Posts Tagged ‘Biz Mackey’

The Monarchs vs the Daisies

February 21, 2017
ticket to the 1925 Colored World Series

ticket to the 1925 Colored World Series

Back in the 1920s there were two significant Negro Leagues: the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League. As a rule the NNL represented Midwestern teams and the ECL covered the East Coast. They were, like the National League and the American League, enemies early in their existence. Eventually intelligence emerged and in 1924 the got together to play the first ever Colored World Series (official title although sometimes called the Negro World Series). The NNL Kansas City Monarchs won it by knocking off the Hilldale Daisies (Daisies was an unofficial nickname). In 1925 it was decided to hold a second postseason series. The same two teams won their league titles so a rematch was in order.

The defending champion Monarchs fielded a team consisting of Lemuel Hawkins, Newt Allen, Dobie Moore, and Newt Joseph in the infield with Dink Mothell, Wade Johnston, Hurley McNair in the outfield, and Frank Duncan as the catcher. The pitching staff consisted of Hall of Famer Jose Mendez, who also managed the team, fellow Hall of Famer “Bullet Joe” Rogan, William Bell, Nelson Dean, and Bill Drake. Rogan was unavailable for the Series. His son had accidentally stabbed him with a needle in his knee and he had to sit out the Series (and you thought freak accidents were new, did you?).

Hilldale responded with an infield of George “Tank”  Carr, Frank Warfield (who also managed the team), Jake Stephens, and Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. The outfield was Clint Thomas, Otto Briggs, and George Johnson. Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey did most of the back stopping, but fellow Hall of Fame catcher Louis Santop (in his final season) was available off the bench. The staff centered around Nip Winters, Reuben Currie, and Phil Cockrill, all of which were healthy enough to pitch (apparently none of them let their kids near needles).

The Series was a best of nine. Unlike many Negro League World Series’ all the games would be played in the home parks of the teams. Frequently these series turned into something like a barnstorming session with the games being played in a number of cities (but that was also more common in the 1940s series than in the 1920s). Game one was 1 October 1925 in Kansas City.

It was a pitching duel between Drake and Currie. Both teams scored one run in regulation and another in the 11th inning. In the 13th, George Johnson was hit by a Drake pitch, then Warfield singled. A Judy Johnson triple put the Daisies ahead with Johnson later scoring to make the final 5-2.

Game two saw a reversal of the score as the Monarchs won 5-3 with a three run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning, Dean getting the win and Cockrill taking the loss. But game three then proceeded to go extra innings for the second time in three games. With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the 10th, Mendez relieved Bell. Judy Johnson got to him with a single followed by a Washington double to give Hilldale the win and a 2 games to 1 lead.

Game four was the final game in Kansas City. The final score made it look like a blowout, but the game was close, Hilldale leading 3-2, until the ninth. The Daisies put up four runs to take a commanding lead. KC got one back, but Daisies ace Winters got out of it to win the game 7-3 and send the Series to Philadelphia with Hilldale up three games to one.

With games in Baker Bowl, the Colored World Series resumed on 8 October (the ticket pictured above is for this game). In the fourth inning Tank Carr hit a home run, the first of the Series, off Bell to put Hilldale ahead 1-0. In the same inning Mackey doubled and came home on a misplay (type unspecified in the source). Now up 2-0, Hilldale coasted to a win 2-1 with Currie pitching a complete game and giving the Daisies a 4-1 lead in game.

Game six was 10 October, also in Philly. Mackey went three of five with a homer and Hilldale wrapped up the Series five games to one with Cockrill getting his first win. It was a reversal of the 1924 results and gave Hilldale its first ever championship. It turned out to be their only one.

1925 Hilldale Club

1925 Hilldale Club

Before getting on with a Series wrap up, a note about the picture above. You’ll note the picture refers to the team as the Hilldale “Giants” and I’ve used “Daisies” throughout this post. As noted above “Daisies” was an unofficial team nickname. By the time the team folded during the Great Depression, it had become the most common nickname associated with the team. Because that’s true, I’ve used it throughout.

Although specific inning by inning information on the 1925 Series is scant, the guys at Seamheads have, again, provided us with some solid research to indicate how the individual players did during the Series. If you’re interested in the Negro Leagues, it’s a great place to find information and I recommend it highly.

For the Monarchs Dobie Moore led the team with a .364 average, almost 100 points above Hurley McNair’s .279, which was second on the team. Moore’s four RBIs doubled anyone else on the team, while the two Newts, Allen and Joseph, led Kansas City with three runs scored each. For the staff, Dean picked up the only win and his 1.54 ERA was second to Bell’s 1.15. Drake took two losses.

Mackey, Carr, and outfielder Otto Briggs were the hitting stars for Hilldale. Both Mackey and Carr hit a single home run and Briggs hit .404 for the Series. Briggs’ 12 hits led both teams. Mackey was, over the course of the six games, the only player to hit for the cycle (Carr had no triple). Carr and manager Frank Warfield led the team in RBIs with Carr getting six to Warfield’s five. Curry picked up two wins from the mound with Cockrill, Winters, and Red Ryan getting the other three. Cockrill had the only loss. Both he and Curry racked up 10 strikeouts while Winters and Lee had eight each. Curry’s 1.29 ERA led the team.

I was unable to find the winning and losing shares for the Series.

 

 

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The Catcher Question

October 27, 2016
Buck Ewing's Hall of Fame plaque

Buck Ewing’s Hall of Fame plaque

Recently somebody asked me who I thought were the greatest catchers ever. I made the appropriate reply, “Got me.” I think that rating catchers is the hardest rating job in baseball (well, maybe pitchers). The position is so different and so many factors that don’t weigh on other positions come into play that I don’t think any of us have yet come up with a definitive set of statistical information to answer that simple question.

