Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Rewind: The Negro Leagues
Ok, those stinkin' Red Sox won again last night behind a masterful pitching performance from Pedro Martinez to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Things are not looking good for the good guys! Only one team in professional sports history has ever come back from down 3-0 to win a series. As we all know, that was the Red Sox over the Yankees just last week in the ALCS. So, the Cardinals do have some hope. They just don't have any pitching. I mean, tonight, they will likely turn to Jason Marquis to start for them. Yes, Marquis had a very good year for the Cards, but it does say a lot. Derek Lowe will get another shot to clinch a series for the Red Sox, and a World Series championship.
I just don't even want to write about the Red Sox any more. I want to talk about people I want to talk about. First, The Sporting News came out with their awards and two Twins were listed. First, to no one's surprise, Johan Santana was named their AL Pitcher of the Year. Ron Gardenhire shared the AL Manager of the Year Award with Texas Manager Buck Showalter. Good, well-deserved honors for both men.
I do have to say that I do have a couple of bigger projects in the works for future posting over the next couple of weeks. So, in the near future, I will post some new entries. But for today, I am going to go back into my Archives again and talk about some people that I really want to talk about (not those Red Sox!). Last summer, I wrote up an article on the Negro Leagues. We know a lot about the former Negro Leaguers who moved on to the Major Leagues and succeeded. But what about the other Hall of Fame Negro Leaguers who did not get their just due to play against the World's best players. Here is little more on them. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me. And, have a great day!
(Re-posted from Thursday, August 13th, 2003)
The Negro Leagues
On October 23, 1945, Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a big event, as no African-American ball player had played in the major leagues in 50 years. Robinson spent the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals of the International League (an affiliate of the Dodgers), and he made his major league debut for Brooklyn in 1947. He played so well that season, he was named Rookie of the Year. He played so well for the next 10 seasons in the majors that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
All of that is information that we already know. But, did you know that on the same day that Robinson signed with the Dodgers, a black man named John Wright also signed with the Dodgers? If so, did you also know that Wright’s nickname was “Needle Nose”? He went to spring training and actually pitched in two games for Montreal, but chose to go back to the Negro Leagues, back to the Homestead Grays.
There are 24 former Negro League players currently in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Of those 24, just 8 played major league baseball:
· Jackie Robinson - Broke the color barrier in baseball. His book I Never Had it Easy was published in 1972. Played in six consecutive All-Star games.
· Larry Doby - The first black player in the American League. Played in seven consecutive All-Star games.
· Hank Aaron - Major League’s home run king was the last Negro League player to jump to the big leagues. 21straight All-Star Games. (Ranks 5th on my list of all-time greats)
· Ernie Banks - Went right from the Kansas City Monarchs to the Cubs. Played in 11 All-Star games.
· Satchell Paige - Pitched in the Negro Leagues from 1926-1950. Paige pitched 6 seasons in the big leagues. Also, pitched 3 innings in 1965, at the age of 59, for the Kansas City Athletics. He started and gave up no runs, on one hit and struck out one batter. He played in two All-Star games.
· Monte Irvin - Many believe that had he not served in the military for three years, he, not Robinson, would have been the first to go to the Majors.
· Roy Campanella - 3 time MVP catcher for the Dodgers. 8 All-Star appearances in 10 year career. His career was cut short by an auto accident in 1958.
· Willie Mays - Did you know… “The Say-Hey Kid’s” real first name is Howard. Two MVP awards. Played in 20 consecutive All-Star games. (Ranks 6th on my list of all-time greats).
Baseball people know these players well. But, what about the other 16 former Negro Leaguers that are in the Hall of Fame, but never played baseball in the major leagues? Who are they? Why were they Hall of Famers?
Yesterday I mentioned that my cousin, Chris, sent me his lineup for the Discussion Question of the Week. In it, his 9th place hitter was a shortstop named John Henry “Pop” Lloyd. So, let’s start there.
John Henry “Pop” Lloyd -
When Babe Ruth was interviewed by pioneering announcer Graham McNamee, he was asked who was the greatest player of all time. Ruth asked, "You mean major leaguers?" "No," replied McNamee, "the greatest player anywhere." "In that case," responded Ruth, "I'd pick John Henry Lloyd."
Lloyd played for numerous Negro League teams from 1905 until he was 47 years old in 1931. In 1928, at the age of 44, Lloyd hit a league-leading .564 (not a typo!). He added 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases. I don’t care what league that is in, that’s amazing! Hit .329 in his 12 years with a team in Cuba. He was compared frequently to Honus Wagner.
Josh Gibson -
Gibson is one of the most intriguing characters in Negro League history. His career is the stuff of myth and legend. It is believed that he hit over 900 home runs in his career (18 seasons). In 1931, he was credited with 75 home runs. He didn’t just hit homers though, he hit them a long way! Although few were documented, he frequently hit 500 foot homers, and he had to, because his home fields were Griffith Stadium and the Polo Grounds, both having very deep dimensions. It is said that he is the only player ever to hit a ball completely out of Yankee Stadium.
