Posts Tagged ‘Heavy Johnson’

Outside Waiting

May 4, 2017

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown decided to right a wrong. They’d already begun making strides towards that goal in the 1970s, but made a big splash in 2006. What did they do? They created a special Negro Leagues committee to look over all the information available and decide on a long list (about 100) of Negro League players, managers, and executives to be enshrined at Cooperstown. They had people comb through all the info they could find to prepare a set of statistics and other pertinent facts (and not a few legends) to lay before the select committee. They got, in Shade of Glory, a pretty fair book out of it too.

So the committee met, whittled the list down to about 30 and then made one final vote. Sixteen players, managers, executives, and whatnot got in. It was a heck of a list. It is, at least in my opinion, one of the best jobs the Hall of Fame has done over the years. And you know there’s a “but” coming. “But” they also announced, sort of announced (they never actually said it officially), that they were now through with the Negro Leagues. They done what they could. They’d found the best people (including Effa Manley, the only woman in the Hall), gotten the best available stats, gotten the best experts, so they could now say that the Hall had the Negro Leagues taken care of, period.

In the years since 2006, there has not been one player who was primarily a Negro Leaguer who has appeared on any ballot in any of the versions of the Veteran’s Committee. Not a single one. Minnie Minoso showed up, but he could be excused because he had an excellent (and possibly Hall of Fame) career, but he was being looked at as a Major Leaguer. For 10 years that standard has held.

And they are wrong. There are a number of good choices for enshrinement in Cooperstown among Negro Leagues who are currently outside waiting for their chance. Not a one has even been considered by a Veteran’s Committee. Maybe none of them are of the quality necessary for the honor, but they ought to at least be considered. Take a look at the pre-1950 players showing up on the recent ballots and tell me that no outside Negro Leaguer was better (or at least as good) as the people on the list. Frankly, I don’t think you can do it.

This is a plea for the Hall of Fame to begin again to consider Negro League players for inclusion on the early Veteran’s Committee ballot. Don’t say “we have all we need” or “we have all there is.” Look harder, people.

And to give you some sense of who’s left out, here’s a pretty fair team of Negro Leaguers who currently aren’t in the Hall of Fame:

Pitchers: “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Bill Gatewood, Rube Currie, Phil Cockrell, Nip Winters, Bill Holland

Infielders: Lemuel Hawkins, Frank Warfield, Bud Fowler, Newt Allen, Bingo DeMoss, John Beckwith, Dobie Moore

Outfield: Heavy Johnson, Steel Arm Davis, Spottswood Poles, Hurley McNair

Cacher: Bill Pettus, Bruce Petway, Double Duty Radcliffe

Manager: Buck O’Neill, “Candy” Jim Taylor

That’s 20 of a 25 man roster (plus the managers). I left a few holes for you to fill in with your own favorites that I left out (like a Dave Malarcher or a Terris McDuffy).

I’m not saying all of them are Hall of Fame quality. What I’m saying is that all of them deserve a look.

BTW got the above picture from a blog called “The Negro Leagues Up Close.” Definitely a site worth looking at if you’re interested in the Negro Leagues. Type it in on Google.

El Diamante Negro

February 23, 2017
Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

Recently there’s been a real rash of Caribbean players making their mark in the Major Leagues. With the political troubles the US and Cuba have been through in the last 50 years, few Cubans have made their mark. Back 75 years ago if you were a “white” Cuban you could make your mark in the Majors. If you were a “black” Cuban you couldn’t. Dolf Luque, a pretty fair pitcher managed to pitch in a World Series. For El Diamante Negro (the Black Diamond) there was no chance. So Jose Mendez made his mark in the Negro Leagues.

Mendez was born in Cardenas, Cuba (about 100 miles from Havana) in 1887. By 1907 he was a pitcher for the Almendares team. Seamheads shows him 8-0 in 13 games as his team won the Cuban League pennant. He remained in Cuba through 1916 pitching winter ball there while moving to the US to pitch during the summers. Between 1909 and 1911 he pitched for the Cuban Stars going 15-2 in documented games with an ERA under 1.50.