There are a lot of reasons this is true. Let me give you one quick example: Buck Ewing. How good was he? It is evident from the information we have that he was a great, great player. But he was a great, great player in a game that was different from the modern game. Ewing’s career spans the 1880s and 1890s and for almost all the 1880s and the first part of the 1890s pitchers were restricted on how they could throw, and however they threw, they didn’t do it from a mound 60″6′ away from a home plate that was shaped differently than the modern one. Also, Ewing is a catcher. And that really does matter. “The tools of ignorance” are still evolving today and in the 1880s were in their infant stage. His glove might have kept his hand warm in winter, but wasn’t going to do much else. There was some padding, but not much. According to SABR, the catcher’s mask was an Ivy League invention of the mid 1870s and was essentially an adaption of the fencing mask. The chest protector comes in the early 1880s and is sometimes credited to Deacon White (again according to SABR). Flimsy is the operative word here. So how good was Buck Ewing at doing his fielding job? Well, the numbers show him not bad for 1880, but simply lousy for today. And part of that has to do with the equipment he’s using. And that’s a major problem with comparing catchers. The equipment today is just better.

We also have to deal with a factor of American history: segregation. By general consensus the best Negro League catchers were (alphabetically) Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, and Louis Santop. How good were they? Again, “Got me.” I have some records available, but they are spotty and almost all of them are hitting, not fielding records. At the current stage of our knowledge we can determine that the Negro League catchers were good, but exactly how good is still a question.

And for course for catchers, fielding matters. Most people who saw both Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski play will tell you that Yaz was the better fielder. And nobody cares. If you hit like Williams no one cares if you can catch, they’ll find a place to play you (Hello, Harmon Killebrew). Greg Maddux was a superior fielding pitcher and no one ever said that about Randy Johnson. Why? Because deep down inside no one cared. Maddux was there to pitch and if he could field well then that was gravy. Johnson had less gravy but did his main job more or less as well and that’s what mattered. It doesn’t work that way with catchers (and shortstops). You have to be able to field your position and with all the work that SABR and Bill James and the various stat guys have done, fielding stats are still a work in progress, and catching stats are less far along than other positions (probably because there are so many more to consider).

Until these problems are solved answering the “greatest catcher” question is at best a crap shoot, although by now we can call it a more “educated” crap shoot than it used to be when I was a kid. I am comfortable in saying that almost all the “greatest” catchers played since World War II (with possible exceptions like Ewing, Gabby Hartnett, and the 3 Negro Leaguers I mentioned above). Beyond that I’m shooting craps with everyone else.

The First Negro League All-Star Game

February 18, 2013
Steel Arm Davis

Steel Arm Davis

In an earlier previous post I remarked on the formation and history of the East-West All-Star Game. As with most all-star games some of them are very good and others stink up the place. For my money one of the very best East-West games was the first one in 1933.

Held on 10 September in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, the game consisted of two fan chosen teams that cut across league lines to create two geographically chosen teams. The East starting team had an infield (from first to third) of: Oscar Charleston (Crawfords), John Henry Russell (Crawfords), Dick Lundy (Stars), and Jud Wilson (Stars). The outfield was from left to right: Vic Harris (Crawfords), Cool Papa Bell (Crawfords), and Rap Dixon (Stars). The battery had Biz Mackey (Stars) catching, and Sam Streeter (Crawfords) pitching. The bench consisted of eight players (a few of them not from either the Crawfords or the Stars) including future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Andy Cooper, Judy Johnson and catcher Josh Gibson.

The West team was equally stellar. The infield (again first to third) was Mule Suttles (American Giants), LeRoy Morney (Buckeyes), Willie Wells (American Giants), and Alex Radcliffe (American Giants). From left to right the outfield was Steel Arm Davis (American Giants), Turkey Stearnes (American Giants), and Sam Bankhead (Elite Giants). The battery consisted of  catcher Willie Brown and pitcher Willie Foster (both of the American Giants). The bench comprised seven players (most from either the Nashville Elite Giants or the Kansas City Monarchs) with Newt Allen being the most noted. The West team did not substitute during the game (the only time that occured in the East-West Game), so the subs got the day off.

Steel Arm Davis recorded the first out on a fly from Cool Papa Bell and the East went in order in the first. In the top of the second, Jud Wilson singled to record the first hit, but did not score. The game remained scoreless into the bottom of the third when Sam Bankhead singled, went to second on an out and scored on Turkey Stearnes’ single. The fourth inning saw six runs scored, three by each team. The botom of the third included a two-run home run by Mule Suttles, the first homer in East-West history. The East got two more in the fifth on a single, a hit bastsman, another single, and Wilson’s two run single. That put the East up 5-4. It was their last lead.

The West took the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth on two singles sandwiched around consecutive doubles. They picked up three more in the seventh and a final run in the eighth. By the top of the ninth, the East led 11-5 and were coasting. A single, an error, and two sacrifice flies brought the game to 11-7 with Josh Gibson coming up. He hit a long fly to end the game.

The big heroes were Foster, who pitched the only complete game in East-West history, and Suttles who was two for four with three RBIs, two runs scored, a double, and a home run. More than that, the game was a huge success among fans. It made it certain that the game would be continued.

Rating Catchers

February 21, 2012

The "Tools of Ignorance"

With the sad and untimely death of Gary Carter, there’s been a lot of chatter about his place in the pantheon of Major League catchers, so i’m taking a short semi-break (you’ll see why “semi” in a few paragraphs) from my look at black baseball to make a few comments. I’m certainly not going to argue with those that place Carter in the top ten of catchers, because I agree with them. But I noticed a problem (actually problems) developing when I started to put together my own list of the ten greatest catchers.

