On July 6, 1947, a brief Associated Press item in the Portland Oregonian reported that “Another Negro” had joined organized baseball:
The Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star (and a number of other newspapers) printed a slightly longer version of the story, which left out the explicit identification of Sostre as “Negro” (though it still noted he had played in the Negro National League). The Chicago Defender, one of the major African American papers, reprinted the story in its July 19 issue; the Defender’s interest tends to imply a belief that Sostre was black.
The AP article also pointed out that he had been signed by the Los Angeles Angels, a Chicago Cubs farm club, the previous year, 1946—the same year the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first organization to sign (openly) black players in the modern era. In fact, looking back at 1946, you’d have to wonder why Sostre joining the Cubs organization was not a bigger story. His signing was announced in February, 1946. This would have made Francisco Sostre (unless I’m missing somebody) the third black player signed by a major league organization in the modern era, after Jackie Robinson (October 1945) and John Wright (November 1945).
Sostre joined the Angels on March 1, 1946, and first appeared in an intrasquad game on March 2. His minor league career was rocky from the start. I’m not sure if he ever played in a game for the Angels—he doesn’t appear in the official statistics, so if he did pitch for them it wasn’t much. On April 24 a ball hit him in the face during batting practice before a doubleheader with Oakland and broke his nose. Then apparently he failed to show up for a game when he was scheduled to pitch, and the Angels immediately farmed him out to the Tacoma Tigers of the Class B Western International League. In his first start he pitched a three-hit shutout, but cooled off after that, winding up with a 7-9 record and a 4.88 ERA.
After spending the off-season in his native Puerto Rican Winter League (where he had been pitching since 1943/44), Sostre was sent by the Cubs organization to Fayetteville of the Class B Tri-State League. Again I’m not sure if he ever pitched for the team, or if he did he pitched very little, as he doesn’t appear in the statistics. On May 28, 1947, the Sporting News reported that he had been placed on the inactive list per his own request; he said he had “a sore arm as a result of pitching all winter.”
The next time he appears in the news (that I’ve found) is the July 6 announcement of his signing with the Stamford Bombers of the Colonial League (another Class B circuit). According to the AP article posted above, he had been with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. I haven’t found any other evidence that he played for the Cubans.
The Bombers picked that July to begin dipping heavily into the newly opened market for African American talent. First they signed a young unknown, Johnny “Schoolboy” Haith, a 19-year-old from Albany, New York, who apparently had little or no professional experience. After he walked nine batters in a 10 to 1 loss, he was let go; and lefthander Roy Lee, Jr., of the Durham (N.C.) Eagles was signed. In August they brought in Black Yankees right hander Al Preston and three former Atlanta Black Crackers: pitchers Freddie Shepard (or Shepherd) and Andrés Pulliza, and infielder Carlos Santiago. The last two were black Puerto Ricans.
The team’s catcher that year, Jim McGreal, would later pen an article for the SABR Baseball Research Journal about the 1947 Stamford Bombers. Interestingly, he counted Haith, Lee, Preston, Shepherd, Pulliza, and Santiago as the Bombers’ six black players. Here’s the important thing: he mentions Sostre, but doesn’t seem to have regarded him as black.
Going back to 1946, neither did anyone else. When he was first signed by the Angels, the Los Angeles Times (February 3, 1946, A5) described him only as “a Puerto Rican who was taken on, sight unseen, on the recommendation of Hi Bithorn, Cub twirler.” Checking census records from Puerto Rico, Sostre and his family are always listed as “blanco,” or white. If it’s true that he played (however briefly) for the New York Cubans in 1947, that would be interesting, but hardly proof of racial identity. Sure, in the 1940s it would have been unusual for a white player to show up with the Cubans, but in the 1920s several white Latin American (Cuban) players appeared in both the Negro leagues and organized baseball.
So in the end, Sostre wasn’t a forgotten pioneer (except in the sense of being one of the earliest Puerto Ricans in organized baseball); the 1947 reports that he was black were almost certainly in error, a conclusion wrongly drawn from his association with the Negro National League.
The SABR Minor League Database, available at Baseball-Reference.com, has almost no biographical information on Sostre, only a putative birth year of 1922. This profile at the Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Sports Hall of Fame fills in quite a few details, many of which I’ve been able to confirm in census and Social Security records. Francisco Sostre Morales was born in Yabucoa on March 9, 1918, and he died there on December 15, 1984. Yabucoa also boasts a Calle Francisco Sostre, though I can’t be certain it’s actually named after him (he wasn’t the only Francisco Sostre ever to live there).
(Thanks to Dwayne Isgrig for reminding me about Sostre recently.)