Just saw on NBC News website that Dr. Frank Jobe died yesterday at age 88. He invented “Tommy John” surgery, thus saving the career of countless pitchers. Back in 1974 he tried the procedure on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John and John went on to 14 more years in the Major Leagues. As one of the single most impactful baseball men of my lifetime, he should be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. RIP, Dr. Jobe.
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of Connie Mack’s first great dynasty. The Philadelphia Athletics of 1910-1914 won four pennants (all but 1912) and three World Series’ (1910, 1911, and 1913). Over the life of this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time with this team. I’ve looked at the pitchers. I’ve looked at the outfielders. I’ve gone over the so-called “$100,000 infield”. I’ve even looked at a couple of bench players. However, I’ve never spent much time checking out the catchers. Here’s an attempt to rectify that.
For most of the period, Mack used two catchers more or less interchangeably. By that I mean no catcher played a lot of games in the field but there was no obvious platoon system. Although one hit from the left side (Jack Lapp) and the other from the right (Ira Thomas), Thomas got way too many at bats for there to be a platoon system going on. Being a former catcher himself, Mack seems to have understood how tough the job was, how wearing it was on the body, so he gave his catchers a lot of rest. At least I think that’s what’s going on. I can find no absolute confirmation of that, but I can find no other obvious reason for how he uses his catchers. That being the case, he got pretty good work out of a pair of really obscure players.
For most of the period, the A’s relied on both Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas for catching duties. There were a number of other men who squatted behind the plate for the A’s, men like Paddy Livingston, and late in the period Wally Schang (who more or less replaced Thomas), but Lapp and Thomas did the bulk of the work for the 1910-1914 dynasty.
Both men were decent catchers, generally finishing in the upper half of the fielding stats for the American League (an eight team league in their era). Both were generally considered good handlers of pitchers, but I can find no evidence that either was specifically a “personal catcher” to any of the pitchers (the way McCarver was for Carlton, for example). As hitters, neither was anything to write home to mom about. Neither hit much. Lapp ended up at .263 with five homers and 166 RBIs (but an OPS+ of 104) and Thomas .242 with three home runs and 155 RBIs (and an OPS+ of 82). Most of Lapp’s OPS+ came in three seasons, only one of which (1915) he played 100 games.
Lapp played in all four World Series’ getting into five total games. He had four hits (all singles), scored a run and drove in another, hitting .235. Thomas played in only the first two, hitting .214 with four hits, three runs, and three RBIs. As mention above, Wally Schang replaced him as the second primary catcher in the final two Series’.
After leaving the Majors, Lapp in 1917 and Thomas in 1916, neither man ever managed in the Majors. Thomas coached at Williams College, then joined the A’s as a coach. Later he scouted for Mack. Thomas died in 1958 and Lapp went down with pneumonia in 1920.
Both men are pretty nameless today. They were never stars nor even major players. They did contribute to the A’s winning three World Series’ in four tries and establishing the first successful American League dynasty.
So I see that Derek Jeter is hanging it up at the end of this season. That’s both good and bad. It’s, frankly, time for him to go, but it will cost MLB its face (which isn’t really David Wright, despite the recent poll) and the most recognizable player of his generation. He’ll get to make a grand tour, get lots of gifts (but try to top Rivera’s broken bat rocking chair), a ton of applause and adulation. Then he’ll ride off toward Cooperstown, making it in five years. It’s really a fitting way for him to leave us.
Ever notice how some players just have an aura about them? Ruth had one, so did Mantle. Koufax has it to a lesser degree. Well, Jeter has one too. He is “The Captain” the rock around which the Yankees built their latest dynasty. He’s the man with “The Flip” (which is still probably the best fielding play I ever saw). He is “one of the five greatest Yankees ever.” You hear all that don’t you?
Well, hang on a minute. Without trying to diminish Jeter’s legacy, which is formidable, let’s not get too carried away here. It’s not like he’s the first captain the team ever had. Gehrig was team captain too and Gehrig was a better player. If Jeter was the rock on which the latest Yankees dynasty was built, then he had a lot of other rocks around to hold up part of that foundation. There was Pettitte, Rivera, Posada (the so-called “Core Four”), and there was Clemens, and O’Neill, and Knoblauch, and Martinez too.