The first problem of course is fairly self-evident. It’s the question of equipment. Take a look at the rudimentary equipment worn by guys like Buck Ewing way back. Basically, it’s an oversized work glove with some extra padding and a lot of prayer. Take a look at the equipment today. Which would you rather have if you were going to try to catch a Roy Halliday fastball? And that makes a world of difference in evaluating catchers. John Sayles when he did the movie “Eight Men Out” took great pains to be authentic. Take a look at the equipment Ray Schalk wears. Now Schalk was considered a tremendous catcher (without reference to his hitting) in the era. So was Johnny Kling a dozen years earlier. Give them a chance to use modern equipment and they might name their first-born after you. Give someone like Gary Carter a chance to use the old equipment and my guess is that after calling you things you didn’t know you could be called, he’d figure out how to make the best use of what he has available and still be a good catcher.

I remember listening to an interview with Roy Campanella way back in the 1950s. He didn’t particularly like the big “pillow” mitt in use then. He complained that it kept his right hand in constant danger of injury (and it was ultimately a hand injury that curtailed his stats in the year or so before his accident). I’m not sure Johnny Bench was really the greatest fielding catcher ever, but the innovation of the hinged mitt to replace the “pillow” certainly gave him advantages that other catchers had never had before. Now the right hand could be tucked behind the body when the bases were empty (and I’m astounded at the number of catchers who still don’t do that). Now it was possible to squeeze a pop foul rather than two-hand it. It helped Bench, along with his natural ability, to revolutionize the game.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with hitting a baseball. Guys who are good catchers and hit well tend to go to the Hall of Fame. I might argue that the two best catchers I ever saw were Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone. Neither hit much, but were tremendous catchers. I don’t know many people who think either should be considered in the top 10 of a catching list. So we come again to a problem we see a lot. I mentioned it in a much earlier post on shortstops. It’s the question of how much reliance is to be put on fielding in establishing a player’s greatness. If the guy plays left field (Hello, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez) no one cares if he’s a good, or even overly acceptable, fielder, when establishing his credentials for greatness. With catcher you can’t do that. It puts a burden on catchers (and shortstops also) that a lot of outfielders don’t have to carry. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s the nature of how the game is played. If I could hit, you could get away with me in left field. If I could hit, you could never use me behind the plate.

Finally, there’s the obvious question of segregation (see what I mean about “semi”?). Most lists of Negro League catchers put Josh Gibson, Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Campanella at the top of the charts at the position. We have some idea of the quality of Campanella (although he spent a lot of time in the Negro Leagues). The others never got to play in the white Major Leagues (Santop was dead by 1947). As usual for Negro League players, you’re stuck with anecdotes, not full statistical evidence, in trying to determine the quality of a player. So we make judgement calls (“Do I see a ’10’ from the Bulgarian judge?”) and hope we get it right. Considering that I’m certain that Campanella is a top 10 all-time catcher, I am confident in adding Gibson to a list of the best catcher, but I have no idea how you rate either Santop or Mackey. Maybe they’re in, maybe they’re out.

So having  just put all those caveats out there for you to read, here’s my list of the 10 best catchers ever in alphabetical order: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Josh Gibson, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez. With suitable apologies to Gabby Hartnett and to Joe Mauer, both of which might slip into the list. I think it’s the best list I can put together at this time. Notice that it’s full of modern guys (seven are post 1945). I think that the equipment has a lot to do with that.

E-Lite

February 16, 2012

Elite Giants logo

Negro League baseball is the story of a multitude of teams. Some, like the Monarch, Grays, and Crawfords, are famous. Others are utterly obscure, playing only a few years with little success and dying a quick death. Most teams are somewhere in the middle. One of those, a team that had some success but was never seen as a truly first rank team, was the Baltimore Elite Giants.

Thomas T. Wilson was a black businessman in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1918 he formed a black baseball team called the Nashville Standard Giants. They were semipro and played mainly in the South. By 1921 they were one of the more successful black teams in the South. They had reached elite status and the name change was an obvious. Wilson pronounced the word “e-lite” rather than “e-leet” and the odd pronunciation stuck for the remainder of their history.

In 1928 they were good enough and professional enough to attempt entry into the existing Negro Leagues. It didn’t work. The Negro National League wanted to stay away from adding Southern teams as much as possible and frankly Nashville was no one’s idea of an Eastern team (Eastern Colored League). In 1930 the Elite Giants finally made it into the NNL, only to see the league collapse after the next year. They finished seventh (of nine) in 1930 and last in 1931 (after moving to Cleveland and calling themselves the Cubs).

The years 1931 and 1932 saw the team surviving in the Negro Southern League. The league was considered “minor” in 1931, but with no other viable Negro Leagues it became a de facto “major” league for the 1932 season. By 1933, with economic times improving slightly, there was a movement to recreate a new Negro National League. The Giants were charter members, finishing fifth of seven in 1933. By 1934 they were up to fourth, but failing in attendance. Attempting to reverse the trend, Wilson moved the team to Columbus, Ohio for the 1935 season. Again they finished fourth and attendance wasn’t better in Columbus. In 1936 they made another move, this time to Washington, DC, becoming the Washington Elite Giants. They stayed there two seasons, finishing fifth of six in ’36 and third of six in ’37.

Attendance still wasn’t good, and Baltimore had been without a team since 1934. Wilson made one last move, this time to fill the Baltimore void (a new team moved into Washington, failed, and was ultimately replaced by the Homestead Grays). This time they found a permanent home. Between 1938 and 1948 they were the Baltimore Elite Giants, the name by which they are most frequently known.

They also got better. In 1938 they finished second. In 1939 they finished third, but qualified for the NNL playoffs. They beat second place Newark 3 games to 1 to advance to the NNL championship against the Grays. They beat Homestead 3 games to 1 for their first championship. In 1940 there were no playoffs and they finished second. In 1941 they finished first. In 1942 they were again second. Several good things happened to propel the Elite Giants into championship contenders. First, they were now stable in Baltimore. Fans were up, revenue was up, and the league itself was now more stable. Second, they managed to put together a very good lineup. Hall of Famer Biz Mackey was there through 1938 (before moving to Newark). He was instrumental in mentoring fellow Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella. Charlie Biot played center field, and Henry Kimbro in left were in their prime. Here’s a shot of the 1941 team. Campanella is on the left of the first row and Biot is on the left of the back row.

