I’d normally hold this post until my usual look at Negro League baseball in February, but with all the hoopla over Derek Jeter’s retirement and his continued passing of greats like Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner on the all-time hits list, I’m beginning to see a lot of lists trying to fit Jeter into the pantheon of shortstops. You’ve probably seen a few of these. They rank the top 10 (or 5 or 20) shortstops and place Jeter where they think he fits on the list. I’ve seen him number one (which is silly) and as low as ninth (which is also silly). But all these lists (at least the ones I have seen) manage to leave out one man: John Henry Lloyd.
Lloyd was born in Florida in 1884. He was a superior ballplayer and by 1906 had gotten the attention of the Cuban X-Giants, one of the premier black teams in the country. He was quick and agile, a natural shortstop who could hit. That made him much in demand so he wandered a lot from team to team. It wasn’t that people didn’t want him, it was, as he said, “where the money was.” He played with the Philadelphia Stars from 1907 through 1909 then spent years with the Leland Giants, the Lincoln Giants, and finally with Rube Foster’s American Giants. (Do you note a pattern with the use of the name “Giants” for Negro League baseball in the era?). In 1912 he became manager of the Lincoln Giants and in 1913 led his team to a win over the American Giants in an early version of the Negro World Series (which began officially in 1924).
He spent time also in Cuba beginning in 1907. Between 1908 and 1930 he spent at least parts of 12 seasons playing in Cuba. His team won three championships (1912, 1925, and 1926). He is credited with hitting .329 in Cuba, but the records are sketchy.
Equally sketchy are the US stats. Baseball Reference credits him with hitting .340 and slugging .452 in 810 documented games. Per 162 games, they credit him with 32 doubles, 11 triples, four home runs, and 23 stolen bases. Those numbers are admittedly very incomplete. By way of proof, his Wikipedia page lists his batting average as .343.
He stayed in baseball, coaching local teams as late as 1943. Lloyd died in 1964 (that’s on his gravestone, some reports state his death occurred in 1965) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His turn in the Hall of Fame came in 1977.
How good was he? It’s tough to tell, but contemporary reports compare him to Wagner. When told of the comparison, Honus Wagner said he was honored to be considered in the same category with Lloyd. That’s a good enough endorsement for me.