Jeter reminds me of Joe DiMaggio. He has the same aura about him. Both are great players, but both seem to be remembered as being somehow greater than they were in actuality. It took twenty-five years for fans to realize that Mantle was a greater player than DiMaggio and Jeter has that kind of aura too. I don’t mean to imply that somehow the Yanks have a greater shortstop in their history, only to point out that Jeter is revered in much the same way as DiMaggio. There’s a reverence about them that is different from the awe that surrounds either Mantle or Gehrig, or for that matter, Ruth. For the latter three it seems that “awe” is more appropriate and with Jeter and DiMaggio the word is “reverence.”
As for being ”one of the five greatest Yankees ever” I suppose you could make that case for Jeter, although I’d rank him in the six through eight range, behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Berra and in line with Ford and Rivera. That’s not a bad place to be, all things considered. He’s probably a top five to ten shortstop (certainly behind Wagner and Ripken) depending on how you categorize Banks and Yount. He was never Ozzie Smith in the field, but then neither was much of anyone else.
Then it’s good-bye to Derek Jeter. The Yankees will miss him. I think a greater tribute is that baseball will miss him.
Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame created a special “Veteran’s Committee” to look at Negro League baseball and determine if there were players, owners, managers, executives, and/or others that had been ignored by Cooperstown. A great deal of research went into the files handed to the committee. For the layman, the most important bits of the research was published as Shades of Glory. A panel of baseball historians eventually came up with a list of 94 African-Americans involved with baseball prior to 1946 for the committee (now called the Committee on African-American Baseball) to look over and pass judgment on. Of that list, 39 made the initial cut. The committee then selected 17 for enshrinement in Cooperstown. After all the hoopla of induction and fuss and feathers about who got in and who didn’t, a great stillness settled over the Hall. It was as if they were saying, “OK, team, we’ve done our bit. We put in a bunch of people, so now that’s all. There won’t be anymore.” Of course they never really said that, but any push to add further Negro League players or executives has come more from fans than the powers that be.
So it’s a fair question to ask what about the 77 nominees who didn’t make the cut in 2006? Are they now relegated to the dustbin of history or do they have a chance to make the Hall at a later time? Another question that needs to be asked is this, have we truly reached the end of those Negro League players who should be commemorated in Cooperstown?
If you look over the list of 77 non-inductees (and it’s available on Wikipedia under “Baseball Hall of Fame Balloting, 2006″) there are some really fine players being pushed to the sidelines. Where, for instance, are Bud Fowler and George Stovey, arguably two of the three finest black players of the 19th Century (Frank Grant, who made it, being the other)? Spottswood Poles was an excellent fielding, but not great hitting middle infielder in the early part of the 20th Century. Between 1911 and 1919 “Cannonball” Dick Redding was 40-20 in documented games, a .667 winning percentage. In the formal Negro Leagues of the 1920s through 1940s Newt Allen played middle infield, managed, and eventually moved to third base for the Kansas City Monarchs in a career that saw him play in the 1924 Negro World Series and the 1942 Negro World Series. John Donaldson was a crack pitcher for years, then became the first fulltime black scout in MLB when the White Sox signed him in 1949. And then there is Buck O’Neil, manager, first baseman, scout, coach, batting champion, and spokesman for the Negro Leagues.
It seems appropriate to end Black History Month (and my yearly journey through black baseball) by asking what do we make of these men being left out of the Hall of Fame? Perhaps nothing. Their stats are blurred, they are in many cases more legend than fact. But they were real players and they played at the highest level they were allowed. Maybe none of them are Hall of Fame quality players. In O’Neil’s case he is more than worthy as a contributor and ambassador, but maybe some of them are of sufficient quality as players. What I don’t want to see is the Hall of Fame now grow complacent and say “Well, we’ve got enough of these guys. Close the door.” I hope that the Veteran’s Committee that reviews the “Segregation Era” (pre-1947) will continue to look at Negro League players and eventually induct a few more.
The town where I grew up was odd. Most small towns in my part of the world had three sections. There was the “right” side of town (in our case the East side) where the wealthier people lived and where the commercial district with its mom and pop stores existing next to chain stores like Sears and Montgomery Ward’s. I didn’t live there. Then there was the “wrong” side of town (the West side in our case), which was always just across the railroad tracks from the “right” side of town. The poorer people lived there and walked or drove to the “other side of the tracks” to shop. That was my bailiwick. The third section of town generally abutted upon the ‘wrong” side of town and was politely called “colored town” (and impolitely called something worse). That was where the local black community lived and went to school.
