I have to admit, I did not know who Sean Manaea was before this past weekend. But once he threw his no-hitter, I needed to know more about him. There had to be an interesting back-story. As a sociologist, I was curious about his background.
So, as always, I did my research. Manaea was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, on February 1, 1992. He grew up in Indiana, attended Indiana State University, and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the first round of the 2013 draft. The Royals traded him to the Oakland Athletics in July 2015 and he made his major league debut with the A’s on April 29, 2016.
All in all, it’s a pretty normal back story.
This interesting thing about Manaea is that his heritage is Pacific Islander – Samoan, to be exact. His father, Faaloli Manaea was born in American Samoa and moved to Hawaii in his 20s. After serving in Vietnam, Faaloli was stationed in Indiana, where he ultimately settled, met Sean’s mom, Opal, and eventually one of their sons pitched a no-hitter on April 21, 2018.
Naturally, Sean Manaea’s Samoan roots got me wondering about baseball in American Samoa. I mean, how much does the average person know about American Samoa? Where is American Samoa? Do they play baseball there? Have any Samoan baseball players made it to the major leagues?
Since it’s almost Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and in celebration of Sean Manaea’s no-hitter, over the next few days we’ll take a look at American Samoa and baseball in that part of the world.
On May 12, 1955, Sam Jones became the first African American player to pitch a no-hitter, striking out Roberto Clemente and Frank Thomas to end the game. He also happened to be one-half of the first all-black battery (pitcher and catcher) along with Quincy Trouppe in 1952. (By the way, May 10 marked the anniversary of the first – and only – no hitter thrown by a French-born player: on May 10, 1981, Charlie Lea threw a no hitter for the Montreal Expos.)
Jones was born on December 14, 1925, in Stewartsville, OH. After three years in the Negro Leagues (Oakland Larks and Cleveland Buckeyes) and two in the minor leagues, he made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians in September 1952. He returned to the minors for the 1953 and 1954 seasons and then was traded to the Chicago Cubs. He was with the Cubs when he pitched his famous no-hitter in 1955.
Known as “Toothpick Sam” because he nearly always had a toothpick in his mouth, Jones would go on to play for St. Louis, San Francisco, Detroit, and Baltimore. He was an all-star in 1955 and 1959, as well as the NL wins leader and ERA leader in 1959 and the NL strikeout leader in 1955, 1956, and 1958. Jones retired after the 1964 season with a career win-loss record of 102-101, an ERA of 3.59, and 1,376 strikeouts. Sadly, Toothpick Sam passed away at the age of 45 on November 5, 1971.