Black's influence lives on
Former member of D-Backs' front office impacted many
PHOENIX -- There are numerous physical reminders of Joe Black's life around Bank One Ballpark.
There's a sign that marks the parking spot that he always used in the employee garage. In addition, there's a room in the ballpark named after him, his name adorns a big, round baseball that hangs from the stadium's rafters and there's a placard that still reserves the seat he occupied in the press box.
But the legacy that Black left behind with the Diamondbacks when he passed away nearly two years ago runs far deeper than any placard or sign. It lives inside the hearts and minds of the people within the organization whom he touched with his wisdom and kindness.
"He was just a fantastic person," said former third baseman Matt Williams, who is working as a special assistant for the club. "He was friendly with everybody. Sometimes he would just come by your locker and pick your brain about things. He always had something to share."
Black, who worked for years in the club's community relations department, had plenty of guidance to offer -- both on baseball and life -- based on the extraordinary experiences he had.
Baseball fans remember him best for his work on the mound with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The right-hander won the National League's Rookie of the Year Award in 1952, and it was during that magical season that he became the first African-American to win a World Series game.
But Black's success was not limited to the playing field. As an executive with the Greyhound and Dial Corporations, he made corporate history when he became the first African-American vice president of a major transportation company.
"Joe had an amazing professional and personal history," said D-Backs executive Mark Fernandez, who ran the community relations department during part of Black's tenure with the club. "He was not only an outstanding player, he was an accomplished executive and author. He was a really remarkable person that had a tremendous influence on all of us."
Black helped drum up support for the building of Bank One Ballpark, and once the franchise was awarded, he was the club's featured attraction in the speaker's bureau.
When Bob Brenly was named manager after the 2000 season, one of the first bits of advice he received was from Black.
"He said, 'You've got to do it your way,'" recalled Brenly, who at times employed unorthodox methods en route to a World Series title in 2001. "No matter what anyone else said, he told me I had to do it my way. That was the only way it was going to work. Coming from him, I had to listen.
"He had something to offer everybody."
Williams and Brenly are high-profile examples of people Black touched, but he was every bit as interested in lesser-known members of the front office.
Casey Wilcox was a 20-year-old intern in the community relations department in 1999 when he first met Black.
"He was the nicest guy in the world," said Wilcox, who now works full time in the club's public relations department. "He took me under his wing. I was working and going to school and he used to just tell me, 'Stick with it. I know it's tough now, but it'll be OK.' He took a genuine interest in everybody. I mean he gave me unforgettable memories with our conversations."
Black mesmerized people with stories about his roommate with the Dodgers, the late Jackie Robinson, and what baseball's barrier-buster went through.
"I mean, here's a guy that faced the worst that society could throw at him -- racism and exclusion, everything that turns your stomach -- and yet he was the sweetest, kindest man you could ever meet," Diamondbacks front office executive Jeff Munn said. "I can't really grasp what he must have gone through. He wasn't just tolerant of everybody. He embraced everybody.
"That's his legacy here. It's not National League Rookie of the Year. It's not seeing him whenever ESPN Classic reruns that telecast of the 1952 World Series. The legacy of Joe Black is putting his arms around people, and that's the part that we miss."
During a Saturday afternoon last season, a television in the front office was droning on in the background with a "Cosby Show" rerun. Suddenly, there was Black, who had made a guest appearance on the program. The office immediately went quiet as the few staffers that were there watched their dear friend.
When the program was over, they went back to their work with not a word spoken.
"We just wanted to hear his voice," Munn said. "I can't tell you what he said, but we were mesmerized by his voice. We didn't say a word after it was over because we were all thinking that this was as close as we were going to get to him."
"We were all just kind of hoping he'd come walking through the door and tell us about his good friend Bill Cosby," Wilcox said.
And while Black won't be walking through any doors at the ballpark, in some ways, he really has never left.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.