My town was odd because we also had a fourth section of town. As the community grew, it moved West and ran up against the local creek. This creek wasn’t very wide and except for spring wasn’t very deep either. The west bank was much higher than the east bank, so flooding tended to go east toward the town. The city fathers were smart enough to get the state to build up the main road so that it was always above flood level and traffic could cross even in May, our wettest month. A section of town had grown up just west of the creek and took over as the truly poorest section of town, leaving the “wrong side of the tracks” split into two by this big field that was the flood plain of the creek. Our house was the last house in town on the east side of the big field, which meant we lived on “the wrong side of the tracks” but weren’t in the poorest section of town. There was this embankment about five foot high, then the field stretched off into the distance toward the creek.
Our neighborhood was fairly typical. Across from our house were a row of small wooden homes, a couple with big covered porches, that stretched up toward the tracks. Next to us lived the lady who ran the local feed and grain business. She was a great neighbor because sometimes the local kids could go into her store and she’d take us into the back where they had incubators that served as hatcheries for baby chicks or ducks. You could look through this big glass window and marvel at the furry yellow birds. There was an older widow who lived next to the feed store lady. She was a crab and was always yelling at us to stay off her lawn. There was no sidewalk, so it was either her lawn or the highway and everyone had been told to stay out of the street. After her there were two rent places that generally contained at least one or two kids, then a small mom and pop store that served the neighborhood. You could get a popsicle or candy bar there and my grandparents sent me up to the store occasionally to buy an item my grandmother needed to cook dinner.
Directly behind our house, extending up almost to the cross street was a small woodlot of elm trees. It was only a few feet thick and the trees were still small. There wasn’t much undergrowth so if you studied the lot carefully, you could tell the trees weren’t there by accident. They weren’t exactly in a line, but there was too much of a pattern to make the woodlot accidental. When you walked through the woodlot from my backyard you came out at the rear of the schoolyard for the black kids in town. That small green and brown line marked the boundary between the white and black worlds.
The black section of town extended several blocks but from the woodlot you could see a few houses with their small backyards and peeling wooden walls running in a line up at the cross street all the way to the far corner. The black school was down a dirt street directly behind my house. There were a couple of playground items like a swing set and a teeter totter in the yard. The school itself was an old one-story natural stone building that doubled as the local black Baptist church on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday night. Or maybe it was the local black Baptist church and the parishioners let the community use it for a school. I never knew which. The place had no air conditioning so in the summer the windows were open and you could hear much of the service from our house. We had this old folding aluminum lawn chair with plastic slats that sat on our back porch. My grandmother would, when the weather was warm, occasionally take it out into the back yard on Sunday or Wednesday after dark. She’d sit there listening to the church song service then wait to hear the first few words of the minister’s sermon. If it was going to be a real stem-winder she’d sit through it lost in a moment of sermon and prayer. If she decided it was not going to be worth listening to, she’d fold up the chair, put it back on the porch, and come inside. If she didn’t like the sermon, she’d frequently dismiss it with the comment, “A white preacher coulda preached that.”
The guy who owned the field adjacent to the house was a rancher, so he used the field, and the one across the road, to grow hay for his cattle. He’d plow one half of each field in hay and leave the other half fallow. The next year he’d reverse the halves and do it all over again. For some reason he divided both fields north-south rather than east-west like the rest of the town ran. So one year the part of the field just next to my home would be fallow, the next year it would be in green glory as a hay-field.
He didn’t mind if we played ball in the field as long as we stayed on the fallow side. So every other year we could run down the embankment by the house, set up the plate next to the embankment so we’d have a built-in backstop, then play ball out in the field. We’d play all afternoon until we began to hear mothers and grandmothers calling us home for dinner. If we got real lucky, we could end up with four or five guys a side which gave us a pitcher, a couple of infielders, and an outfielder or two. We tried to keep score, but usually ended up with four or five different versions of the number of runs.
The next year, we’d cut through the woodlot, cut the corner of the black schoolyard, head down the embankment, and again set up home plate near the cliff so we’d have a backstop and again play all afternoon until the inevitable call came for supper. On a good day we might have seven or eight guys to a side and if we were real lucky you could put together two full teams, minus a catcher (the embankment did the catcher’s job for us) and then we would have a great time.
