Posts Tagged ‘Negro Leagues’

Fear and Trembling

February 5, 2019

It’s February again, meaning it’s Black History Month in the US. It also means that it’s time for my annual sojourn through the Negro Leagues. I always enter February, blogwise, with a certain amount of trepidation.

I research and find information, but I know that whatever I find will be mostly incomplete. Some of it will be wrong. I don’t fault the people doing research on the Negro Leagues, you find what you can; you report what you find. Considering the state of Negro League knowledge even 10 years ago, the people working to restore the record of these leagues and their players have done a magnificent job. But it’s still an incomplete job and the info passed along will be, frequently incomplete. It is probably fated to be that way always.

So I caution people who come here and read the works of February to be careful. Know that much of the information will be incomplete and some of it will be just plain wrong. But we’re trying.

Having said all that, it’s always a pleasure to help restore, even a tiny bit, the history of the Negro Leagues and their players, executives, and staff. I hope you will enjoy all this, and more importantly, that I’ll get at least most of it right.


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.

Shades of Glory: a Review

February 25, 2015
cover of Shades of Glory

cover of Shades of Glory

Normally I would never do two book reviews this close together. Nor would I do two involving pretty much the same information on the same topic. But I’m going to make an exception. If Only the Ball Was White is the first great work on the Negro Leagues since 1920, then Shades of Glory is arguably the most influential. It seemed like a good idea to take a look at both this month.

Back in the mid 2000s the Hall of Fame decided to make a major attempt to enshrine a significant number of Negro League players who had been otherwise overlooked. Over the 1970s through 2001 the Hall, through its various committees elected a handful of Negro League players. Then the list more or less dried up. Frankly, a lot of people who voted for the Hall knew next to nothing about the Negro Leagues. So the Hall formed a special committee to research the Negro Leagues and the pre-Negro League 1800s looking for players, executives, and other contributors who might reasonably be enshrined at Cooperstown. In the process the committee assembled a mass of material, including what available statistical info they could find. Two major things came out of this, the election in 2006 of 17 black Americans to the Hall of Fame and the book Shades of Glory.

With all the information that had been collected sitting around and unavailable to the general public, the committee chose Lawrence D. Hogan to create a book making the heart of the information available in an easy to find and easy to understand work. Shades of Glory is the result. It looks over the Negro Leagues and black baseball from their beginnings, tries to put them in the context of both their times and of the black experience in America. The information spreads over the players, the teams, the eras. Various writers (including Robert Peterson who wrote Only the Ball Was White)  provide chapters on the very earliest black players, the Jim Crow 1880s and 1890s, the birth of the Negro Leagues, and a look at the legacy of the Leagues. The end chapter is a compilation of the statistical information found. Some of it is very fragmentary, other information is more detailed. The stats include not only the players who were elected in 2006, but what info was found on players who either weren’t elected or were already enshrined at Cooperstown.

It’s a worthwhile addition to a baseball library, even if you’re not a student of the Negro Leagues. The writing is good, the information excellent, and the statistics are as complete as possible in 2006. The book is available at for $19.76. Enjoy.


Thanks, Ted

May 20, 2010

Just a short post today. I want to give a shout out to Ted Williams, not for anything he did on the ball field, but for something he did after he retired. I think it is arguably his greatest contribution to the game.

In 1966 Williams received a ticket to the Hall of Fame. He used the occasion of his acceptance speech to wonder aloud why such important Negro League players as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson weren’t already remembered on the plaques that graced the Hall. The speech, occurring in the midst of the modern American Civil Rights movement, caused a stir. A lot of people began asking the same thing. Baseball’s answer was “Well, we don’t know a lot about the Negro Leagues.” Williams and others answered. “Well, find out.” And because it was Ted, By God, Williams, the powers that be did so and in short order the elite of the Negro Leagues achieved enshrinement. Others were to follow, including executives and writers.

The Negro Leagues owe Williams a great debt for bringing the subject to the front burner. So do the rest of us. Thanks, Ted.

Some Random Thoughts on the Negro Leagues

February 6, 2010

February is Black History Month around the US. It seems appropriate to look at the Negro Leagues during February, so I’m going to do a couple of posts. Let me start them with a disclaimer. I’m no expert on the Negro Leagues. I find them interesting and the info fascinating, but I’d never pretend to be an expert on the matter. That being said, a few comments follow:

1. There were several of them. Most famous were the Negro American League, the Negro National League (1920s version), the Negro National League (1930s-40s version), and the Eastern Colored League. There were a host of  others, but these four dominate most of the conversations about segregated baseball.

2. The leagues were led by the same sorts of people who led the white Major Leagues, entrepeneurs and opportunists. I’ve heard some less than favorable comments about a number of the owners because they made their money in less than “savory” occupations. A couple ran pool rooms (“You got trouble right here in River City”), some were loan sharks, others ran numbers. Of course if you were a black American in the era you had to live in specific places and keep to specific jobs, very few of which were of the “best” quality. I’m reminded of the Christian attitude towards Jews in the Middle Ages. Put them in cramped ghettos, make them hold specific jobs, and then be astounded when they ended up dirty and usurers. So I find it stunning when people are shocked (“Shocked to find there’s gambling going on”) to find so-called disreputable types running teams. I’m also remined that the owners of the white teams frequently weren’t among “the salt of the earth.”

3. Not all the owners were black and male. Two of the most successful franchises were the Kansas City Monarchs and the Newark Eagles. The Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson was white and the Eagles owner, Effa Manley, was female (she ran the team, but co-owned with her husband). Both ran very successful franchises, each winning a Negro League World Series and both eventually were elected to the Hall of Fame.