1941 Elite Giants

  By 1943 things were changing. The war was effecting attendance and play quality as team members went off to war. They finished with a losing record in 1943, finished second in 1944, but were barely over .500. In 1945 they were again second, but in 1946 dropped all the way to next-to-last (fifth).  

1946 saw two major changes for Baltimore. First Wilson, health failing. sold the team and second, the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson and changed the entire face of black baseball. Campanella went to Brooklyn, other players retired or got a look at the white minor league. In 1947 they dropped to fourth. The 1948 season was a split season with Baltimore winning the first half and Homestead the second half. There was no playoff. By this point the Elite Giants had managed to reverse course for at least a short while. They picked up Leon Day and Toots Ferrell to go along with infielders Jim Gilliam and PeeWee Butts and new pitcher, Joe Black. It was enough to make the team good for a final few seasons.

The NNL folded in 1948, tried to revive in 1949 and failed. The Elite Giants were one of its premier teams. They won the 1949 pennant, came in second in 1950, and lost a ton of money. The team was sold back to Nashville where it hung on for one final year. They folded after the 1951 season.

Unlike the Monarchs, Grays, or Crawfords, or the Yankees for that matter, the Elite Giants were a more typical baseball team. As with most teams they were periodically good, sometimes wretched. As with most Negro League teams they were frequently on the move trying to establish themselves in new towns with new fans willing to support them. They finally hit pay dirt in Baltimore and stabilized for a  long period of time. They also fielded some good teams and produced a lot of decent players (Gilliam, Black, etc) and one great one: Campanella. I sometimes wonder what the true sports (as opposed to social) legacy of the Negro Leagues should be. Keeping the sport alive in segregated times is number one, but I’m not sure that proving the depth of talent among black ball players wasn’t a close second. In that way the Elite Giants are both typical and important.

The First Negro League World Series

February 13, 2012

The concept of a championship game, or series of games, isn’t new. It goes back in baseball into the 1880s when the National League and American Association squared off in a series of games that were as much exhibition as serious. The modern World Series comes out of this same desire to see the best two teams face off one last time (or for a first time as the case may be). Black baseball had its own segregated versions of the same thing dating back to around 1910. But with the establishment of, first, the Negro National League, and then the Eastern Colored League in the early 1920s, something like a black version of the World Series could be contested. The first of those was 1924. Some baseball scholars maintain it was also the best of the lot.

Winners of the Negro National League, the Kansas City Monarchs featured decent hitting to go along with great pitching. Future Hall of Fame inductees Joe Rogan and Jose Mendez were on the mound. The infield included Nate Allen, who would still be around for the 1942 Negro League World Series, and Dobie Moore. Heavy Johnson, all 250 pounds of him, was in left field. Mendez did double duty as the manager and the team was owned by J.L. Wilkinson.

The Hilldale Daisies were winners of the new Eastern Colored League (formed in 1923). The owner was Ed Bolden with second baseman Frank Warfield managing. The team included Hall of Fame catchers Louis Santop and Biz Mackey, infielders Judy Johnson (also a Hall of Fame player) and Tank Carr, with Clint Thomas in left field. Nip Winters was their star pitcher. It was to be a best of nine series.

Opening game, 1924 Negro League World Series

Above is a photo of the opening ceremonies of the 1924 Negro League World Series. It’s a wonderful photo of some truly great players. The Monarchs are the team to the right of the photo. The fifth person from the left (fourth in Monarchs uniform) is Heavy Johnson, Rogan is beside him, Newt Allen next, and Mendez beside Allen. Of the men in the middle in the suits, Wilkinson is the man on the left, Bolden on the right. Rube Foster is to Bolden’s right and Alex Pompez is to Foster’s right. Next to Bolden is Louis Santop, the first of the Daisies. Winters is in uniform beside Santop. Carr is three to the left of Winters, and Judy Johnson second from Carr’s left. Biz Mackey is second from Johnson’s left Manager Warfield is the next to last man in uniform on the left side of the photo. You can click on the photo to get a bit better picture.

Games one through three were to be held in Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. However, game three was held on a Sunday. Because of Pennsylvania blue laws the game was played in Baltimore. Games four through six were to be in Kansas City, with the final three games played in Chicago, a neutral site and Rube Foster’s current home town (he was born in Texas but lived in Chicago).

 Game one was a 6-1 affair won by Kansas City. In the sixth inning, Warfield booted a ball allowing two runs to score. Three more errors by pitcher Phil Cockrell brought the damage to five runs. The Monarchs tacked on another run in the top of the ninth. Then with two out, Rogan gave up a pair of runs to reach the final score. Game two saw Hilldale even the series with an 11-0 explosion. Winters gave up four singles, none bunched, and the Daisies scored five runs in the first, and two each in the second and third innings  to blow the game open. Game three was a 6-6 tie. With the score tied going into the ninth, both teams put up one run, then both scored one in the twelfth. The Monarchs committed five errors, two leading to runs, Mackey was intentionally walked three times (wonder how often that happens?), and the game was called because of darkness after 13 innings. The next day the game was replayed with Hilldale winning 4-3. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, Kansas City pitcher Cliff Bell walked consecutive batters, then back-to-back errors brought in the winning run. 

Game four shifted to Kansas City. Hilldale went ahead in the series at 3-1 with a 5-2 win. The Monarchs got two runs in the first. Joe Rogan went into the top of the ninth ahead 2-1. With two on Judy Johnson slammed a three-run inside-the-park home run to put the Daisies ahead. Winters shut down 25 of the last 26 hitters he faced to dominate after the first inning. Game five saw Kansas City score four runs in the first, lose the lead in the third, retake the lead in the fourth, then see Hilldale tie it up again in the sixth. In the bottom of the eighth with one on, outfielder George Sweatt tripled in the winning run.  The final game in Kansas City went 12 innings. Rogan, playing second rather than pitching, had three singles, the last of which drove in the winning run. Winters pitched the entire 12 innings for Hilldale. 

