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Jackie's legacy paved way for Alston in St. Louis

Jackie's legacy paved way for Alston in St. Louis

Jackie's legacy paved way for Alston in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS -- By the time Thomas Edison Alston took the field in an April 13, 1954, game between the Cardinals and Cubs at Busch Stadium, baseball's color barrier had already been broken. Elsewhere, that is.

Alston went hitless in four at-bats that day, and the Cardinals dropped the contest, 13-4, as Chicago's Paul Minner tossed the first of his 12 complete games that season. Such details, however, are now mere footnotes.

Two days shy of the seventh anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game with the Dodgers, Alston became the first black player to don a Cardinals uniform in the Majors. Though his Major League career included only 90 more games following that Opening Day debut, Alston has since warranted a unique place in franchise history.

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Alston's inclusion on the Cardinals' roster came at the urging of Gussie Busch, who, after taking ownership of the franchise in 1953, pushed for the organization to sign a black player. Alston was chosen to be the one to cross the racial divide in St. Louis, and the Cardinals acquired the North Carolina native just prior to his 28th birthday.

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With a payment of $100,000 and the inclusion of four players, the Cardinals lured Alston from San Diego's organization. In Derrick Goold's book "100 Things Cardinal Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die," he details Alston's news conference following that signing.

"I have been hoping that it would happen, hoping and waiting," Alston said that day. "And now it's a wonderful feeling to know the dream has come true."

Less than three months later, Alston was in the big leagues.

"He was an ideal person from every standpoint to start breaking the line," former Cardinals general manager Bing Devine previously told MLB.com. "He was a gentleman and very calm and low-key. Everything about him was kind of with ease."

Strictly with regards to results, Alston did not end up having a distinguished career. He hit .246 in 244 at-bats during his rookie season, while making 62 starts at first base for a Cardinals club that finished the year sixth in the National League.

Alston then played in just 25 big league games over the next three seasons. His final appearance came on Sept. 29, 1957, when, just as he had in his debut, he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

The less-than-extraordinary career numbers were a disappointment for a franchise that signed Alston after a year in which the left-handed hitter batted .297 with 25 doubles, 23 home runs and 101 RBIs in Triple-A. Alston later had success with St. Louis' Triple-A affiliates -- Rochester (N.Y.) in 1954 and Omaha in 1955-56 -- but never could parlay that into sustained production in the Majors.

Alston's life was also marred by maladies, possibly related to the pressures he faced as a pioneer in the sport. Multiple reports note that Alston was diagnosed with neurasthenia, a condition that involves symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, headache, neuralgia and depression.

When he retired from baseball, Alston returned to North Carolina to seek treatment for the condition. Not much is known about Alston's activities after baseball. He died from cancer in 1993.

Two years earlier, Joe Garagiola, whose nine-year career in the Majors ended after the '54 season, had urged a group that he spoke to at a St. Louis-area college not to forget the impact Alston had in St. Louis and with the Cardinals' storied franchise.

"I challenge one, two or three of you to remember what he achieved," Garagiola said, as documented by Goold. "Make the guy feel that you care."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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