News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Black Mayfield pitcher remembered for breaking color barrier in western Ky. minor league

Photos from

When discussing baseball and breaking the color barrier in America’s pastime, trailblazers such as Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige are frequently mentioned. But a player some remember as “the Mayfield Mounder” helped integrate minor league baseball in western Kentucky.

Mickey Stubblefield, born Wilker Harrison Thelbert Stubblefield on February 26, 1926, broke the color barrier in 1952 in the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League – also known as the “Kitty” League.

Baseball historian Gary Cieradkowski has researched players like Stubblefield and others who led the charge to integrate minor league baseball teams across the country.

“He was one of those unsung heroes of integration,” Cieradkowksi said. “You never hear about these guys. They’re not in any history books unless you dig really deep and I just think their story, especially Mickey’s story, is very important and should be told.”

Mary Arvin is one of Stubblefield’s 10 children. She said she grew up learning about her father’s career as an athlete and how people gravitated to him as a person.

“He loved everyone no matter what their race was,” Arvin said. “You really do miss out on a lot when you don't have an open mind to love everyone, but he did.”

Early life 

Stubblefield’s parents, Mary and Harrison Wilker, both passed before he was a teenager. The sixth of seven children, he was raised by his older siblings during the Great Depression and Jim Crow era.

He found his passion for baseball in his early teens. Cieradkowski’s research shows that he first worked as a batboy for the Mayfield Clothiers, a minor league team in the “Kitty” League.

At 13, Stubblefield pitched for the Mayfield Blackhawks, an all-Black semi-pro team. He gained his nickname ‘Mickey’ while playing with his friends on a sandlot, after they gave him hand-me-down, oversized yellow shoes similar to Mickey Mouse’s.

Stubblefield was interviewed in 1991 as part of a project aimed at documenting the history of the “Kitty” League by the University of Kentucky’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. In it, he recalls getting his first baseball glove at 14.

“When I was a little boy I took a paper sack and made me a glove,” Stubblefield said. “A friend of mine gave me my first glove. When I got through with it I tried to give it back to him and he told me to keep it.”

But that first taste of baseball wasn’t enough for Stubblefield.

Barnstorming with the best of ‘em

After graduating from Mayfield’s now-closed Dunbar High School, Stubblefield enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon receiving an honorable discharge in 1946, he jumped at the chance to pursue baseball with an all-Black barnstorming team, the Omaha Rockets.

Rather than playing in organized leagues, barnstorming teams traveled across North America, scheduling games against a wide range of opponents. Playing in small towns at exhibition games, Stubblefield made a name for himself as a versatile athlete, touring with both the Rockets’ baseball and basketball teams.

The integration of Major League Baseball by players like Jackie Robinson in the late 1940s signaled the beginning of the end for all-Black baseball leagues. Fresh players were needed to fill the rising vacancies on Negro League teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs.

Though Stubblefield was never documented in the Monarchs’ official roster, he still played with their traveling team at unofficial exhibition games. According to Cieradkowski’s findings, the secondary team allowed younger and less experienced players to prove themselves and gave the Monarchs a second revenue stream apart from official league games.

The second team traveled extensively to games throughout the country and featured seasoned pitcher Satchel Paige as the main attraction. Paige – a legendary ace pitcher who would go on to play for the Cleveland Indians – took Stubblefield under his wing and taught him how to throw a curveball.

“Satchel told me to keep the ball low and don’t bring it up high,” Stubblefield said in an interview in 1991. “He told me control was the most important thing. He would throw the ball and it looked like it would get smaller when he threw it.”

Cieradkowksi said Stubblefield gained popularity as he continued appearing in games across the country. He stood at 5’9” while Paige was 6’3”, earning Stubblefield the moniker “Little Satchel” in newspapers. Paige told reporters Stubblefield could have played as his double if he was taller.

The baseball historian also said Stubblefield modeled his pitching style after Paige’s curveball, and that the speed and accuracy of his fastball were nearly equivalent to Paige's.

