Nathaniel Edmond Moreland Jr., born April 22nd, 19141 in England, AR,2 was a Negro League baseball player in 1940-1946 and a minor league baseball player from 1947-1956. He was the first black Arkansan to play in the minor leagues, as well as the first black player in the Sunset League.
Moreland was the son of Nathaniel E. Moreland Sr. and Lizzie (nee Braddock) Moreland.3 He grew up near England, AR and Pine Bluff, AR, before moving to Pasadena, CA when he was about 16.4 Thereafter, Moreland grew up in the same neighborhood as Jackie Robinson, who was a friend of the family. Moreland and Robinson both attended Muir High School in Pasadena and played baseball. Afterwards, Moreland attended Pasadena Junior College and the University of Redlands.
In 1939, he and Robinson played together on a semi-pro baseball team and won the state championship. The following summer, Moreland sought a job as a professional baseball pitcher, catching on with the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro National League. After graduating in 1941, Moreland signed with Tampico Alijadores of the Mexican League. He did well, and his performance drew attention, and in 1942, Moreland and Jackie Robinson were discussed as possible candidate to play with the Chicago White Sox. However, no contracts were offered. In addition, late that year, Moreland was among a group of Negro League players who were offered tryouts in the all-white Pacific Coast League. However, by the time tryouts came in the spring of 1943, the offers were withdrawn. Consequently, the PCL was not integrated until 1948.
Moreland pitched with various semi-pro clubs during the in 1943 before returning to the Mexican league with Tampico in 1944 and Monterrey in 1946. However, it was in the spring of 1947 that Moreland finally got his chance to tryout for a minor league team. Moreland had moved his family to El Centro, CA where the upstart El Centro Imperials where operating. On May 16th, the Imperials announced their new manager would be Ray Viers, an acquaintance and former teammate of Moreland's. One of Viers first moves as manager was to sign Moreland, and on May 21st, Moreland became the first black player in the Sunset League, as well as among the first to play minor league baseball as a whole. Moreland's appearance came only a month after Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the major leagues.
Moreland pitched with El Centro from 1947-1950 before joining the Mexicali Eagles and enjoying a career in the Southwest International League and Arizona-New Mexico League from 1950-1956. He briefly worked as a minor league umpire in 1958 before his baseball career came to an end. On February 15th, 1959, Moreland was arrested for trying to sell a controlled substance and was sentenced to prison. He was paroled in 1964, and died in Alameda, CA on November 27th, 1973.5 He was buried in Los Angeles National Cemetery.
Statistics at Baseball-Reference.com.
Statistics at the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database
1 There is some discrepancy about Moreland's birth year in records. In "Nate Moreland: A Mystery to Historians", by John McReynolds, (National Pastime, 1999), his birth year is given as 1917. His WWII draft card gives his birth date as April 22nd, 1916 in England, AR. However, the California Death Index and Moreland's military grave marker give 1914 as his birth year. Because the 1920 U.S. Census lists him as 5 years old on March 17th, 1920, 1914 seems like the most likely year.
4 "Nate Moreland: A Mystery to Historians", by John McReynolds, National Pastime, 1999