Dave Hoskins, African-American major and minor-league baseball player, was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, on August 3, 1925. His family moved to Flint, Michigan, around 1936, and he participated in sports at Northern High School.
After much success in playing baseball in the Flint City League, Hoskins began his professional baseball career in 1942 as an outfielder with the Ethiopian Clowns, an independent barnstorming team that joined the Negro American League in 1943 as the Cincinnati Clowns. In 1944 Green was playing for the Homestead Grays (out of Pittsburgh) when Wendell Smith, sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, arranged for three black baseball players to get a tryout with Boston’s two major league clubs, the Red Sox and Braves. Hoskins was one of the players. The other two were Jackie Robinson and Sam Jethroe. However, the owner of the Grays refused to give Hoskins time off and permission to attend the tryouts.
In 1948 Hoskins broke a color barrier as an outfielder with Grand Rapids of the Central League. He recalled that when playing for them he received harsh treatment and encountered racial slurs and had fastballs aimed at his head. He was knocked down regularly by opposing pitchers and abused by opposing teams. By 1950 he had signed with the Cleveland Indians organization and was sent to play for another minor league team at Dayton in the Central League. At Dayton he became a target for pitchers. After being struck in the head with a ball and being hospitalized for three days, he decided to become a pitcher. A natural, Hoskins had reportedly learned some of the elements of pitching from Satchel Paige while on a barnstorming tour with him.
Richard Wesley “Dick” Burnett, owner of the Dallas Eagles, decided to integrate the Texas League in 1952 and conducted an exhaustive search for an African-American player. Hoskins became the equivalent of Jackie Robinson for Burnett. After several meetings with officials from the Indians, who had a working agreement with the Eagles, Burnett agreed to take Hoskins—the first black player in the Class AA Texas League.
Hoskins had the ability to win games and draw in huge crowds just to watch him pitch. He won his first game, beating Tulsa 4-2 and getting a strikeout to end the game with the tying run at first, in front of a racially-mixed crowd of 3,953 at Dallas’s Burnett Field. In Houston, 11,031 fans (5,954 were black) went out to see him beat the Buffaloes 9-2. In Beaumont, a crowd of 5,430, of whom 3,402 were black, came out to see him pitch. He also filled parks in San Antonio and Fort Worth. By the end of the season Hoskins had sellout crowds at every stadium in the league. The overflow of African-American spectators who stood during one game while hundreds of seats remained empty in the white section prompted Burnett to integrate the grandstands at his ballpark.
Hoskins was accepted by his teammates while playing for the Eagles, but he encountered tough times. He could not stay in the same hotel with the team when it went on road trips. While he was generally well-received by most fans and opposing teams, he also was the target of some slurs and opposition, particularly in Shreveport, Louisiana. In direct response to his athletic participation, the Louisiana legislature considered a law that would have banned interracial sporting events, but eventually the lawmakers backed down. On June 9, 1952, when he was scheduled to play in Shreveport, Hoskins received three letters the morning of the game threatening that he would be shot if he showed up to play. He did not reveal the threats, in fear that he would not be allowed to pitch. Instead he went out and played and beat Shreveport 3-2 before its biggest crowd of the season.
Hoskins’s success for the Dallas Eagles prompted other Texas League teams to sign black players. Oklahoma City recruited William Henry “Bill” Greason, and on August 3, 1952, the highly-publicized first ever duel between opposing black pitchers in the Texas League occurred when Oklahoma City played Dallas; Oklahoma City topped Dallas 3-2. Later that same day, the Moorland branch of the YMCA in Dallas honored owner Dick Burnett with a plaque that read: “The One Who Has Done Most To Improve Race Relations in 1952.”
For his part, Hoskins was noted for being an accessible player who attended many community group functions and charity appearances. He made himself available for signing countless autographs. Baseball players, sportswriters, and community leaders alike credited Hoskins, with his quiet but determined disposition, as a fitting African-American ambassador in the Texas League and to its audiences at that time in the segregated South.
Hoskins became the best pitcher in the Texas League in 1952. He led the league in wins (22), complete games (26), and innings pitched (280), and his ERA was an outstanding 2.12. He also hit a batting average of .328 and made all-star selection. Attendance in Dallas jumped from 228,263 to 266,532. The Eagles won the pennant that season but lost in the playoffs.
In 1953 Hoskins moved on to the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians. He played as a solid reliever and spot starter that season. In 1954 the Indians had plenty of fine pitchers, and although the team won 111 games, Hoskins pitched in only 14 of those games. Hoskins did not pitch as the Indians were swept by the New York Giants in the World Series. He was cut from the Indians in the spring training in 1955. After that Hoskins spent the rest of his career in the minors, playing in Indianapolis, Louisville, and San Diego. He returned to end his career in 1958 with Dallas.
After his retirement from baseball in 1960, Hoskins went to work for General Motors in Flint, Michigan. He married his wife Cora and had three daughters. He died of a heart attack on April 2, 1970, at the age of forty-four. He was buried in River Rest Cemetery in Flint. In 1983 Hoskins was inducted into the Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Texas League Hall of Fame in 2004.