Why the difference in numbers? In the years we played on the south side of the field, the side nearest my house, the black kids didn’t come over to play. When we were on the north side of the field, the side furthest from the white community, the black kids would wander down and help us fill out teams. The teams were generally integrated because kids would show up late and, black or white, the late comers would go into whichever team was short a player. Several of the black kids didn’t have a glove and a few of the white guys weren’t real sure about sharing their gloves with a black kid, but as a rule we managed to work it out.
It took a while to figure out why the black kids didn’t play ball with us when we were on the South Field and I was an adult before I realized the irony of a segregated South Field and an integrated North Field. To us it was just a game and the more players the better. But apparently the adults didn’t see it that way. My grandparents may have been the only white adults who knew we were playing with the black kids. When we played on the North Field my grandmother would step out to the embankment, which gave a great view all the way to the end of the field, and call me for supper. She had to see what was going on. She never said a thing to me.
I was 10 when I moved to a new town. Ultimately I lost contact with all the kids, white or black, who played out in the field. The town and the Corps of Engineers figured out how to channel the creek so that it no longer flooded, then they paved over the field. The old hay-field across the road is now the town mall. Our field is a long row of small shops and gas stations. The old black school (or church, whichever it was first), is still there, but they tore down my old house (and the others on my block) and put a parking lot where it used to stand. It’s the lot for a fast food place that now sits where the woodlot stood. I ate there once with my wife and son. Typical fast food, but I couldn’t help but notice there were both white and black faces in the place. I wondered if any were kids I’d played with. I didn’t ask, but I did grin when I realized the woodlot and what it meant were gone and the school still stood.
Back when I was growing up there was a joke going around. The big time sports, baseball, football, college football, and basketball were all just beginning to integrate. Most of the teams had a star, so the joke went that you needed two black guys per team: the star and his roommate. You see, most people thought the idea of a white guy and a black guy sharing a hotel room was down right evil. Dan Bankhead was a roommate.
There were five Bankhead brothers in the Negro Leagues: Sam, Fred, Garnett, Joe, and Dan. Sam was the oldest and is generally considered the best of the five (he made the first cut in the 2006 Hall of Fame balloting for Negro League players, but failed to make the second cut). He was a middle infielder with the Grays. Fred was also a middle infielder. Both Garnett and Joe were pitchers. Dan was the middle child and also a pitcher. Both Sam and Garnett were shot to death (although they were 70 and 63 when they died, not young, rash ball players). The family was from Alabama and grew up in a segregated world where they had their “place” and God forbid they should step out of it or forget it.
Dan became a pitcher for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940, That year and the next (1941) he went 8-2 (in confirmed games) and pitched in the 1941 East-West All Star game. He also played in 1942, then spent much of 1943 and all of 1944 and 1945 in the Marines, being discharged in 1946. His primary job was to pitch. Signing with the Memphis Red Sox, he managed to pitch well enough to get into both East-West games (they played two in 1946), starting the first and picking up the win in the second. His seasonal record for 1946 (again with spotty data) was 7-3 with a league leading 42 strikeouts.
In 1947, Bankhead was 11-5 with the Red Sox when Branch Rickey signed him to play for Brooklyn. Rickey paid the Red Sox $15,000 for Bankhead, a big amount in 1947. On 26 August 1947, Bankhead, now Jackie Robinson’s on the road roommate, became the first black man to pitch in the Major Leagues. He hit the first batter. He went three and two-thirds innings that day, gave up eight runs (only six were earned), and ten hits. In his first at bat, Bankhead hit a home run off Fritz Ostermuller (the same pitcher that gives up the big home run to Robinson in the final game of the recent movie “42″).
In many ways it was a typical Bankhead game. He was wild and had been so in the Negro Leagues. He gave up a lot of hits and walks. For his Major League career he had 110 walks (and 111 strikeouts) and gave up 161 hits in 153 innings. For the 1947 season he got into four games pitching all of ten innings (with a 7.20 ERA).
That got him a trip to the minors for 1948 and 1949. He was back in Brooklyn in 1950 going 9-4 with a5.50 ERA. He pitched in 41 games, starting 12, and picking up three saves. It got him one more year at Brooklyn. He pitched in only seven games, went 0-1 with an ERA of 15.43. He claimed he had a sore arm, but he was sent to Montreal (being replaced by later “Boys of Summer” stalwart Clem Labine). The Bankhead experiment ended in 1952, when the Dodgers released him from a minor league contract in July.
