"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
If you could clone him and bring him back, you'd have the greatest power hitter in baseball today, if not ever. He was immense (6' 4 1/2") with shoulders that crossed three lanes of traffic. -- Bill James on Luke Easter
Luscious Luke Easter -- that was his real name -- was the first great man that I ever knew.
Along with Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin and Satchel Paige, Luke was one of the pioneers who broke the color barrier in baseball. Nobody knows how old he was...In any event, he was pushing 40 when he rookied in at first base with the Cleveland Indians in 1949.
He was the first man ever to put one over the centerfield bleachers at the Polo Grounds in New York City and his 477-foot blast into the upper deck of Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium was a mark never equaled.
A fan said to him once, "I saw the longest ball you ever hit." Easter told the guy that, if he'd seen it come down, it wasn't the longest one.
At TRW, Luke Easter occupied one of those little plexiglass offices that sits out in the middle of the factory floor. He was the union steward, and earning far more than he had as the Indians starting first baseman a quarter of a century earlier. Standing six feet four inches tall and weighing around 250 pounds, he wore thick glasses and was chomping on a big cigar. We shook hands and he sat down behind an old steel desk.
It was 1977, and the Indians would finish fifth in the division, 28 games out of first place. I asked if it bothered him that banjo-hitting centerfielders and offensively challenged shortstops were making a million dollars a season.
"Any man that works," he told me, "should make as much money as he can make. And I don't begrudge them that at all."
He took a long draw on his cigar.
"What I do take exception to is the way they take themselves out of the game these days," he continued. "They have a hangnail or they stayed out too late last night and they can't play. It's guys like that we referred to as petunias."
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[With the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in 1956] Luke Easter became the first black man to play professional baseball in Buffalo in the 20th century.
[He] hit one over the centerfield scoreboard at the old Offerman Stadium. Nobody thought it was possible, so Easter went out and did it again.
"Luuuuuuuke," the crowds would chant. People who didn't know thought he was being booed.
His popularity in Buffalo was such that he opened the Luke Easter Sausage Company, producing two varieties of the fabled links. Hot and extra hot.
When he retired, he went back to Cleveland and took the job at TRW. The most he ever made playing baseball was $12,000 a year, he told me.
* * *
At TRW, Luke was known as an all-around good guy. On payday, he'd gather up everyone's check and take them down to the Cleveland Trust branch on Euclid Avenue to cash. On the afternoon of March 29, 1979, just before Opening Day, a couple of punks approached him as he exited the bank and demanded the money. He wouldn't give it to them, and they shot him to pieces with a 12-gauge shotgun and a .38 Special revolver. A little while later, the city dedicated a Luke Easter Park on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
A crummy end for a great man, but then, is there a good end?