Unfortunately, the major leagues never got to see Josh Gibson play. He died of a stroke just three months before the big leagues were integrated. Friends believe that he actually died of a broken heart caused by not getting called to the major leagues. The movie Soul of the Game illustrates how much Gibson wanted to be the first black player to play in the major leagues, but how the thing standing in his way was his mental status and fits of rage. Clearly though, one of the best baseball players of all time.
James “Cool Papa” Bell -
One of the great nicknames in baseball history, Bell was known for his incredible speed. Some argue, he may be the fastest baseball player ever. Bell started playing as a 19 year old in 1922, and his career concluded at the age of 47, in 1950. A humble, caring man, in 1946, Bell got out on purpose a few times at the end of the season so Monte Irvin could win the batting title, giving Irvin a better shot at getting a big league contract. Most historians believe that Bell could have been a great major league player had the league been integrated during his prime.
Josh Gibson’s power was mythical. The same could be said of Bell’s speed. He once scored from first base on an infield single. He once stole two bases on one pitch. Players accused him of cheating, saying he would run directly from 1st to 3rd, skipping 2nd altogether. Satchell Paige wrote about Bell in his autobiography, "If Cool Papa had known about colleges or if colleges had known about Cool Papa, Jesse Owens would have looked like he was walking."
Oscar Charleston -
“The fact is that I could not overcome my temper as often times ball players can not…. I consider the incident highly unwise.”
Charleston was known as much for his temper as for his amazing hitting ability. The above quote was written following a fight that Charleston got into with an umpire in his rookie year.
But, Charleston hit for great average, hit with power, and had amazing speed! His best year may have been 1921, when he led the league in hitting with a .446 average, 10 triples, 14 HR, slugging percentage (.774), and had 28 stolen bases.
He also was a great manager in the Negro Leagues, and later became a scout for Branch Rickey of the Dodgers.
Ray Dandridge -
Dandridge has Minnesota ties. He played four seasons in Minneapolis, which at the time was a AAA Affiliate of the Giants. In that time, he batted .318 (including .363 his first year there) and won an MVP award, but for some reason, never got called up to the major leagues. Willie Mays, who played in Minneapolis during that time, credits Dandridge with helping him get to the big leagues.
Known primarily for his glove at 3B, Dandridge could also hit. He hit .368 in 1935. In 1939, he left and played in Mexico, but when he came back to the Negro Leagues in 1944, he hit .370.
Leon Day -
Known as being the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues for the late 1930s and early ‘40s, Day was also a feared hitter. He threw 4 great pitches with a funky delivery. In 1942, he was recruited by the Homestead Grays to pitch in the World Series for them against Satchell Paige. He won 4-1. (Is it just me, or is this wrong? But, back then, players could be moved from team to team any time, wherever the money was!) Day served in the military during World War II. He was discharged in February of 1946, and shortly after, threw an Opening Day No-Hitter.
Martin Dihigo -
Dihigo is the only man to be elected into the United States, Cuban and Mexican Baseball Hall of Fames. He was a multi-dimensional talent. He led the Negro Leagues in homers 4 times (once tied with Josh Gibson), but he also accumulated over 200 career wins on the mound. In 1938, in the Mexican League, Dihigo hit .387 to win the batting title, but also went 18-2 with a 0.90 ERA.
Apparently, Dihigo was quite the funny-guy! One time, he was at third base, he started yelling at the pitcher “You Balked! You balked!” Dihigo jogged and walked to home plate to score a run!
Andrew “Rube” Foster -
Rube Foster organized Negro League baseball in 1920, and for the 10 years he ran it, the league flourished. But, Foster started as a pitcher. At the turn of the century, he had 2 great pitching seasons. In 1901, he won 51 games. In 1902, he went 54-2! Honus Wagner called Foster, “one of the greatest pitchers of all time...smartest pitcher I've ever seen...” Foster became a manager in 1907 and it was estimated that his teams won 11 league championships.
Willie Foster -
Willie Foster was the half-brother of Rube Foster. He was an incredible pitcher. In 1926, he won 26 consecutive games. On the last day of the season, he pitched shutouts in both games of a double-header to win the pennant. In 1927, he went 18-3 in the Negro Leagues, then went to Winter Ball and went 14-1. Former Detroit Tigers slugger Charlie Gehringer told Foster, “I could paint you white I could get $150,000 for you right now.”
William “Judy” Johnson -
Judy Johnson was an incredible defensive third baseman. Former Negro Leaguer Ted Page said, “Judy Johnson was the smartest third baseman I ever came across. A scientific ball player, he did everything with grace and poise. You talk about playing third base? Heck, he was better than anybody I saw. And I saw Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and even Pie Traynor. He had a powerful, accurate arm. He could do anything, come in for a ball, cut if off at the line, or range way over toward the shortstop hole. He was really something.”
But Johnson used the help of Pop Lloyd to learn the intricacies of the game, and of hitting. In 1923, he hit .391, and hit over .300 every season, until being drilled in the head with a pitch, in 1926. After a couple of sub-par seasons, Johnson came back in 1929 and hit .390.