Game seven (the eighth played because of the tie) moved to Chicago with the teams tied 3-3. It became one of the most famous of all Negro League games. For five innings the game was a scoreless pitchers duel with Rogan pitching against Rube Currie. Hilldale broke through for a single run in both the sixth and seventh innings.  The bottom of the ninth became famous. With one out and a run in, Rogan beat out a slow roller to short that Mackey, playing third because of an injury, failed to break on (Mackey had played a lot of short when Santop was behind the plate so it wasn’t like he’d never been out there before.). Moore singled off Judy Johnson’s glove (Johnson was at short), putting runners at the corner. Frank Duncan raised a foul pop which Santop proceeded to drop. Given new life, Duncan hit a single through Mackey’s legs that scored both Rogan and Moore giving the Monarchs a 3-2 win. After the game Manager Warfield publicly called out Santop blaming him for the loss (like Santop had put Rogan and Moore on base). Game eight was the next day, with Winters winning his third game for Hilldale as the Daisies evened the Series at 4 games apiece. Winters gave up two early runs, then Hilldale tied it in the fifth, went ahead in the top of the eighth, then saw the Monarchs tie it again in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the ninth, the Daisies picked up two more runs, including a big hit by previous day’s goat, Santop. Winters shut down Kansas City in the bottom of the ninth to set up a decisive game nine (10 counting the tie). The final game was played Monday, October 20th. For seven and a half innings the pitchers, Jose Mendez and Scrip Lee, were close to unhittable. In the bottom of the eighth, Hilldale pitcher Lee tired and Kansas City pushed across five runs, Mendez scoring a key one, to take a 5-0 lead. Mendez shut out the Daisies in the ninth and Kansas City claimed the first Negro League World Series title. 

It was a heck of a series and deserves a few comments. 1.) Santop was made the goat of the Series because of his error. Of course the loss put Hilldale down one with two to play. Had they won the game they would have been up one with two to play. Who knows what would have happened in game eight if the Monarchs were down. Besides, it’s not like Santop cost the Daisies any of their other four losses. It could be argued that Warfield was the goat because he didn’t pull Lee when he tired in game nine. 2.) Because there was concern that the umpires in the Series might be biased, the leagues agreed to used four white umpires from the Minor Leagues during the Series. There were no complaints (beyond a standard “What? Are you blind?” kind of gripe) about the umpiring. 3.) The winner’s share worked out to $307.96 per player and the loser’s share was $193.22. I checked and the 1924 white World Series winning players (Washington) received $5,959.64 and the losers (New York) got $3, 820.29. 4.) Statistically, Winters was 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and 21 strikeouts. Rogan was 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA and hit .325 for the Series. Mendez was 2-0 with an ERA of just 1.42. Among hitters, Judy Johnson managed .365 with a Series leading seven RBIs. There were 38 total errors over the 10 games. 

The NNL and ECL continued to play a season ending World Series through 1927. None of the others lived up to the hype or the play of the first. There was, however, a measure of justice, or at least revenge, in the 1925 Series. The same two teams squared off again. This time Hilldale beat the Monarchs five games to one. It was the only Series the ECL team won (In case you’re curious, the Chicago American Giants won the other two 1920s Series’ over the Bacharach Giants).

Big Bertha

February 9, 2012

Louis Santop around 1920

The first in a long line of Negro League sluggers who redefined the role of power in the Negro Leagues was Louis Santop. He was born Louis Santop Loftin in Tyler, Texas in 1890. He began his professional career in 1909 in Texas, moved up through Oklahoma, and arrived on the East Coast in 1910. He was big, powerful, and a catcher. There is no question of his hitting prowess or of his power. Everyone agrees he hit well and the ball went a long way when he connected.  There does seem to be, however, some question about his abilities as a catcher. Some sources imply he was a hitter who happened to play behind the plate. Other sources indicate he was a great catcher with soft hands, quick feet (which didn’t age well), and a good ability to call a game. Whichever is correct, there is universal agreement that he was, as much because of his size as anything else, excellent at blocking the plate even in an era with minimal catcher’s gear.

Bertha Krupp von Bohlen

He spent the 19-teens floating among the better black teams of New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Chicago. He was big and powerful and even for “Dead Ball” baseball prolific at home runs and especially gap-power doubles. He picked up the nickname “Big Bertha” during World War I. The German .420 cannon was nicknamed for the Krupp heiress Bertha (a fairly large woman) and packed quite a punch in action. That seemed, to fans and fellow players, to describe Santop also. In the period just before World War I, Santop played with the New York Lincoln Giants. He’s credited with batting  averages of .470, 422, .429, and .455 between the years 1911 and 1914. As usual with Negro League statistics, don’t hang your hat on those numbers. Whether they are exaggerated or indicate lousy pitching, or whatever, they do indicate that Santop could hit well.

A .420 Morser (“Big Bertha”)

In 1917 he found something like a permanent home. Excepting a stint in the military during and just after World War I, Santop played the rest of his career with the Hilldale Daisies of Philadelphia. Hilldale was a dairy company that fielded a youth team. By 1916, they turned professional and barnstormed throughout the East with an occasional foray into the Midwest. In 1923 the Eastern Colored League was formed with Hilldale as a charter member. They won pennants in 1923, ’24, and ’25. Santop was the starting catcher in 1923 but was aging. He began splitting playing time with Biz Mackey (a fellow Hall of Fame inductee) and by late in 1924 was in something like a platoon situation with Mackey. In the 1924 Negro League World Series Santop, playing for Mackey, made a significant error that helped lead to the Daisies losing the World Series to Kansas City. Sources all agree that Santop never recovered from the error and the public tongue-lashing his manager gave him after the game. He lingered into 1926 when he retired.

