CINCINNATI (AP) - As a young man, Nathaniel Jones saw Jackie Robinson break baseball's color barrier with the Dodgers. He was in the stands when Larry Doby followed Robinson's historic footsteps with Cleveland.
What he saw in Cincinnati this week left him with another sense of breakthrough.
The Reds hired Dusty Baker on Monday, giving baseball's first professional team its first black manager after 138 years. The hiring came four years after the NFL's Bengals made Marvin Lewis their first black head coach.
It was particularly noteworthy in a city that had race riots in 2001 after a black man was shot by police.
``I think this is historic,'' said Jones, a retired federal judge who made inroads for blacks during his career in law. ``It says a lot about the potential this country has for change. It takes awhile sometimes, but professional sports has shown the way.''
Change has been a little slower in Cincinnati.
Cleveland gave the major leagues its first black manager when it hired Frank Robinson - a former Reds player - on Oct. 3, 1974. The Reds didn't have a minority manager until Tony Perez was hired for the 1993 season, only to be fired after 44 games.
Perez was fired while former owner Marge Schott was serving a one-year suspension from Major League Baseball for using racial slurs, making the franchise a focal point in the debate over racial progress. The Reds had only one black front-office employee at the time.
In that perspective, Baker's hiring is a huge step.
``It's an occasion that people probably thought would never happen,'' said Chuck Harmon, who became the Reds' first black player in 1954, seven years after Jackie Robinson's debut. ``Everything happens for a reason. People want to ask, why did it take so long? Well, why does it take so long for a lot of things to happen?''
The 58-year-old Baker played for Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. He also managed the Giants and the Chicago Cubs, who fired him after the 2006 season.
Baker was close friends with former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who was an assistant coach with the Bengals. He knew all about the city's history when he took the job.
``I think it's saying a lot for Cincinnati,'' Baker said. ``I think it's saying a lot for the organization. The organization would not have made such a move had it feared that the city and the area would not have accepted the change at this time.
``Hopefully there will come a time when you no longer look at me as an African-American manager or leader, you look at me as a man and a leader that's going to lead your team, regardless of who I am or what face that I have. So we've made a lot of progress, and we're going to make a lot more progress in many areas.''
Jones hopes Baker's hiring has a deep-reaching impact in the community.
Jones, a Youngstown native, became the first black appointed assistant U.S. attorney in the state's northern district in 1961. He served on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati until his retirement in 2002. He works for a local law firm and is one of the team's minority owners.
``The next thing we have to do is convert this development into stimulating more interest on the part of young black kids and baseball,'' Jones said. ``I think with having not just this symbol, but the reality that the manager of the Cincinnati Reds being African-American, is going to do all kinds of things.''
Lewis was embraced by the community when he took over the moribund Bengals in 2003 and led them to the playoffs two years later. With the team off to a 1-4 start, the head coach is starting to feel heat for the first time in his five seasons.
Lewis said ``it's special'' for the city to have blacks leading its two professional teams, but he put the significance in perspective.
``I'm flattered about it,'' Lewis said. ``This is not black nor white. Let's win a lot of football and baseball games.''
How long either lasts will come down to that.
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