Bankhead played in the Latin leagues as late as 1966 when he was 46 years old. In retirement he worked delivering food to restaurants in Houston. Dan Bankhead died of lung cancer in 1976.
Dan Bankhead was not a particularly effective pitcher in the Major Leagues. But he was important. He served as Jackie Robinson’s roommate and was the first black pitcher in the Major Leagues. He should be remembered for the last.
There are a lot of good works on the Negro Leagues. Most tell the stories of a particular player, or of a team, or of a season. James A. Riley has compiled a wonderful book that presents biographies of each Negro League player. It’s well worth having if you’re interested in Negro League players.
Published in 2002, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James A. Riley is a big book, both physically and in length. It’s heart is a series of baseball biographies of black ball players from 1872 until 1950. Players as early as Bud Fowler and as late as Ernie Banks show up. Some of the biographies are very short, as little is known of the player, some are much longer. As some players are so obscure their first name is unknown, a few of the bios list only the last name of a forgotten player and a few simple facts such as who he played his handful of games for. Other than a few of the more well-known players all the biographies are strictly baseball oriented, meaning there is little information about their parents, children, wives, and non-baseball related jobs. There are also a small selection of photographs and embedded in the biographies are occasional statistics.
If the heart of the book is a series of player biographies, the “gravy” is another series of short articles on various Negro League teams covering some of the early barnstorming teams as well as the more well-known and well established teams of the “classic” Negro League era of the 1920s through the 1940s. Finally there are also biographies of various executives, umpires, and contributors who were instrumental in making the Negro Leagues what they were to the players and their fans.
Want to know info on Josh Gibson? It’s there. How about Effa Manley? It’s also there. Steel Arm Davis? He’s there too, as is Charles Thomas, the Ohio Wesleyan player whose embarrassment led Branch Rickey to later integrate the Major Leagues (Thomas played a few games in the negro Leagues before becoming a dentist).
The book is well-worth the admittedly high $78.30 price at Amazon.com. You can probably find it for less in used condition.
1. John W. Jackson, Jr. was born in Fort Plain, New York in 1858. He was the son of a barber and learned the profession from his dad.
2.In 1860 the family moved to Cooperstown (of all places), where Jackson (Fowler) learned to play baseball.
3. In 1878 he joined the integrated Chelsea, Massachusetts amateur team, now using the name Fowler (the exact reason for the change is unknown). His habit of calling other players “Bud” got him his nickname.
4. Later that season he played for the Lynn Live Oaks, a team in the International League, becoming the first acknowledged black professional.
5. He spent the next several years in and out of the minor leagues playing for integrated teams or for all black independent teams.
6. He began his career as a pitcher, but in 1884 moved to second base, where he played most of the remainder of his career.
7. In 1886, he helped form the League of Colored Base Ball Players, the first “Negro League.” The league folded 10 days into its first season.
8. In 1887, he played for Birmingham in the International League. He was released, apparently because of racial turmoil on the team, in late June. In July the International League formally banned black ball players, grandfathering in a handful who were currently on team rosters.
9. Fowler spent the remainder of the Nineteenth Century moving from team to team playing second and watching team after team either fold or implement segregation rules. He formed several teams of his own, none of which were successful in the long run.
10. He played his last game in 1909, retiring to Frankfort, New York.
11. He died in 1913.
12. He is credited with inventing shin guards to protect his legs from sliding players while covering second. Those guards later became standard equipment for catchers. It’s fair to note that Frank Grant is also credited with inventing shin guards.
Back in the 1920s, the two primary Negro Leagues, the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League champions had met in a set of games called the Negro World Series. The ECL collapsed during the 1928 season, thus bring the postseason games to a close. They remained the only postseason games held between the two most prominent Negro Leagues for years. In 1933 a new Negro National League was formed, with a Negro American League following in 1937. They feuded for a few years, but by 1942 saw the sense of reestablishing a Negro World Series. The first of the new Series’ pitted Negro National League winner the Homestead Grays against the Negro American League winner the Kansas City Monarchs.
The Grays featured an infield of Hall of Fame first baseman Buck Leonard, second basemen were Matt Carlisle or Howard Easterling, shortstop Sam Bankhead, and Hall of Fame third sacker Jud Wilson. The outfield was, left around to right, manager Vic Harris, Jerry Benjamin, and either Easterling or Roy Partlow. Josh Gibson, another Hall of Fame member did the catching of a staff consisting of Partlow, Roy Welmaker, Ray Brown, and Johnny Wright. They’d won their fourth consecutive pennant by three games.
