William “Bill” Lucas was a pioneer in Major League Baseball as the game’s first African-American manager. Lucas was the “skipper” of the Atlanta Braves, holding the position for three years.
Lucas was born in Jacksonville, Fla. on January 25, 1936. Lucas attended Florida A&M University, and was signed by the Milwaukee Braves when he left school.
Lucas’ career in baseball started humbly as he worked in a local ballpark doing a variety of odd jobs such as working concession stands, selling tickets, maintenance and much more.
His playing career began in 1957 when he played for the Salinas Packers in the California League. His brief career in the minors was halted for two years, which some historians say was due to mandatory military service.
Lucas returned to baseball in 1960 with the Boise Braves before heading to the Yakima Braves and his final team, the AA-league Austin Senators, all farm teams for the Atlanta Braves. In 1964, Lucas suffered a leg injury that ended his career.
After retirement, he was hired by the Atlanta Braves as an assistant farm director. He was then moved to the head of player development and when Ted Turner took over the team, he was promoted to Vice President and director of operations.
Lucas’ historic announcement as the Braves’ skipper took place on September 17, 1976, making him the most powerful Black executive in baseball at the time.
Lucas ran the team until 1979, which was when he died from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 43.
Lucas was fondly memorialized by the Braves organization, which noted he made it a point to hire one Black worker for every white one that was hired at the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Turner showed his gratitude for Lucas’ contributions by paying for Lucas’ children’s college tuition by way of a series of monthly checks he sent to his widow.
Hank Aaron, who was once married to Lucas’ sister, Barbara, remembered him as “a brother to some of us, a father to others, and a friend to everybody.”
(Photo: Atlanta Braves)