Out of the Negro Leagues, he played semipro ball for five years then did some broadcast work for a Philadelphia radio station (WELK). He left that job to tend bar. He died in Philadelphia in 1942 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.

As with any Negro League player the statistical evidence for his career is slim. Baseball Reference’s Bullpen gives some stats for the Eastern Colored League years (1923-26) and some for the period 1920-22 when the Daisies were associate members of the Negro National League (that means they played meaningful games against quality competition, but those games didn’t count for championship purposes for Hilldale). Be aware that the numbers are both incomplete and reflect Santop’s numbers in the latter stages of his career (in other words, there is no string of hitting .400 four years in a row).

Over seven years, Santop appeared in 190 documented games hitting .324 with a slugging percentage of .461. No OBP is given so no OPS or OPS+ can be figured with preciseness. I did do a quick hits plus walks divided by at bats and came up with .396 (how many catcher’s interference and hit batsmen could there be?). That would give an OPS of .857 (and no park info for OPS+). He had 189 hits, 29 doubles, 13 home runs, and scored an even 100 runs. He had  87 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, and 42 walks (no strikeout totals available). The stats are also broken down for a 162 game schedule giving 85 runs, 161 hits, 25 doubles, 11 home runs, and 74 RBIs over a 162 game season. Not bad for an old man in the 1920s.

Which brings me to the usual question about Negro League players, “How good was he?” And as usual the answer is, “Got me.” The information is spotty but all indications are that Santop was a first-rate player who would have done well in the white Major Leagues. Would he have been spectacular? I don’t know. In looking for info on Santop I ran across a number of lists of Negro League players trying to rank them by position (Bill James has one in his book if you want to look at a representative example.). There’s something like complete agreement that Santop is second on the catching list behind Josh Gibson (and that Mackey is third). Maybe it’s enough to say that if you’re second behind Gibson, you’re awfully good. Maybe that’s all we can finally say about Santop.

My Best Negro League Roster

February 28, 2011

A friend of mine who reads this blog called me up the other day. He suggested I post what was, in my opinion, the best Negro League team. I went into a long discourse about why that wasn’t possible because of lack of stats and collaborating info and anything else I could come up with to get out of it. He finally cut me off with a simple, “Wing it.” So for the edification of anyone who happens to run across this, and to cap a long group of Negro League posts, here’s my list of the best Negro League players, with appropriate caveats (You knew those were coming, didn’t you?).

First, I took only guys who played the majority of their careers in the Negro Leagues. In other words guys like Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby were out, as were Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. Second, I did a 25 man roster with a manager and an owner, and a couple of special add ons. I included 2 players at each infield position, 6 outfielders, 3 catchers, and 8 pitchers (at least two of which had to be left-handed). I know that almost no Negro League team ever actually had 25 men on its roster and that if they did they weren’t aligned as I’ve aligned my team. But this is the way I wanted to do it. I have an aversion to comparing players in the pre-mound era with those whose career is mostly after the advent of the mound and the 60’6″ pitching distance.  I simply think the game is so different you can’t compare players (feel free to disagree). That led to a real problem for me, Frank Grant. I think he is probably one of the half-dozen or so greatest black players ever, but that’s unquantifiable to me. So I had to leave him out, and wish I didn’t.

So here we go. All players are listed alphabetically by position. That means there is no indication that I think the guy listed first is better, although he may be a lot better. Don’t expect a lot of surprises, and keep the snickers to yourselves.

Catcher: Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop. This was actually pretty easy. There seems to be a consensus between statheads, historians, and old Negro League players that these three were head and shoulders above the other catchers in Negro League play. Fleet Walker was also a catcher, but I don’t think he was the quality of these three and he also fails to meet the post-mound criteria. Sorry, Fleet.

1st Base: Buck Leonard, Mule Suttles. There were two problems here. The first was the necessity of leaving out Buck O’Neill. I don’t suppose there is a more important Negro Leaguer (except for Jackie Robinson), but the information on him makes it evident that he wasn’t really at the top of the line of Negro League first basemen. The second problem is that Mule Suttles spent a lot of time in the outfield. But it was common for Negro League players to do “double duty” in the field, so Suttles at first isn’t actually a bad idea.

2nd Base: Newt Allen, Bingo DeMoss. I think I had more trouble settling on the second basemen than on any other position (OK, maybe pitcher). First, I wanted to put Grant in, but just couldn’t because of the problems mentioned above. I also think it might be the weakest position in Negro League play. The list of truly great players here is awfully short. I think these two are probably the best, but I could be talked into someone else.

3rd Base: Ray Dandridge, Judy Johnson. Again an easy pick. There seems to be universal agreement that Dandridge was a fielder unlike any other in the history of the Negro Leagues, and that Johnson could outhit anyone who played the position. Who am I to argue with universal agreement?

Shortstop: John Henry Lloyd, Willie Wells. Lloyd was an easy pick. If Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop who ever shortstopped, says he’s pleased to be compared with Lloyd, I’m gonna take him at his word. Wells was also pretty easy. Again there seems to be a consensus among the sources that he was a terrific shortstop.

Outfield: Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Oscar Charleston, Martin DiHigo, Turkey Stearnes, Christobal Torriente. First, I didn’t worry about getting two each Right, Center, and Left. I ended up with two Right Fielders (Brown, DiHigo), one in Left (Stearnes), and the rest are Center Fielders. One of the things about studying and researching for this list is how quickly you find out Bell is seriously overrated. Now I don’t mean to imply Bell wasn’t a heck of a ballplayer; he was. He may have been the very best Negro League outfielder ever. But there seems to be this idea that he was just head and shoulders above the others (Charleston and Torriente). From what I read, I just don’t see that. Maybe he was better, but if so not by much. Certainly he wasn’t better by the amount a lot of people seem to want to think. It reminds me of what I call the “Derek Jeter Aura”. Is Jeter the best shortstop who started his career in the last 15 or so years? Yes. Is he the  greatest since the position was invented (as some would have us believe)?  Not even close, but try telling that to legions of his fans. And Bell seems to be running through that same situation. Personally, I think Charleston was better (and again that’s a personal opinion, not bolstered by much in the way of facts) and I’m not sure that DiHigo wasn’t the finest Negro League outfielder of the lot (or maybe he wasn’t, it’s tough to tell). I am fairly sure that DiHigo is the most under appreciated of the lot.