The Monarchs had been around longer than the Grays and were winners of the very first Negro World Series in 1924. Manager Frank Duncan’s 1942 version consisted of an infield of Buck O’Neil at first, Bonnie Serrell at second, shortstop Jesse Williams, and Newt Allen (a holdover from the 1924 Negro World Series). The outfield featured left fielder Bill Simms, Hall of Fame member Willard Brown in center, and Ted Strong in right. The staff of Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith, along with Jack Matchett was caught by Joe Greene.
The teams agreed to spread the wealth around by holding games in various cities. Game one was held in the Gray’s home park in Washington, DC with Paige starting against Welmaker. The two matched zeroes through five innings with Paige giving up only two hits. In the sixth, Allen singled, went to second on another single, then Allen scored when Bankhead and Gibson both committed errors on the same play. Matchett relieved Paige to start the bottom of the sixth and allowed no hits for the remainder of the game. Scoring in each of the last three innings, the Monarchs cruised to an 8-0 victory with Matchett getting the win and Welmaker taking the loss.
Game two was two days later in Pittsburgh, the secondary home of the Grays. The Monarchs jumped on starter Partlow in the first for one run, tacked on another in the fourth, and knocked Parlow off the mound when Serrell tripled with the bases loaded to put them up 5-0. The Grays made it close by putting up four runs in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by Wilson’s two-run triple. Kansas City returned the favor by adding three more in the ninth to win 8-4. Smith got the win with Paige picking up the save. In the game’s most famous moment Paige gave up three hits to load the bases in the seventh, then with two outs and the bases loaded struck out Gibson on three pitches. Later legend has Paige walking the bases full on purpose so he could strike out Gibson. The record shows that Paige didn’t walk anyone in the inning, but it makes a great story.
The third game was three days later in Yankee Stadium. With Paige starting for Kansas City, Easterling hit a home run in the first inning and picked up another run on a Leonard single. For the first time in the Series the Grays led. It lasted into the third when both Strong and Brown hit home runs to give the Monarchs a 4-2 lead off starter Ray Brown. Matchett replaced Paige in the third and gave up only one unearned run, while Kansas City tacked on two in the fourth and three in the fifth to win 9-3.
Then came one of those things that only happened in Negro League ball. The teams scheduled a seven inning exhibition immediately following game three (KC won it), then Homestead played four exhibition games against the Stars (in Philadelphia), the Elite Giants (in Baltimore), and two against the Eagles (in Hartford). Not to be outdone, the Monarchs scheduled an exhibition game against the Clowns in Louisville. (For what it’s worth KC won their game and the Grays went 0-3-1).
Finally after a week off, the Series resumed in Kansas City in what became the most controversial game. Homestead won 4-1 with Leon Day defeating Paige. But wait, you say, Leon Day? The Grays were having roster problems. Partlow and Bankhead were both out (a boil for Partlow and a broken arm for Bankhead) and Carlisle was drafted, so the Grays signed Day and three other players for the remainder of the Series. Kansas City objected and protested. The protest was upheld and the game was not counted.
The official game four was held nine days later in Philadelphia, much of the delay being caused by the protest. Recovered from the boil, Partlow started for the Grays. Simms led off the game with a triple and scored on Allen’s single. Paige, who was supposed to start game five was not at the park, so Matchett started for the Monarchs. Homestead put up three in the bottom of the first, but Kansas City got one back in the third on an error and three singles. In the bottom of the third, Chet Williams hit a two-run single to put the Grays up 5-2. By this point Paige had arrived in the Monarchs dugout (and honestly I’ve been unable to find out where he was) and relieved Matchett. He pitched shutout ball the rest of the way, allowing no hits, a walk, and one runner reached on an error.. Meanwhile, Kansas City started chipping away at the Homestead lead. Greene hit a two-run homer in the fourth to narrow the score to 5-4. It stayed that way until the seventh when Brown doubled, O’Neil singled him home, then O’Neil came home on consecutive singles. The Monarchs tacked on three more in the eighth and coasted to a 9-5 win and a sweep of the 1942 Series.
