Posts Tagged ‘Hilldale Daisies’

That Other League

February 25, 2013
1925 Hilldale

1925 Hilldale

Ask most baseball fans about the Negro Leagues and you’ll get an acknowledgment that they’ve heard of such (which is, I guess, an improvement). Ask them to identify a particular league and if you’re really lucky they’ll reply with Negro National League (without knowing it came in two phases). Or if you’re really, really lucky you’ll find they’ve heard of the Negro American League. Generally if you tell them one of the two existed, they’ll guess the other one. But, of course, those weren’t the only Negro Leagues. For most of the first half of the Twentieth Century they were the most important, but they weren’t alone. For a short period in the 1920s, before the Negro American League was formed, there was another league that could, and did, compete with the Negro National League at the highest level. The first Negro World Series occurred not between the Negro National League and the Negro American League, but between the Negro National League and the other league, the Eastern Colored League.

The Negro National League was formed in 1920 and combined most of the better black independent barnstorming teams into a single entity. The league was not without problems. Rube Foster, founder and President, ran the NNL with an iron hand and a number of  eastern teams felt he favored western teams, especially Chicago, in disputes. In 1923 Ed Bolden, owner of the Hilldale Daisies, proposed the formation of a new league based primarily on the East Coast. He approached New York booking agent Nat Strong (who was white) about forming the new league. Strong handled booking for most East Coast black teams and agreed to support Bolden and handle the booking.  They convinced the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City to join them in jumping from the NNL and the two teams created the Eastern Colored League.

Two teams don’t make much of a league, so both Bolden and Strong actively recruited new members. They went after both NNL affiliated teams and independents. By opening day 1923 “that other league”, as Rube Foster described them, fielded six teams: the Daisies, Bacharachs, Alex Pompez’s Cuban Stars East, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York’s Lincoln Giants, and the Baltimore Black Sox. The ECL played between 36 (Royal Giants) and 49 (Hilldale and Baltimore) games with Hilldale taking the first pennant by four and a half games over the Cuban Stars.

Through the winter of 1923 into early 1924 the two leagues feuded over contracts, stealing teams, hijacking players, and Rube Foster’s complaint that the ECL had too many white owners (the NNL also had white owners). Toward the end of the season, the leagues made peace, agreeing to honor contracts, stop raiding (and all the other things leagues agree to and frequently ignore). With Kansas City winning the NNL and Hilldale repeating in the ECL, they leagues determined to play an end of season Negro World Series, which Kansas City won. The series lasted through 1927.

Hilldale repeated in 1925, winning the Negro World Series, then slipped back in 1926. Founding member the Bacharach Giants replaced them as the ECL’s leading team, winning titles in both 1926 and 1927. They lost the World Series each time. By the end of the 1927 season, the ECL had gone from playing 49 games to a high of 117 games (Hilldale). With the longer season there were increased ticket sales and an appearance of stability.

But the stability was illusionary. Bolden was having health problems and other owners were beginning to chafe under his leadership. As he both owned  Hilldale and was President of the league, several owners and a few newspapers began questioning if Bolden could serve impartially. In 1927 he was replaced as ECL President, becoming secretary in 1928. But Hilldale was hemorrhaging money and pulled out of the league. He took the Royal Giants with him along with the Harrisburg Giants (who’d joined the ECL in 1924).  It left the league with five teams, shaky finances, and few prospects. In May, the ECL folded, with the teams going their independent ways.

The ECL was generally considered the second league behind the NNL, weaker, less stable. All those things were true and the ECL was unable to stay afloat for long. During its existence, it did provide legitimate competition for the NNL, winning one of four Negro World Series. Its collapse followed by the failure of the NNL in 1931 began a long period of independence in black baseball.

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.

Negro Leagues World Series, Round I

February 8, 2010

With the 1920’s black baseball began coalescing into more organized leagues playing something like coherent schedules. There was still a lot of barnstorming and such, but league play became more central to the teams. Rube Foster’s Negro National League held primacy of place as the first and finest of these leagues. The Eastern Colored League rapidly became an equal and by 1924 the two leagues were rival enough to decide on a series of postseason games that came to be called the Negro Leagues World Series.

The World Series lasted four years before the Eastern Colored League got into deep financial trouble. Like troubles hit the National League and the Series stopped after 1927. Each Series was a best of nine format, only the first going the full nine (actually it went 10, there was a tie). The National League dominated the competition, winning three of the four, but only the one win by the Eastern Colored League team was a blowout. Below are brief looks at each Series:
1924:  Kansas City Monachs  (NNL) vs Hilldale Daisies (ECL) won by the Monarchs 5 games to 4. Key Monarchs players included Newt Allen at 2nd, Dewey Creasy at 3rd, Heavy Johnson in the outfield, and pitchers Bullet Rogan and Luis Mendez who also managed the team. The Daisies featured Tank Carr at 1st, Biz Mackey at both short and behind the plate, Judy Johnson at 3rd, Lois Santop behind the plate when Mackey was at short, and southpaw pitcher Nip Winters. With the Daisies ahead in the series 4 games to three, Santop muffed a foul in the last inning of the the game. The Monarchs turned the error into the decisive run and won the series the next game.

1925:  A rematch of the last series. This time the Daisies won the Series 5 games to 1.  Winters pitched well, Mackey moved behind the plate where he became a Hall of  Fame catcher (an aging Santop backing him up and doing most of the pinch hitting).

1926:  The National League’s Chicago American Giants (Foster’s old team) beat the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 5 games to 3. The American Giants featured player/manager Dave Malarcher at 3rd, Jelly Gardner in the outfield, and Rube Foster’s brother Bill pitching. The Bacharach Giants countered with Dick Lundy at short, Oliver Marcelle at 3rd, and pitchers Luther Ferrell and Claude Grier, both of which tossed no hitters in a losing cause.

1927:  The same two teams met with the same result, a 5-3 victory for the American Giants.

After the season the World Series was discontinued for 13 years, but a number of great players (Santop, Mackey, Rogan, Mendez, Bill Foster) managed to eventually reach the Hall of Fame. So did Rube Foster, founder of the National League. The new Series would feature a revived National League and a brand new league, the Negro American League.