Pitcher: Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, Bill Foster, Luis Mendez, Satchel Paige, Joe Rogan, Hilton Smith. This may have been the hardest of the lists to determine. First, there aren’t a lot of really good left-handed pitchers in the Negro Leagues, so finding two (and one-quarter of the list being left-handed didn’t seem unreasonable) became a pain. Next, there were more than six righty’s that had to be considered. I hated to leave any off, but this list is my best guess.

Manager: Rube Foster. OK, he had to be here somewhere. He seems to have been a better pitcher than manager and a better manager than executive, but the founder of the Negro Leagues ought to be here.

Owner:  Cum Posey. I said that both second and pitching caused me the most problem. That’s true of players, but finding the best owner to put on the team was almost a nightmare. Who do you take? J.L. Wilkinson owned the most famous team (the Monarchs), Effa Manley of Newark was probably the most famous owner, Gus Greenlee owned the best team (the Crawfords). I looked at all of them and chose Posey, the man who owned the Grays. I think the Grays were the most consistantly successful team in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s. I decided that made Posey the owner.

One of a kind: Double Duty Radcliffe. Radcliffe was known to pitch one game of a double-header, then catch the other game. You have to be kidding me. 

Post Negro League Career: Charley Pride. One of the great things about being married to my wife is that every morning I get to “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” Now I may be wrong about this, but “Just Between You and Me,” as far as I can tell, Pride had the best non-sports related career of any Negro Leaguer.

A Charley Pride baseball card

The musical information shown here tells me this card is a fake, but I just couldn’t resist putting it up for show and tell.

Here’s hoping you’ve learned something from this sojourn into the Negro Leagues and black baseball in general. Failing that, I hope you enjoyed them. With the end of Black History Month, I’ll think I’ll take up something else.

The Last Great Negro League World Series

February 18, 2011

Although the signing of black players to Major League teams began the end for the Negro Leagues, they managed to hold a World Series as late as 1948. But by 1948 the Negro Leagues were on life support. They still had good players. Willie Mays played in the last Negro League World Series (his team lost). But as a whole the leagues were dying. At the end of 1948 the Negro National League folded. But prior to losing most of their best players to the white leagues, the Negro Leagues had one last great Series in 1946.

As with the Major League World Series (won in 1946 by the Cardinals), the Negro League World Series was a best of seven. The 1946 version featured the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. The Monarchs were a well established team that had been victories in previous Negro League World Series’ going all the way back to the 1920s. Manager and back-up catcher Frank Duncan’s team featured NAL batting champion Buck O’Neill at first, Hank Thompson at second, Herb Souell at third, and Series hitting star Chico Renfroe at short (Renfroe had backed up Jackie Robinson earlier). The outfield consisted of Willard Brown in center flanked by Ted Strong in right and a whole group of left fielders including pitchers Robert Griffith and Ford  Smith. The catcher was Joe Greene, who caught a staff that included Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Ford Smith, Chet Brewer, and James LaMarque.

1946 KC Monarchs

The Negro National League winning Newark Eagles weren’t nearly as famous. In fact, their owner, Effa Manley, may have been more famous than the team. They’d never won before, but put up a 47-16 record to take the pennant. Manager Biz Mackey’s (like Duncan the back-up catcher)  infield consisted of  Lennie Pearson at first, Larry Doby at second, Clarence Israel at third, and  Monte Irvin at short.  Cherokee Davis and Bob Harvey patrolled the outfield with pitcher Leon Day taking the other position on days he didn’t pitch. Regular catcher Leon Ruffin backstopped a staff that included Day, Max Manning, Lennie Hooker, and Rufus Lewis.

1946 Newark Eagles

The first two games were in Newark, with the teams splitting the games. Kansas City won the first game 2-1 with a fine relief performance by Paige, who also scored the winning run. Newark evened the Series the next day winning 7-4. The key to the game was a six run rally in the 7th inning. Paige relieved again, and this time the Eagles got to him with Doby providing a key home run.

The Series moved to Kansas City for games 3-5. The first two games in KC were blowouts. In game 3, the Monarchs racked up 15 runs and 21 hits in crushing Newark who put up five runs on seven hits. The Eagles got revenge in game 4, winning 8-1. Doby doubled and tripled for the key runs. Paige again relieved and was again ineffective. Game 5 saw Newark collect ten hits, but score only one run, while the Monarchs made five runs on nine hits. In a key development, right fielder Ted Strong left the Monarchs to play ball in the Puerto Rico winter league making it necessary for pitcher Ford Smith to take his post in right.

With Newark down 3-2, the Series went back to the East Coast. Game 6 developed into an offensive slugfest. Irvin and Lennie Pearson both slugged two homers, Buck O’Neill and Willard Brown each  had one. The Eagles evened the Series with a 9-7 win. That set up game seven, only the second time the Negro League World Series had gone the full seven games (1943). The key development occurred prior to the game when Paige didn’t show up for the game. No one seems to know exactly why. Stories about bribes, drinking, loose women, and all sorts of other things pop up, but there seems to be no definitive answer to Paige being MIA. The way he’d pitched in the Series, it might have made no difference. Newark scored first, but KC tied it in the sixth and went ahead 2-1 in the seventh. In the bottom of the eighth, both Doby and Irvin walked. Cherokee Davis followed with a two run double to put the Eagles ahead 3-2. KC failed to score in the ninth and Newark won its only Negro League World Series.