Walter “Buck” Leonard -
At the age of 40, in 1948, Leonard led the league with 42 home runs, while hitting .395. He had previously led the league in batting in 1940 with a .383 average. Leonard teamed with Josh Gibson and the Homestead Grays to win each league title from 1937 through 1945.
As good a hitter as he was, players at the time were as impressed with his defense. Apparently he played first base with a grace and elegance, and he scooped everything. Maybe he was comparable to the Twins Doug Mientkiewicz?
Joe “Bullet” Rogan -
Rogan was another Negro League player who proved to be quite versatile. Primarily known for his pitching, he had a 111-43 record. Many players from the time say that Rogan was a better pitcher than Satchell Paige. Judy Johnson was quoted as saying, “Satchell Paige was fast, but Rogan was smart.”
But, Rogan also was a career .339 hitter! In 1924, he led the league with 16 wins, but also hit .424. He played 25 games against the white players and hit .329 in those games. In 1937, at age 48, Rogan played left field in one of those exhibition games, against Bob Feller, and went 3-4 with a stolen base.
Hilton Smith -
Hilton Smith went into the Hall of Fame in 2001 with Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Bill Mazeroski. His son accepted the honor and spoke eloquently about his fathers career.
A pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs, Hilton Smith was said to have won at least 20 games his first 12 years with the team. From 1939-1942, Smith went 93-11. In 1941, he went 25-1. Frequently, he would come into a game in relief of Satchell Paige (who would pitch just to draw a crowd), and shut down the opponent. Smith’s record in exhibitions against white teams was 6-1.
Norman “Turkey” Stearnes -
Turkey Stearnes was known as a speedy power hitter. But the obvious question is, Where did the nickname “Turkey” come from? Well, when Stearnes would run, his head bobbed, his arms flapped, and basically ran like a crazed turkey. But also, he had an ability to turn on a dime at full speed.
In his first season, 1923, Stearnes hit .365 with 17 home runs. He led, or tied for the lead, in home runs 7 times. In 1932, Stearnes did something no other professional hitter has ever done. He led his league in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases. With his power/speed combination, Stearnes could easily be compared to Rickey Henderson. In 1935, he hit .430. In 750 career games, Stearnes hit .350, with a .664 slugging percentage, with 175 homers.
Cool Papa Bell once said, “If they don't put Turkey Stearnes in the Hall of Fame, they shouldn't put anybody in."
Willie Wells -
He was called the “Shakespeare of Shortstops”, Wells was a great defensive player. Very competitive, he wore a construction helmet for added protection during games because he was hit so frequently with pitches. Teammate Monte Irvin said of Wells, “(he) always came up with the big play. The opposition would say, `Don't hit it to shortstop because the Devil is playing out there.' "
But he could hit too. In 1929, Wells hit .368. In 1930, he hit .404. He hit .364 in his career in the Negro Leagues, and in games against white competition, he hit .410.
“Smokey” Joe Williams -
A lot of what is known about “Smokey” Joe Williams is legend. He played in the early 1900s when statistics were not well documented. In an exhibition game in 1914 versus the NY Giants, he struck out 20 hitters. It is believed that he had a record of 41-3 that season. Against white major leaguers, games with documentation, Williams had a record of 21-7, beating the likes of Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander multiple times. Ty Cobb called Williams a “sure-fire 30-game winner” if only he could play in the majors.
There are a lot of questions about Williams. He has no known family. His birth date and location are really uncertain. And, although it’s thought that he died in 1946, some think he may not have died until 1952, or even later. In any way, he was a great pitcher.
Racial segregation is a sad illustration of the horrible socioeconomic situation in America at that time. People being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. It’s absolutely ridiculous! In addition to the unfair treatment, Americans were all dealing with The Great Depression of the ‘30s. This is why players switched teams so frequently and went where the money was. The Negro Leagues provided jobs, and money, for these players.
It is fun to research the Negro League players and their statistics and their stories. It is a part of baseball history that not enough people understand and really appreciate.
Checking out the numbers of these players is truly remarkable. The talent, the love of the game, and the obvious skill and intelligence shown in the Negro Leagues is amazing. It does bring into question the numbers of major leaguers who played before the league was integrated in 1947. Would Babe Ruth have hit as many home runs if he had to hit against Smokey Williams or Bullet Rogan or a young Satchell Paige? Would the “Black Babe Ruth” Josh Gibson, have been as renowned as Ruth himself? Would Walter Johnson have had so many strikeouts if he had to face Pop Lloyd, Oscar Charleston or Turkey Stearnes?
On an even deeper level, had major league baseball integrated sooner, could the racial problems in American have been helped along sooner? Sports is frequently a microcosm of society as a whole. Also, is it not wrong that some of these black men could be sent to war, yet could not play baseball with white men?!
I have listed the Negro League players who are in the Hall of Fame. There are many more names, many more impressive statistics, and many incredible stories of Negro League ballplayers. In the coming weeks, I will try to document some of those stories.
I need to acknowledge a couple of web sites that were very useful as I gathered information from for this posting. Both provided so much information. Be sure to check them out!
The Negro League Players Association
The Baseball Library
And that is it for today! Have yourself a great day! If you have any questions, comments or ideas for future topics, please e-mail me.
Back to Archives Home