Iwo Jima in World War II. He was among the Marines honored in Washington in 2012 with our nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal.
He played for five years in the Negro Leagues, and was a teammate of Willie Mays on the Negro American League Champion Birmingham Black Barons of 1948. In 1952, he broke the Oklahoma professional sports color barrier when he took the mound for the AAA Oklahoma City Indians.
Reverend Greason’s career on the mound for the Cardinals may have been brief, but he has a very significant place in franchise history as a pioneer and trailblazer.
On September 21, 2014, the Cardinals honored Rev. Greason before the game and celebrated his special role in the history of our great franchise.