Before the Twins arrived in 1961, the Minneapolis Millers were baseball in the Twin Cities. They won ten minor league titles and fielded the likes of Ted Williams and Willie Mays. Both men would go on to have legendary MLB careers, but the Millers would field someone just as talented that would never step foot in an MLB game. The name of that man was Ray Dandridge.
The 5’7 third baseman from Richmond, Virginia decided to take baseball seriously once his father told him he couldn’t play football anymore after an injury. In a move reminiscent of Roy Hobbs, Dandridge would practice with a bat created from a tree branch and a golf ball covered in string and tape. His baseball journey started in 1933 when a Detroit Stars manager from the Negro League saw Dandridge play for his local team in Richmond. He quickly became a star, and would even be part of the “Million Dollar Infield” alongside the likes of Mule Suttles and Willie Wells.
Ray would play in the NNL for six seasons, until he had no other choice but to leave because of the low pay. However, he would come back to the league briefly later, after spending most of the next decade in the Mexican League. He was treated well while there making $10,000 a season (plus housing expenses). That amount today would be nearly $175,000.
In 1947, the Cleveland Indians organization wanted Dandridge. However, he felt comfortable in Mexico and didn’t want to leave. After being treated so well, it made sense Ray wanted to end his career in Mexico. By 1949, he decided to come back to the States. After a brief stint as player-manager for the New York Cubans, the Minneapolis Millers wanted the once in a generation infielder.
It was a tremendous choice as Ray would flourish, winning the American Association Rookie of the Year Award in 1949 and American Association MVP award in 1950. He thrived in the Twin Cities because of his batting as much as his defense. In his first season, he batted .362 and led all third baseman in the league for fielding percentage. What better way to describe someone as an all-around player than that?
The Millers were a Triple-A organization at the time, so it made sense for Ray to get called up after his 1950 MVP season, right? Apparently not, because he ended up playing two more seasons for the Millers before moving on. During this time, he played with Willie Mays and even became his tutor. Mays went on to win two MVP awards and a World Series in the big leagues while Dandridge retired in 1955 after hitting .360 for the Bismark Barons (who played in an Independent Baseball League.)
The accolades prove that Ray Dandridge might just be the greatest to never make it to the MLB. The late 1940’s provided us with an end to the racially segregated era of baseball. There was no more official color barrier in baseball, but this still didn’t give Ray his one day to play in a major league game and show his brilliance. Would he have played if he took the Indians up on their offer in 1947? Would he have got his chance if he was younger in 1950?
The baseball color line robbed of us of the chance to really know what type of career Ray would have had in the major leagues.
Ray Dandridge baseball career was rewarded in 1987 as he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a 3x all-star of the Negro League and played professional baseball for 21 seasons. Ray became one of the most talented third baseman of all time. Even though he excelled as a batter, it was the glove that put him in baseball history forever.