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In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Modesto Nuts.
2B Joe Morgan (’63)
Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan is a NorCal native that began his pro career in Modesto. Morgan went to Castlemont High School in Oakland. He played at Cal Sate – East Bay and Merritt College before he was signed. Over 45 games with Modesto in 1963, Morgan hit .263 while slugging .434. Morgan would reach the big leagues and make his debut later that season as a 19-year-old for the Houston Colt .45s.
Morgan would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. He was a two-time MVP, a two-time World Series champion, a ten-time all-star and a five-time Gold Glove winner.
OF Reggie Jackson (’66)
Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson spent 56 games in Modesto during his first season as a professional. The second overall pick in the 1966 draft went on to provide one of the most spectacular displays of power in franchise history. As a 20-year-old, Jackson smashed 21 home runs in just 56 games. It was a rate of one home run per 11.5 at-bats. The very next season, he made his Major League debut with the Kansas City A’s.
Jackson went on to become one of the greatest sluggers the game has ever seen. He crushed 563 career home runs. He was the 1973 MVP, a 14-time all-star, and a five-time World Champion.
Rickey Henderson (’77)
Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson was drafted in the 4th round of the 1976 draft out of Oakland Technical High School. The next year he made his full-season professional debut in Modesto. He put on a show for the California League. He hit .345 and stole 95 bases in 134 games. Just two years later he made his Major League debut at the age of 20 with the Oakland A’s.
Henderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009. He set the Major League record for stolen bases with 1,406 during his career. He was a ten-time all-star and a two-time World Series Champion.
OF Kyle Lewis (’17-’18)
After being underrecruited out of high school, Lewis attended Mercer University where he electrified college baseball. In 2016, Lewis hit .395 and slugged .731 while crushing 20 home runs in 61 games. Lewis won the Golden Spikes Award that year which is awarded to college baseball’s top player each season.
Later during the 2016 season, Lewis suffered a devastating knee injury at the end of the minor league season that kept him out for an entire year. He would return from the knee injury in June of 2017 with the Modesto Nuts but reaggravated it after just two games. Lewis would return to Modesto again in July. He was able to stay healthy the rest of the year and was an integral part of the Nuts run to the 2017 California League Championship.
Lewis would return to Modesto in 2018 for 49 games where he hit .260 with five home runs. He made his Major League debut in 2019. In 2020, Lewis was named the A.L. Rookie of the Year after batting .262 with 11 home runs in 58 games during the pandemic shortened season for the Mariners.
RHP Reggie McClain (’17-’19)
Reggie McClain was selected in the 13th round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Missouri. The next season he joined Modesto and earn all-star honors after an electrifying first half. McClain spent the entire season pitching in the Nuts’ rotation on a team that won the First Half North Division Championship. That squad would later go to a perfect 6-0 run through the postseason on the way to their first California League Championship since 2004.
McClain returned to Modesto in 2018 but struggled to repeat the same success over 23 starts. Finally, during the winter of ’18-’19, McClain went to the Mariners “Gas Camp” where he added almost ten miles an hour to his fastball. McClain spent a third straight opening day with Modesto at the start of the 2019 season but this time he was working out of the bullpen throwing heat. He quickly zoomed through the Mariners MiLB system until he made his Major League debut on August 2nd, 2019.