The Series had a usual assortment of heroes and goats. For the Eagles Irvin, Pearson, and Davis had great games with Irvin hitting .462 with eight RBI’s and three home runs. For the staff Lewis was 2-1 and Manning 1-1. Hooker was also 1-1, but with an ERA of 6.00. Ace Leon Day ended up 0-0, also with a 6.00 ERA. For the Monarchs, Renfroe hit .414, O’Neill had two homers, and Brown had three, despite hitting only .241. The loss of Strong was a blow, but as he was hitting only .111 when he left the team, it may have effected the pitching more than the hitting. Hilton Smith was 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA and hit well when he played the outfield. But the rest of the staff didn’t do as well. Paige was also 1-1, but with a 5.40 ERA, a blown save, and of course missed game 7 entirely.   LaMarque won his only decision, but had an ERA over 7.

There would be two more Negro League World Series matchups before the NNL folded. Both were played with depleted rosters and neither lived up to the 1946 version. It was to be the final Negro League World Series with the top quality players available and in many ways was the true end of an era.

The Phenom of Phenoms

December 20, 2010

The loss of Bob Feller reminded me just how much of a “phenom” he was. He joined the Indians at 17, then left in September to begin his senior year in high school. Upon graduation he returned to Cleveland and renewed his career. There have been a great number of “phenoms”, some fragile like Stephen Strasburg, some injured like Herb Score. Back in the 1950s the “Bonus Baby” rule required “phenoms” signed for huge bonus’ to stay on the Major League roster for two years (“We gotta discourage this bonus nonesnse.”). Those men played out their minor league careers in front of Major League audiences. When they should have been playing Double A and Triple A ball they were spending entire seasons on the bench with an occasional foray to the field. Some of them disappeared. Others became stars after they served their time on the bench. Eighteen year old Harmon Killebrew played nine games in his rookie season but became a feared power hitter who ended up with over 500 home runs and a plaque in Cooperstown. Nineteen year old college freshman Sandy Koufax got into 42 innings in 1955, but became a Hall of Famer and the best hurler I ever saw. Watching both in the first few years of their careers was painful, but it panned out in the end.

But there was another “phenom” who was just as good and just as painful to watch in his early years. He got to the big leagues at age 16. It wasn’t exactly the Major Leagues he got to. They wouldn’t let him into the Majors when he was 16 and it had nothing to do with his age. He joined professional baseball at the highest level he could by entering the Negro Leagues. His name was Roy Campanella and he was very, very good.

Campanella was of mixed race, which in 1930s and 1940s America meant that no matter his actual skin tone, he was considered black. He was a natural at baseball, excelling at school and on the sand lots. At age 16, he dropped out of school and in the spring of 1937, still aged 16, he joined the Washington Elite Giants, who moved to Baltimore in 1938. I heard an interview with Campanella years ago in which he pronounced the name of the team as E-LIGHT Giants, not E-LEET Giants. Don’t know if it was his personal pronunciation or the actual pronunciation of the team name, but I’ve called them E-LIGHT Giants since. I’m not about to contradict Roy Campanella.

By his own confession he wasn’t much of a catcher at age 16. The Elite Giants (however you pronounced them) had a great catcher of their own named Biz Mackey, who later on was elected to the Hall of  Fame. Campanella credited Mackey with making him a Major League caliber catcher.

In the Negro Leagues, Campanella became a star and was considered something of a rival of Josh Gibson as the finest catcher in the leagues (at least as far as anyone was going to rival Gibson). In 1942 Campanella jumped to the Mexican League where he was equally good. In 1946 Jackie Robinson signed his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball, slowly, tentatively, and ever so carefully cracked open the door of integration. Late in 1946, the Dodgers signed Campanella (by now universally known as “Campy”). While in Nashua in the minors, the team manager (Walter Alston) was tossed from the game. He appointed Campanella as his replacement, making Campy the first black man to manage white players in a professional minor league game. Behind when Campy took over, the team ultimately won the game. He made the Major League team in 1948, settling in as the regular catcher. He became a regular all-star, a regular MVP candidate, and a three-time winner of the MVP award. Although “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke” may have been more famous, in the time that they and Campy all played in New York, Campy won as many MVP awards as the other three put together (as did Campy’s closest rival, Yogi Berra).

Campanella was a great catcher. He had large and soft hands, could move easily despite a distinct bulk. He blocked the plate well, threw to second well (not all that significant a skill in the low base stealing era that was the 1950s), could move under a foul fly with ease, and did a wonderful job with pitchers, especially considering the racial problems created by a black/white battery. And he could hit. God, could he hit. I never saw anyone swing the bat harder. We had a joke in the house that when he swung and missed you could feel the breeze cool you through the TV. He hit .300 three times, had 30+ home runs four times (once going over 40 for a then record number by a catcher), led the National League in RBIs once, and even managed to steal eight bases one year. As he put it about the steals, “They were laughing so hard, they forgot to throw the ball.”

In 1954 he got hurt; his throwing hand. It never healed properly and periodically bothered him for the rest of his career. In the year he stayed healthy (1955) he was still terrific, winning one more MVP award and appearing in the Dodgers first ever World Series triumph. In 1956 and 1957 he was on the wane. The hand was a problem, so was age. He was only 35 and 36, but he was a catcher and the aches, pains, injuries, and squats took their toll. In 1958 came the car wreck and the end of his career. He made the Hall of Fame in 1969, three years before  Josh Gibson. Death came in 1993.

Campanella was a big league player at 16 (a year earlier than Feller). He was a superior catcher and hitter who because of his age may be the “phenom of phenoms”. It’s hard to place him in the pantheon of great catchers because he loses his earliest years to racism and is hurt in the final couple of years of his career (without reference to what the car wreck might have cost him in playing time). Still he rates in the ten best among catchers. I’ve seen some lists that place him has high as second. I’ll settle for top five and the knowledge that he stands at the head of a long line of young “phenoms” who made their mark in baseball.

Roy Campanella