Posts Tagged ‘Dick Whitworth’

An Anniversary and a Plea

February 13, 2020

Dick Lundy (photo from Baseball Reference.Com)

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the first Negro National League. In 1920, Rube Foster led a group of owners in trying to create order out of the chaos that was black baseball prior to 1920. With the help of others like J. L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs (originally the All Nations) he formed a viable league that would outlast Foster himself (he died in 1928) and fail only with the depths of the Great Depression in 1931. It is a moment we should all salute, particularly in Black History Month.

But I want to point out one more thing. This year will mark the initial vote of the pre-integration veterans committee (what I call the “Geezer Committee”) of the Hall of Fame. They meet once in 10 years and 2020 is that year. There will be a predetermined ballot handed to 16 voters who will then choose people worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. And that ballot (probably of 10 names) should include Negro League players.

In 2006, the Hall of Fame made a major effort to add former Negro Leaguers to the Hall of Fame, and by and large did a good job. But when they were done they closed the door of the Hall to other Negro League players. They never said that, they would probably deny it if asked, but they managed to do it anyway. Ask yourself how many Negro League stars appeared on ballots that covered the period prior to 1947 since 2006. I won’t give it away, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a number less than one. Effectively, the Hall has said that they are through adding Negro League stars to Cooperstown.

Think about that for a minute. There is no room in the Hall of Fame for “Cannonball” Dick Redding or Dick Lundy or Dick Whitworth (just to stick with the name “Dick”). Maybe you won’t put all of them in (I’d probably leave out Whitworth), but to not consider them at all is just plain silly. And there are others (“Candy” Jim Taylor, Spottswood Poles, Gus Greenlee, Bud Fowler come to mind immediately) who need to be considered; at least considered.

So this is a plea for the Hall of Fame to insure that at least one Negro League stalwart gets on the ballot for the next Hall of Fame election. At least look at them, people.

Big Whitworth

February 20, 2018

Richard Whitworth about 1916

Baseball is full of pitchers with short careers. Some are short because the guy wasn’t very good. Others are short, but have very intense periods of greatness. Hall of Fame pitchers like Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax fall into this category. For a handful of years they were truly outstanding then something went wrong. In Dean’s case it was an injury, in Koufax’s it was arthritis. Negro League baseball was no different from its Major League counterpart. One of the more prominent Negro League pitchers with a short, spectacular career that ended much too early was “Big” Richard Whitworth.

Born in St. Louis in 1895, Richard “Dick” Whitworth topped out at 6.5″ and 215 pounds, gaining him the nickname of “Big”. A right-handed pitcher he got to the Negro Leagues in 1914 with the Union Giants, one of the top teams in Chicago. He was famous for his fastball and almost, immediately drew the attention of Rube Foster of the American Giants, another major black team in Chicago. In either 1915 or 1916 Whitworth moved over to the American Giants (sources differ) and became, along with Frank Wickware, one of the team aces. For the rest of the teens he joined Wickware to dominate black baseball in the Midwest.

He was a strikeout pitcher who is one of several hurlers who are given credit as the predominant strikeout artist of the era. If his “stuff” was overpowering, and it seems to have been, he could also be wild, racking up a lot of walks to go with the strikeouts. But he was good enough that Rube Foster let Wickware head to the Detroit Stars while holding on to Whitworth. With Wickware gone, Whitworth understood his value was unmatched on the mound. He held out for a raise in 1919 and seems to have gotten at least a small one.

In 1920 he moved to Hilldale (a team that played in Philadelphia), where he helped found the Eastern Colored League. He remained there through 1921, then, his skills eroding, moved back to Chicago, where he had a couple more good, certainly not great seasons. He was through after 1925.

For Dean the problem was an injury, for Koufax, arthritis. For “Big” Whitworth it was a fondness for the bottle. From early in his career he was known to drink heavily. By the early 1920’s it was effecting his game. He was infamous for stepping under the stands before a game to take a few drinks before heading to the mound. There were rumors he drank between innings, but that was never substantiated (as far as I can tell).

He returned to St. Louis after his career was over and died in 1966.

As usual the question of how good was he cannot be adequately answered. His Seamheads numbers read 72 wins, 35 losses, a 2.56 ERA (133 ERA+), 461 strikeouts, 346 walks, and 249 earned runs given up in 877 innings pitched over 136 games. All that gives him 10.5 WAR.

As with the other Negro Leaguers I’ve looked at this month (Wickware and Barber) Whitworth had a drinking problem. Considering the problems facing black Americans in the 19-teens and early 1920s it’s frankly not surprising. What is a little surprising is how easy they were able to get booze after the Prohibition Amendment was passed. It seems that widespread ignoring of the amendment occurred in both the black and white communities. For a long time liquor was the drug of choice in baseball (both the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues) because a lot of good players like the three I’ve featured this month (and others like Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson in the Major Leagues) lost a lot of time to “demon rum.”