Bob Thurman, a former Negro leagues baseball player who was 38 years old when he finally made it to the majors, is dead at the age 81.
Thurman died Saturday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
He spent five seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, where he was used mostly as a pinch-hitter and platoon player. He retired in 1959 after appearing in just four games that season.
When he was 40, Thurman hit 16 home runs in only 199 at bats, a pace of one homer every 12.4 times at bat.
Born and raised in Wichita, Thurman signed with the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues after leaving military service in 1946. He spent four years in the league with the Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs, playing alongside such future Hall of Famers as Satchel Paige, "Cool Papa" Bell, Buck Leonard, Buck O'Neil and Josh Gibson.
After Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, other black stars started to follow him to the big leagues. In 1949, Thurman signed a contract with the New York Yankees, but never played for them.
"It was just a publicity stunt," his wife, Dorothy, said.
The Yankees later sold his contract to the Chicago Cubs, who kept him in the minor leagues. In 1953, he left their farm club in Charleston, W.Va., and signed to play in Canada.
But two years later the Reds bought his contract from the Cubs for $2,000.
Thurman spent 11 winters playing with the Santurce Crabs of the Puerto Rican League. Six years ago, he was voted into the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame.
Thurman was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro leagues and Puerto Rico, and the Reds used him as a reserve outfielder.
After retiring as a player, Thurman later spent time as a scout, working several seasons with the Kansas City Royals.
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