By 1913 he’d found the team with which he was destined to make his greatest mark. The All Nations was a barnstorming team that traveled around the upper Midwest playing pretty much all comers. It had initially been one of the few integrated teams in the country, but as the long arm of Jim Crow tightened on the US it became more and more a black team. By 1913 it was completely segregated. Well, not completely. The owner, Hall of Famer J.L. Wilkinson, was white. He’d founded the All Nations to show that integrated baseball was possible. He also had contacts in the Major League community, particularly a minor outfielder named Casey Stengel. Guys like Stengel led white barnstorming teams across the US and frequently played black teams. Wilkinson’s contacts with teams like Stengel’s gave him an insight into the best black teams and best black players available. One of those was Mendez, and the All Nations picked him up.

He had a decent year with Wilkinson’s club but developed arm trouble in 1914. He moved to shortstop and continued playing. By 1919 his arm was well and he returned to the mound. The formation of the Negro National League in 1920 gave him a new place to play and he signed with Wilkinson’s team, now renamed the Kansas City Monarchs.

Along with the American Giants, the Monarchs were one of the dominant teams of the NNL. With Mendez and “Bullet Joe” Rogan pitching, Newt Allen and Dobie Moore on the infield Oscar (“Heavy”) Johnson patrolling the outfield they won pennants in 1923, 1924, and 1925. In the latter two years, the team played in the first two Colored World Series (both against Hilldale). With Mendez picking up two wins, including the clincher, they won the first of the two in 1924, dropping the ’25 struggle. Mid-1923 saw Mendez take over the managerial reins for the team. He held the job through the final pennant year of 1925.

Mendez retired after the 1926 season and died in Cuba in 1928 of bronchopneumonia. He still holds the Cuban League record for winning percentage among pitchers. In 2006 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. The Cuban Hall of Fame called him in 1939.

As with other Negro League players of the era, his statistics are all over the place. Baseball Reference.com shows him with 27 wins and 13 loses, all with the Monarchs. Seamheads gives him a 135-58 record over a career from 1907 through 1925. The BR.com ERA is 3.52, while Seamheads has it at 2.16. Either set of numbers shows Mendez as a superior pitcher who was a star in both Cuba and the US Negro Leagues.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wreckers

May 14, 2015
The 1916 25th Infantry Wreckers

The 1916 25th Infantry Wreckers

There are a lot of reasons people join the Army. Some are drafted, some patriotic. Some enjoy the lifestyle, some understand they need the self-discipline the military provides. Some are just looking for an assured three hots and a cot. If you could play baseball, you could also practice your craft for the unit team. Between 1914 and 1920 one of the best unit teams ever played for the US Army. They were the segregated 25th Infantry Wreckers.

In 1914 the US Army was anticipating expansion in case of American entry into World War I. The 25th Infantry was a segregated unit stationed in Hawaii (Schofield Barracks). It had been around for a while and used the prospects of its baseball team as a recruiting tool. That worked well. By the late 19-teens they’d established a first-rate team that was dominate on the islands and could also dominate barnstorming teams and Minor League outfits.

In 1914 they began play in the Post League, a military league for the various Hawaiian armed forces bases. There were four teams, one Asian, one Portuguese, one Chinese, and the Wreckers. The 25th finished first easily. Between 1914 and 1918 they finished first by more than 10 games every year. They also dominated Pacific Coast League teams who barnstormed through the islands. In 1918 the 25th was transferred to Arizona (Camp Little) where they continued their winning ways, this time dominating Southwest teams.

The team got its big chance in 1919 when later Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel led a team of barnstorming Major Leaguers through the West. They took on the Wreckers and Stengel was impressed (there seems to be no exact records of the games played between the two teams, but apparently the Wreckers won at least some). Stengel approached J.L. Wilkinson the white owner of the All Nations team, a segregated ball team playing in the Midwest, with a recommendation he look at several of the players on the Wreckers. Wilkinson, who was about to make his All Nations into the kernel of the Kansas City Monarchs and join the Negro National League did so. He was impressed enough to sign six Wreckers to contracts with the Monarchs upon their discharge. A number of other Negro League teams followed suit and by 1921 16 Wreckers were now playing in the Negro Leagues. It finished the Wreckers as a force to be reckoned with in military and amateur baseball.