4. The quality of play seems to have been about on par with the Major Leagues. There are few reliable stats about the Negro Leagues, but anecdotal evidence and the few stats that do survive indicate that the top players and top teams were very much the equal of the Major League teams. Certain of the weaker teams may have been only minor league quality, but then the same can be said of a number of Major League teams in a given year.

5.  Judging by the impact black players, many of them coming over from the Negro Leagues, made in the majors, especially in the National League in the 1950s, it is evident that the top line players were equal with the best of the Major League players. Between 1949, when Jackie Robinson became the first black player to win the National League MVP and 1963 when Sandy Koufax won his (a 15 year period) black players won 11 National League MVP awards (Robinson, Roy Campanella-3 times, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks-twice, Frank Robinson, and Maury Wills) to only four for white players (Jim Konstanty, Hank Sauer, Dick Groat, and Koufax). They also win five of the next six. I can’t prove it, but my guess is that black players would have also done well in the 1930s and 1940s.

6. Finally, there is no way to compare the Negro Leaguers with their Major League counterparts. They play in totally different leagues and even if the stats were available they exist isolated from each other. Does hitting .350 in the National League in 1935 mean the same thing as hitting .350 in the Negro National League? I don’t know, and neither does anybody else. I would guess that Josh Gibson, Louis Santop Satchel Paige, and Hilton Smith were the equal of any of their contemporaries in the Major Leagues, but I can’t prove it. Great shame.

It’s important to celebrate the Negro Leagues, not to deify them. Josh Gibson doesn’t need an apotheosis, he was good enough as is. But let us remember to celebrate them. Hopefully we won’t see their like again.

End of a Decade

December 31, 2009

Today marks the end of the decade whose first three numbers are 200. A lot of people are doing their all-decade this and that. Who am I to go against the tide? So here’s my choice for baseball’s all-decade whatever.

Story of the decade: Has to be the steroid issue. It has tainted the statistics, the record book, awards, and the Hall of Fame voting. Frankly I don’t trust much of anything that happened in the first few years of the decade.

Franchise of the decade: I was tempted to go with the Yankees, who won 2 World Series’ and lost another, but finally decided to go with the Red Sox. They won 2 World Series’, completed an improbable comeback in 2004, and in general took a franchise that hadn’t won in 80 years and picked up multiple rings.

Player of the decade: Albert Pujols easy. No steroid taint (at least not yet, PLEASE GOD), great numbers, a ring, and one of the greatest home runs I ever saw (sorry, Brad Lidge). An honorable mention here to Joe Mauer who may end up the greatest hitting catcher ever. We’ll have to watch that closely.

Pitcher of the decade: Mariano Rivera. What he did in the late 90’s he’s continued to do for this decade. His team didn’t win as often, but as a rule that wasn’t his fault. An honorable mention here also is in order. This time to Curt Schilling. Better pitchers in the decade, but his influence on the winning Red Sox should be noted (and he had a heck of a 2001 World Series).

World Series of the decade: Speaking of the 2001 World Series, it gets my vote as the best of the decade. Several great games including the three in New York and a memorable game 7. One of the few times Rivera failed.

Playoff series of the decade: 2004 American League championship. Down 3 games to none, the Red Sox roar back to win the series 4 games to three. That had never happened before. What a great series and what a great showcase for David Ortiz.

Cinderella of the decade: 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Came out of absolutely no where to get to the World Series. Would have been a better story if they’d won, but still a nice tale for the grandchildren years from now.

Bonehead of the decade: The tied All Star game. YUCK!!! Then they compound it by making an exhibition game determine home field for the World Series. Incredible.

Footnote player of the decade: Wasn’t sure what to call this, but it’s basically a hymn to those players you love to watch, but know aren’t really going to be anything but a footnote in baseball history. For me it’s David Eckstein. Love the guy’s intensity, his grit, his resolve. His winning the MVP for the 2006 World Series was an all-decade highlight for me.

Hall of Fame vote of the decade: Putting in a whole boatload of Negro League players at once. Great of baseball to finally recognize the depth of quality play in the Negro Leagues beyond just the most famous names and to finally recognize the executives that made the Negro Leagues work. It also gave the Hall of Fame its first female member in Effa Manley.

Manager of the decade: Terry Francona who wins 2 World Series’.

Black Baseball Books

December 27, 2009

Over the years the Negro Leagues have gone from relative obscurity to the front burner. That’s a good thing. These people and their teams needed to be remembered. Part of what brought them to prominence was a series of books about them. Here’s a sample.

Only the Ball was White by Robert Peterson. It’s an older book originally written in 1970. For me it began an interest in the Negro Leagues because it was the first work I read on the subject. Still a good book, if dated. Not much on stats but good narrative going back to the beginnings of black baseball in 1867. There are short biographies of some of the major players.

The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James A. Riley. Published in 1994 it is a series of sketches of the Negro Leagues. There are baseball biographies of the players, some rather long, others only a couple of lines. The bios aren’t bad and deal mainly with the baseball aspects of the player’s life. They tend to stay away from controversy in the player’s life (see the difference between the bio in this book and the comments on Wikipedia and SportsPhd on Hank Thompson as an example). There are also biographies of owners, of individual teams, and of the leagues. For what it is supposed to do, it does it well.

Shades of Glory by Lawrence D. Hogan. This book is very recent. A few years back a new Hall of Fame committee was set up to go through the Negro Leagues and determine who should and should not be added to the Hall of Fame. A number of very good players and some owners were ultimately added. This book is a compilation of the research done for the committee, so you get to look at what the committee was shown in making their decision. Good stuff with lots of stats and stories.

There are, of course, other works, but these should keep you busy for a while.