By Larry Stone
Seattle Times staff reporter
January 18, 2006
Wycliffe "Bubba" Morton, a baseball pioneer who played seven years in the major leagues before becoming the University of Washington's first African-American head coach in 1972, has died at age 74 after a long illness.
Mr. Morton, who grew up in a row house in Washington D.C., was a member of the Seattle Angels team that won the Pacific Coast League pennant in 1966, and also played the 1970 season in Japan.
He was the first black player signed by the Detroit Tigers (though others beat him to the major leagues), and in 1957 became the first black player on the Durham Bulls in the then-Class B Carolina League, leading them to their first championship.
"[Black players] always had to stay in private homes on the road," he told a reporter in 1997. "But I'll tell you what kind of teammates I had in Durham — they wouldn't go and eat in a restaurant without me. Somebody would always go in and get sandwiches for everybody, then they'd bring them to the bus and we'd go on our way."
A long-time Seattle-area resident after his retirement from baseball, Mr. Morton worked for Boeing and was a retired Coast Guard reservist.
"He had a great life," said friend Mark Rogers. "He did a lot of wonderful things, not only in sports but in the community. He was a real gentleman."
Mr. Morton, an outfielder, played in the major leagues from 1961-69, including stints with the Tigers, Milwaukee Braves and California Angels. During his 15-game tenure with Milwaukee in 1963, his roommate was Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.
In 451 games, Mr. Morton had a career .267 average with 14 home runs and 128 runs batted in. A prime pinch-hitter, his best season was 1967 with the Angels, when he hit .313 in 80 games." I got to be very close friends with him," said former first baseman Don Mincher, a teammate with the Angels. "He was a great player, and a great person. We talked about a lot of different aspects of life. He was so intelligent — I would classify him as a perfect teammate."
In 1965, Mr. Morton nearly retired when the Angels sent him to Seattle's PCL team, but according to newspaper reports, was talked out of it by Angels manager Bob Lemon and the team's general manager, Edo Vanni. He wound up playing four seasons with the Angels, 1966-69, then moved to Tokyo to play the '70 season with the Toei Flyers.
In 1972, Mr. Morton succeeded Ken Lehman as the Huskies' head baseball coach. He had already settled in Seattle and was working as director of boys' sports at Bush School. He continued to work at Bush while also coaching at Washington. In five seasons at UW marked by financial problems in the athletic department that limited scholarships, he compiled a 48-101 record.
Courtesy of The Seattle Times