Jackie Robinson may have been the first black ballplayer to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but Bull Thompson was the first one from Charlotte to do it.

Bobby La-Rue “Bull” Thompson of Charlotte died April 25, 2011 of cancer. He was 57, a Charlotte native and a 1972 graduate of Harding High School.

Bobby played on Harding’s baseball team. After graduation, he played with a rookie league in Geneva, N.Y. He later played with the Gastonia Rangers in 1974-75, then with the Tulsa Drillers in the AA league before playing with the Tucson Toros in the AAA league.

“He was well-respected throughout the semi-pro baseball league as a role model, almost [like] Jackie Robinson.” said his brother, Alfred Thompson.

Bobby, a centerfielder, was a switch hitter and a pinch runner. He was drafted for the Texas Rangers major league team in 1978. That year, the Rangers finished second in the American League West with 87 wins and 75 losses.

“Everyone looked up to him for his athletic ability,” Alfred said.

Bobby also coached youngsters at his church, Woodland Presbyterian, where he was a longtime member. “He was very helpful throughout the community and would always go out of his way to help someone,” his brother said. “He loved coaching neighborhood kids.”

“He loved baseball from the time he was a little boy,” said his mom, Rachel Thompson. “He used to bat at cockleburs to make sure his eye was on the ball. He said if he could hit a cocklebur, he knew he could hit a baseball.”

If Alfred or his late brother Edward Jr. couldn’t pitch for him, he threw the ball against Harding’s brick walls and practiced hitting.

He kept them laughing

Longtime friend Joel Barman played ball with Bobby in their younger years. He wrote in Bobby’s guest book, “I loved his sense of humor and quick wit. He always kept me laughing.”

Friend Ann Alexander wrote that she would miss that sense of humor. He “always had a way to make you laugh,” she wrote.

An earlier relationship had given Bobby a son named Marcus Herron. In 1971, he was introduced to Barbara Coleman by her girlfriend. Their first date was a prom in May, she said. They dated a year, then married in March,1974. They were blessed with two sons Bobby Jr. and Tido and a daughter Machella.

“He was a fun person and liked to make people laugh. Growing up, there was tons of music, all genres of music but he liked Smoky Robinson a lot,” Machella Chisholm said.

“It was really a fun time growing up in the 1970’s,” his daughter said. “I remember them having gathering with friends when they’d eat, cookout and listen to music. I like to entertain because of that.”

Bobby and Barbara were together 16 years, but rifts happen even in the best of marriages. Their parting was amicable. “We’ve remained friends and are even closer with six grandkids,” Barbara said.

But then again, wasn’t it just like Bobby to want everyone to get along together, smile and be happy?

Editor’s note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them.

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