Before becoming the Braves’ first black player, Jethroe had already compiled some fine statistics for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues. Having compiled a .342 batting average after six seasons with the Buckeyes (and a .393 clip in 1946), the outfielder was selected to the East-West All-Star Game four times. Known for his power as well as his speed, he was the only player to have hit a ball over the 472-foot leftfield fence at Toledo’s Swayne Field and into the coal piles of the Red Man Tobacco Factory.
In the spring of 1945, he was selected with Jackie Robinson and Marvin Williams for an unsuccessful tryout with the Boston Red Sox. Ultimately, the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, while Jethroe went on to star for their crosstown rivals.
The first black player in the Boston Braves organization, Jethroe signed with the team in 1949, and went on to steal 89 bases in the International League that year. At thirty-two years old, he was the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year, hitting .273 with 18 homers, 100 runs scored, and a league-leading 35 stolen bases. His numbers were virtually identical in 1951, as he again copped the steals title.
But Jethroe slumped in 1952, struck out often, fielded poorly, and reportedly had vision trouble. Amid rumors that he was older than listed, he spent 1953 in Toledo, batting .307. Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he played just two games for the Bucs. The switch-hitter spent five more seasons with Toronto of the International League.