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 Nashville Sounds.
William Henry “Skeeter” Barnes III ranks as one of the all-time fan favorites at old Greer Stadium and currently stands as the Nashville Sounds all-time leader in hits (517), at-bats (1,898) and games played (514) and ranks second in doubles (94) and runs scored (237), and third in RBI (232).
He played two stints with the Sounds, in 1979 (Double-A, Cincinnati Reds) and again from 1988-90 (Triple-A, Cincinnati Reds).
Barnes enjoyed success during both stints as a member of the Sounds. He was a member of Nashville’s first Southern League championship-winning squad in 1979, pacing the club with 145 games played in his second year as a pro.
He excelled at the plate during his second go-round in Music City as he led the Triple-A American Association with 39 doubles in 1989 and earned a spot on the league’s postseason All-Star team. In 1990, he led the circuit with 156 hits and also ranked among league leaders with 83 runs scored and 34 stolen bases. He helped guide the Sounds to a berth in the American Association Championship Series in which they fell in the best-of-five series, 3-2.
The 16-year veteran spent time in the Cincinnati, Montreal, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Detroit organizations during his career after being selected by the Reds in the first round (16th overall selection) of the 1978 June Draft.
Barnes’ versatility as a utility player earned him a spot on several big league teams. He spent parts of nine major league seasons with the Reds, Expos, Cardinals and Tigers, and hit .259 over 353 games. He played seven different positions at the major-league level.
Skeeter Barnes’ #00 was retired by the Nashville Sounds in the early 1990s.
One of the most feared hitters during his prime, Prince Fielder’s final stop in the minor leagues before Major League stardom was with the Nashville Sounds during the 2005 season. Fielder was part of a loaded Nashville squad that included other Brewers' top prospects such as Rickie Weeks, Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, Dave Krynzel and Brad Nelson. The 2005 Nashville team is the franchise’s last to win a League Championship.
Fielder was drafted by Milwaukee with the 7th overall pick of the 2002 June Draft and quickly climbed the minor league ranks. At just 20 years old, Fielder took the Pacific Coast League by storm and hit .291 with 21 doubles, 28 home runs and 86 RBI before getting called up by the Brewers for the final time in mid-August.
In his first full big-league season in 2006, Fielder clubbed 28 home runs and 35 doubles to go with 81 RBI. He finished 7th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. It was a sign of things to come for the young slugger.
He hit an NL-leading 50 home runs in 2007, scored 109 runs and drove in 119 on his way to his first Major League All-Star Game. He finished 3rd in the NL MVP voting, one of three times he finished in the top-5 (2009, 2011).
Fielder played seven seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers before signing with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2012 season. In two seasons with Detroit, Fielder didn’t miss a single regular season game and knocked in 214 runs.
He was traded to the Texas Rangers prior to the 2014 season and went on to play in parts of three seasons with Texas before injuries cut his career short at just 32 years old.
Fielder was a six-time MLB All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger winner and a two-time Home Run Derby Champion. He played in over 1,600 big league games and drove in 1,028 runs. He finished his career with 321 doubles and 319 home runs.
17-year Major League veteran Otis Nixon spent parts of two seasons with the Sounds in 1981 and 1982. Nixon is the Sounds’ all-time leader in stolen bases with 133 after swiping a franchise record 72 bags in 1981 and 61 in 1982.
Nixon and the 1982 Sounds club went on to win the Southern League Championship as the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
Following his 199-game career with Nashville, Nixon saw big league action for the first time in 1983 when he played in 13 games with the Yankees.
The speedy center fielder went on to play in 1,709 Major League games. In addition to New York-AL, he logged big league action with Cleveland, Montreal, Atlanta, Boston, Texas, Toronto, Los Angeles-NL and Minnesota. Nixon notched 620 stolen bases in his Major League career – the 16th-most in baseball history. He recorded 50 or more stolen bases five times in his career (1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997).
Before he was the 1985 National League MVP, Willie McGee was a Nashville Sound. The long-time St. Louis Cardinals outfielder began his Sounds career in 1980 when he was just 21 years old. McGee played 78 games for Nashville in 1980 and another 100 games in 1981. During the two years, McGee was with the Sounds, the club racked up 178 wins as the New York Yankees’ Southern League Double-A affiliate.
McGee broke into the big leagues in 1982 and never looked back on his way to an 18-year big league career. He finished 3rd in National League Rookie of the Year voting and helped the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series Championship. His second year in the big leagues included a Gold Glove award and his first All-Star Game selection.
The 1985 season brought a whole new level of success for the 26-year-old McGee. In his fourth big league season, McGee led the National League with a .353 average, 216 hits and 18 triples while swiping 56 bases. Not only did he earn NL MVP honors, but he also garnered his second All-Star nod, his second Gold Glove award and his first Silver Slugger award.
McGee added All-Star Game appearances in 1987 and 1988. In the second half of his career, McGee briefly played for Oakland before spending four years in San Francisco and a season in Boston before returning to St. Louis for the final four years of his career.
The California native played in 2,201 games and amassed 2,254 hits, 1,010 runs scored, 350 doubles, 856 RBI and 352 stolen bases.
One of the best pitchers in Nashville Sounds history is none other than James Baldwin. The right-hander spent parts of four seasons (1993-96) with the club and is among career leaders in several pitching categories.
Baldwin ranks among career leaders in strikeouts (4th, 321), starts (6th, 56) and wins (10th, 23). The North Carolina native went 5-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 10 starts in 1993 and followed it in 1994 by going 12-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 26 starts. Baldwin’s success was a major factor in both of those Sounds teams winning 80+ games.
The former top prospect in the White Sox organization made his Major League debut in 1995 and went on to pitch in parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues. In 266 career Major League games, Baldwin went 79-74 with a 5.01 ERA. In 1996, Baldwin finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting after he went 11-6 with a 4.42 ERA. In 2000, he won 14 games and was an American League All-Star.
Baldwin pitched for Chicago-AL, Los Angeles-NL, Seattle, Minnesota, New York-NL, Baltimore and Texas.