For the Series Serrell led all hitters with a .566 average, O’Neil had six RBIs and two triples, while Strong, Brown, and Green all had home runs. Matchett had two wins, Smith one, and Piage had both a win and a save and a team high 14 strikeouts. Of the Grays, only Easterling (among players showing up in all four games) hit .300. He also had the only team home run. Partlow, Welmaker, Ray Brown, and Wright all took losses with Welmaker’s eight strikeouts leading the team.
It wasn’t a particularly well-played series. Kansas City had six errors and Homestead topped that with 13 (an average of three a game). Interestingly enough Kansas City’s were more critical. The Grays scored only 12 runs, half were unearned. The Monarchs, on the other hand, scored 34 with only four being unearned. For the whole Series, the Monarchs proved that they were much the superior team.
For the Monarchs it marked their final championship. Although they made one more Negro World Series (1946), they lost it. For the Grays it was the first of five tries. They would win back-to-back series’ in 1943 and 1944, before losing in 1945. They would also return to the NWS in 1948, when they would win the last ever series.
It’s certainly a fun and unique series to read about and research. The accounts of the games make it apparent that both teams played hard. The long interlude between game three and game four could only occur in the Negro Leagues (unless there was one heck of a rain delay–or an earthquake). Throwing in exhibition games in the midst of the Series was certainly unique. All in all I find it a fitting way to reestablish the Negro World Series after a 15 year hiatus.
Baseball history is full of truly fine one-two punches. There’s Ruth and Gehrig. There’s Aaron and Matthews. There’s Mays and McCovey. There is also Leonard and Gibson. This is the story of Buck Leonard, generally considered the greatest of all Negro League first basemen.
Walter Leonard was born in North Carolina in 1907. By 1924 he was playing and managing (yes, managing at age 17) a local black semi-pro team. He also worked for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad in their repair shop. He lost his job in 1932 during the Great Depression. His only means of employment being baseball, he signed with Portsmouth Black Revels for $15 a month. In 1933 he and his brother Charlie (a pitcher) signed with the Baltimore Stars, a barnstorming team that promptly went bankrupt (but not from signing the Leonard brothers). Buck Leonard had already caught the eye of other Negro League teams and was scooped up by Brooklyn Royal Giants. In 1934 Cum Posey signed him for $125 a month (and 60 cents meal money daily) to play with the Homestead Grays. There he teamed with Gibson, Jud Wilson, Vic Harris, and Howard Easterling to win consecutive Negro National League pennants from 1937 through 1945 inclusive. After a two-year hiatus, they won again in 1948 when Leonard was 40 (and Gibson was dead). His salary had changed. He was now earning about $10,000 a year.
With the collapse of the Negro National League and the Grays, Leonard continued to play baseball in the Latin Winter Leagues and the Mexican League as late as 1955. Too old to play in the Majors after the color line was broken in 1946, Gibson did play 10 games in the Piedmont League in 1953. He hit .333.
In retirement Leonard worked a number of jobs, truant officer, physical education teacher, ran a realty company, and in 1962 served as vice president of the Carolina League team in Rocky Mount. In 1972 Leonard was elected to the Hall of Fame. He died in 1986.
There are limited statistics available to help us determine just how good Leonard was as a player. Baseball Reference.com shows him playing 412 games for the Grays between 1934 and 1948, an average of 27.5 a year. In those games he hit .320 and slugged 527. There is no on base percentage listed, but if you add his hits (471) and walks (257) you get a preliminary OBP of .495. Obviously that leaves out catcher’s interference and hit by pitch stats, but, frankly, how many of them could there be over 412 games? Anyway, that gives a preliminary OPS of 1022. He had 1427 hits, 275 RBIs, scored 351 runs, and had 60 home runs. Baseball Reference.com gives a 162 game average for the available stats, which works out to 138 runs, 185 hits, 108 RBIs, 101 walks, and 24 home runs per 162 games. There are no strikeout numbers listed and manages only 25 stolen bases for his career. His highest single season average is .533 but is for only 11 games in 1947. His highest home run total is eight in both 1940 and 1941 (44 and 36 games). His highest RBI number is 44 in 1940 (again the 44 games). His highest hit total is 60, also in 1940. In 55 games in 1943 he scores 55 runs, his highest run total.
Obviously, Leonard was very good. He is, unquestionably, a Hall of Famer. He is generally compared to Lou Gehrig. I don’t think he was that good, but he was very close.