Who, you ask, were these guys? The list is a litany of great players in the early Negro Leagues. Bullet Joe Rogan and Andy Cooper are in the Hall of Fame. A case can be made that Heavy Johnson and Dobie Moore should be. Other notable Negro Leaguers who played for the Wreckers include Bob Fagan, Hurley McNair, Moses Herring, William Johnson, Lemuel Hawkins, and Dayton Marcus. Rogan, McNair, Fagan, Moore, and Hawkins became stalwarts on the Monarchs teams that dominated the earliest years of the Negro National League.

It was a formidable roster and a formidable team. Arguably, it is the greatest amateur team ever assembled. I’ve been searching for info on them for a long time now and finally found it. I normally wait for things like this for Black History month in February, but I wanted to get it to you as soon as I could.

 

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).

The Kings of Kansas City

February 7, 2011

Monarchs uniform

I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Negro League baseball has three teams that are truly famous. Oh, there are a lot of good teams and teams with great names like the Daisies, but three teams really stand out as famous: The Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Homestead Grays, and the Kansas City Monarchs. I hit the Crawfords last year and this post is about the Monarchs, so I guess that means I’m stuck with doing the Grays next year.

James Leslie Wilkinson (J.L. to his friends and players) was a former pitcher turned Hall of Fame baseball entrepreneur. In 1912 he formed the Des Moines All Nations team. Unlike most teams of the era it was multi-racial. The team was hugely successful, made Wilkinson a lot of money, and when the Negro National League was formed in 1920, Wilkinson became the only white man granted a franchise. He took the best players from the All Nations, and on a heads up from his friend Casey Stengel (yes, THAT Casey Stengel) combined them with the 25th Infantry Wreckers, an all black Army team (there’s a post waiting to happen), into the Kansas City Monarchs.

The monarchs were an immediate success winning titles in 1923, 1924, 1925, and 1929. In 1924 they participated in the first Negro League World Series against the Eastern Colored League champion Hilldale Daisies. With players like Heavy Johnson, Newt Allen, and Hall of Famers Bullet Joe Rogan and Luis Mendez they won it. The 1925 Series was a rematch. This time Hilldale won. In 1931 the Negro National League collapsed, but the Monarchs survived as a barnstorming team until 1936.

1939 Monarchs

In 1937 they joined the newly established Negro American League. Again they were hugely successful winning pennants in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1946. In 1942, the Negro League World Series was reestablished with the Monarchs winning the first one against Homestead. Playing for them were Buck O’Neill, Newt Allen (still), and Hall of Famers Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Hilton Smith, and Satchel Paige. With essentially the same team (OK, Allen was finally gone), they lost the 1946 Series to the Newark Eagles. During the period, they also picked up, for the 1945 season only, a shortstop named Jackie Robinson.

Of course Robinson’s leaving for Brooklyn began the long, slow decline of the Negro Leagues. In 1948, seeing the inevitable collapse, Wilkinson sold the team. It remained in the Negro American League until 1961, when the league finally folded. After 1948, the Monarchs won a couple of league championships, but with much inferior talent.  By the 1950s, Negro League baseball was a shadow of its former glory, but the Monarchs hung on as one of the better teams. They did manage to run Ernie Banks and Elston Howard through their much depleted lineup, but overall quality slipped drastically. In 1955 The Athletics moved to Kansas City from Philadelphia, displacing the Monarchs as the premier team in town. The team headquarters moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan but the team retained the Kansas City name. The Monarchs took to barnstorming and remained alive until 1965, when they finally folded.

There are a number of ways to measure the impact of the Monarchs. They won a lot of games and pennants. They had some of the finest talent of any Negro League team. They continued to produce good talent well after the Negro Leagues were deep into collapse. They last longer than almost any other Negro League team. But maybe most significantly, when the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame was established, it went to Kansas City. They could have chosen a lot of places, but they picked Kansas City, home of the Monarchs.