Cape Verdean man’s legacy of diversity in baseball to be honored by Wareham Gatemen

Feb 2, 2021

A Cape Verdean man and Wareham resident, Joe Campinha, was one of the first players to break the color barrier in minor league baseball in 1949 — ten years before the Boston Red Sox became an integrated team.

Campinha is connected to contemporary baseball through his nephew, Shawn Campinha.

During this long winter after the summer 2020 season for the Cape Cod Baseball League was cancelled, he helped uncover Joe Campinha’s story. 

After learning more about Joe’s career, the Gatemen are planning a night that will honor his legacy — details will be posted on the Gatemen’s website.

Major League Baseball announced in December 2020 that they would be accepting surviving Negro Leagues records as official. That prompted Shawn Campinha to think of his Uncle Joe, who had played in the Negro Leagues.

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in modern day baseball in 1947, but Wareham resident Joe Campinha blazed his own path for equality in a less commercialized way. 

Joe Campinha is not only recognized as an influential player breaking the color barrier, but he also was one of the first openly Cape Verdean men to play professional baseball. 

“What Joe Campinha did goes beyond the game of baseball. It gives hope to the youth of Wareham that anyone can make a difference and overcome adversity. The Wareham Gatemen are proud to celebrate diversity and equality,” said Wareham Gatemen President Tom Gay.

Joe Campinha is recognized as being one of the influential players to break the color barrier in the minors in his role as the starting catcher for the 1949 Bangor/Berwick Pickers. This was one of the first Minor League teams to embrace players regardless of their ethnicity. Despite Robinson’s success at the Minor and Major league level, many teams still refused to use Black players. It was not until 1959 that the Boston Red Sox integrated. 

Joe Campinha was a proud Cape Verdean man. He never tried to hide his heritage. This is despite having to change his name to Campini to compete. This was common because teams had players change their names to sound more Anglo or to simply be shorter. For example, Stan Musial's actual name was Stanisław Franciszek Musiał. 

Joe Campinha got his start in baseball in the Negro Leagues and is credited with one year of service in 1948. He is only recorded for one at bat, which he walked. However, his family claims he played in the Negro Leagues prior to that season. Record keeping was not the most accurate, even at the Minor League level. For example, the next season he was signed to a fully integrated Minor League team. sites Campinha as hitting .269 in 1949 for the Minor League Bangor/Berwick Pickers, but the March 13, 1950 Ogdensburg Journal reports him hitting .316 for that season.

 “When I asked my father about the Negro Leagues, he told me about some of the great players he played with. He told me he caught for Satchel Paige in an exhibition game,” said Lucky Campini. (Lucky’s last name is Campini because he was born during his father’s playing days).

Although there is no box score for confirmation, there is a good chance this was a barnstorming event. Barnstorming was the practice of exhibition games where players got together and played for smaller town audiences. It was common practice for Negro League players to travel all over the country. It was an opportunity to make more money after the season and give smaller communities a chance to see live baseball. These events were sometimes integrated and even had female players. Babe Ruth was famously suspended and fined in 1922 for participating in barnstorming events after the 1921 World Series. Despite the success of barnstorming events, baseball remained segregated. Players of color were not allowed to compete officially with white players. 

His daughter, Dr. Josepha Campinha-Bacote, explained, “He had a difficult time because Cape Verdean people were not accepted. They were considered too light to be Black and too dark to be white. Cape Verde didn’t get independence until 1975, so it was hard for Cape Verdean people to identify where they fit in.”

The Cape Verde Islands, which are off the coast of Africa, were colonized by Portugal. Their geographic proximity made them a route on the slave trade. As a result, the population is a mix of African and European heritages.

Most players concealed the fact that they were Cape Verdean. They would hide their heritage and claim to be Greek, Italian, or Portuguese. Otherwise, they would be regulated to the Negro League where their professional aspirations were limited.

Joe Campinha was proud to be Cape Verdean. He endured racism and intolerance but still put together a very successful Minor League career. He is credited with one year of service in the Negro Leagues and two years of service in Minor League baseball all at the catcher position.

Despite showing great promise, Joe Campinha retired after the 1950 season. Players were not paid as well as they are today and were responsible for their own expenses. Today, players get much better pay and accommodations. 

Campinha was engaged, and his fiancé did not want him to continue to play baseball. When his team discovered that he was going to retire, they begged him to stay. They offered him a baseball style wedding and free appliances. But he declined. 

Campinha went on to have a successful career with the merchant marines and then in construction. Even in retirement, though, Campinha mentored younger players whenever he could. 

Although Joe Campinha never made it to the Major Leagues, he has gone down in history for helping break the color barrier in Minor League baseball and being one of the first openly Cape Verdean men to play professional baseball.  Joe Campinha passed away at the age of 81 on May 31, 2001 in Providence, Rhode Island.

The Wareham Gatemen plan to honor Joe Campinha for his contributions towards equality in baseball. A night will be dedicated in his honor celebrating his legacy for inclusion and diversity. Please check the Wareham Gatemen website for scheduling. 

Karl Sabourin is a member of the Gatemen’s Board of Directors.