Nashville-born Jim “Junior” Gilliam passed away on this day, October 8th, 1978 in California. He had suffered a brain hemorrhage three weeks before, the day after the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the 1978 National League pennant.
Gilliam was a coach on the club, a position he had held since 1964 as player-coach before retiring as a player in 1967 after 14 seasons.
He was tutored at Sulphur Dell by the ballpark equipment manager, Willie White, who is given much credit for his early development. Gilliam began playing at second base with the Nashville Black Vols in 1946 before being purchased by the Baltimore Elite Giants.
Gilliam spent three seasons with the Negro National League team before being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. Sent to Montreal in 1951, the next season he was named the International League Most Valuable Player.
Even though the Dodgers infield was set, General Manager Branch Rickey brought Gilliam up to Brooklyn as he was a natural lead-off hitter. Gilliam was installed as the regular second baseman, and Jackie Robinson moved to the outfield and third base.
Selected as the 1953 NL Rookie of the Year, Gilliam was on the NL All Star team in 1956 and both games in 1959. His career statistics include a .265 batting average, 65 home runs, 304 doubles, and 203 stole bases.
His number 19 is the only retired Dodger’s number by a player not elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.