“It was an honor for Mickey Stubblefield to be called ‘Little Satchel,’” Cieradkowski said. “Satchel Paige always liked hanging out with the younger players and Mickey fit that bill especially as a pitcher with a really good fast ball.”

After Paige departed for the major leagues, Stubblefield took over as the marquee pitcher for the Monarchs’ traveling club. The team would often play two games each day in different locations, requiring them to constantly travel. In total, Stubblefield took the mound in 43 states with the team. He and his teammates faced discrimination in segregated towns and played games where many white attendants berated them with racial slurs.

In an interview with filmmaker and photographer Todd Spoth showcased at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Stubblefield talked about his experience coping with prejudice during his career. He talked about one experience in Canada where a man was taken out of the stadium for yelling racial slurs at the team.

“It didn’t bother us because we had been called n****** all over the world at that time,” Stubblefield said. “He was embarrassed more than we were because we were men and we prayed for people that didn’t understand. I said it didn’t bother us, but it did.”

Towards the end of his two-season stint with the Monarchs, Stubblefield was recruited by the McCook Cats – a semi-pro integrated team a part of the Nebraska Independent League that drew players from across the country.

Breaking barriers

Stubblefield moved back to Mayfield in 1952 to be closer to his family, rejoining his hometown Blackhawks and bottling Dr. Pepper at a local plant during the offseason.

With his pitching skills, he soon attracted the attention of recruiters for the Mayfield Clothiers of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League – the same team he worked for as a batboy when he was a teenager. Prior to Stubblefield’s recruitment to the Clothiers – one of the farm teams at the time for the Pittsburgh Pirates – the “Kitty” League didn’t have a Black pitcher on any of their teams’ rosters.

That year – on June 26 – Stubblefield made his debut for the minor league team at Mayfield War Memorial Park, leading the Clothiers to a 5-4 win over the Paducah Chiefs. According to an article at the time from the Black-run newspaper The Louisville Defender, around 1,500 fans gave Stubblefield a standing ovation as he took the mound at the top of the first inning – a crowd so large that it overflowed into a nearby football stadium.

Cieradkowski said Stubblefield’s time in the “Kitty” League was short-lived because most of the cities that fielded the league’s games still imposed segregation. The Paducah Chiefs – which still operate as a collegiate summer team in the Ohio Valley League – were one of the only teams to let him pitch against them. The league was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough games if more Black players were signed on.

Stubblefield’s career slowed when he began to experience pain in his right shoulder while playing for the Duluth Dukes with the Northern League. He rejoined the McCook Cats in 1953 and moved his family to Nebraska.


The American Negro League Baseball Association honored Stubblefield at theirLegends All Star Weekend in July 2009, which celebrated the careers of notable Black baseball players and the history of famous teams like the Monarchs and the Homestead Grays.

Stubblefield returned to McCook in 2011 as an honoree for the Heritage Days Committee of the McCook, Nebraska Area Chamber of Commerce. Arvin said her father and her family grew close to the town and its community members and her father was always involved in the communities they lived in.

“He was a go-getter,” Arvin said. “There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. He just had that love for baseball and in McCook he would still go outside and play ball as if he was on a field entertaining those audiences.”

Zacharie Lamb

Stubblefield passed away in 2013 at the age of 86 in Georgia. Recognized as an outstanding pitcher who broke the barriers to baseball, Stubblefield was posthumously inducted into the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

“People now treat me like a king,” Stubblefield said in 1991. “I love me because I love you. I found out that if you’re good to people they’ll be good to you.”

Mason Galemore is a Murray State student studying journalism. He was the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. Since then has explored different publication avenues such as broadcasting. He hopes to travel as a journalist documenting conflict zones and different cultures. He remembers watching the Arab Spring in 2011 via the news when he was a kid, which dawned in a new age of journalism grounded in social media. His favorite hobbies are hiking, photography, reading, writing and playing with his Australian Shepard, Izzy. He is originally from Charleston, Missouri.
Related Content