Posts Tagged ‘New York Lincoln Giants’

“Smokey Joe”

February 27, 2017
Smokey Joe Williams

Smokey Joe Williams

Failure to integrate the Major Leagues prior to 1947 cost a lot of white fans the pleasure of seeking some of the better baseball players before that year. I’ve spent a lot of time this month dealing with the Lincoln Giants, so I thought it might be a good idea to spend a few words on their best pitcher, “Smokey Joe” Williams.

Williams came out of Texas in 1905. As an aside, Texas, in the first decade of the 20th Century produced some great Negro League players. Not only did Williams and Foster come from Texas, but so did Louis Santop who showed up in 1909. All three made the Hall of Fame.

His career was pretty typical for a Negro League player in the Deadball Era. He did a lot of barnstorming with independent teams and eventually hooked on with a team that got him recognition at the highest level of black baseball. Of course he also spent several years playing in the winter league in Cuba. By 1911 he was in New York with the Lincoln Giants and was an immediate sensation as a hurler. His nickname at the time was “Cyclone” but in the 1920s he became known by his more common nickname of “Smokey.”

He hung on through 1932 playing for a variety of teams in the era: the Grays, the American Giants, the Bacharachs, the Detroit Wolves. He did a little managing, usually of the player-manager variety. He died in 1951 and made the Hall of Fame in 1999.

As with other black players, especially those prior to the 1930s, the statistical information on Williams’ career is spotty. BaseballReference.com gives him numbers for about 111 games, but shows him starting 131 (got me about the odd 20 games there). It gives him a total record (including the Cuban League ) of 84-52 (which adds up to 136). He has a 1.152 WHIP, 726 strikeouts, and 303 walks. BR.com does show him as a decent hitter (he played some first base when not pitching). They give him a .311 average with nine home runs and 70 RBIs over 539 at bats. Seamheads gives us the following numbers: 123 wins to 76 losses over 243 games. There are 450 walks, 1135 strikeouts, and a 1.17 WHIP.

If you’ve been paying close attention to the February posts, you’ll note a couple of themes. One of the more important is the knowledge that what information we have on the Negro Leagues, particularly the earlier ones, is skimpy. Complete statistics are as rare as an honest politician. Notice that the two sites I referenced above (Seamheads and Baseball Reference) give very difference numbers. Without knowing for certain, it appears they have found different sources and different sets of games to document. There is probably much overlap, but nothing like completeness. And before I go on, I want you to understand that the above is in no away a disparaging of either site. Both have done excellent jobs in finding and documenting what they can. It is, rather, the nature of the information available that makes it difficult to determine specifics. As I pointed out in my first post for the 2017 February Black History Month ramble, what we are left with is a mere glimpse of what we missed by segregating the Negro League players from the Major Leagues. Hopefully, these short glimpses have helped you understand the nature of the problem and the kind and quality of what was going on in the black leagues.

And to finish off, here’s a picture of Smokey Joe Williams’ grave from the Find A Grave website. To show you just how incomplete the information is, I have no idea why there are three names of people seemingly unrelated on the same headstone. If anyone knows, let me know.

Smokey Joe Williams grave from Find A Grave

Smokey Joe Williams grave from Find A Grave

 

 

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The Lincolns

February 16, 2017
Lincoln Giants jersey from 1910

Lincoln Giants jersey from 1910

When we think of Negro League teams, most think of the later Negro League teams such as the Crawfords, the Grays, or the Eagles. But way back before the founding of the first of the famous Negro Leagues, the Negro National League of the 1920s, there were other leagues and other teams. One of the more dominant of the early 20th Century teams was the Lincoln Giants of New York.

There is a bit of question about their origins. Their Wikipedia page indicates that an ancestry can be traced back to Nebraska in the 1890s, but doesn’t indicate how they got to New York. More conventional sources indicate that Jess McMahon (of the current WWE wrestling McMahon’s) was a prominent sports promoter in New York with extensive interests in Harlem. In 1911 he joined with Sol White to form the Lincoln Giants. It was a formidable team that immediately began to dominate black baseball in New York. With Hall of Famers John Henry Lloyd, Louis Santop, Smokey Joe Williams, and the likes of Spottswood Poles, Bill Pettus, and Cannonball Dick Redding (God, I love old-time nicknames) they dominated Eastern black baseball into 1914. In 1913 they played an unofficial black championship against the pride of the Midwestern black leagues, the Chicago American Giants, led by Rube Foster. The exact number of games and wins in the series is in some question, but there is agreement that the Lincolns won the series.

the 1911 Lincoln Giants

the 1911 Lincoln Giants

By 1914, McMahon was in financial trouble. He sold the Lincoln Giants, but retained the contracts of several of the big stars. He formed a new team, the Lincoln Stars, and competed directly with his old team. The Stars lasted to 1917, folded, and most of the remaining former Giants went back to their old club.

According to the Seamheads website, the Lincoln Giants were still doing well in the 1914-17 period, but fell off some due to the loss of many of their stars. By this point Smokey Joe Williams was doubling as ace pitcher and manager. It was the height of his Hall of Fame career. But the team ran up against a formidable foe off the diamond. Nat Strong (see my post “The Schedule Man” of 20 August 2015) controlled scheduling for black baseball in New York at the time and the Lincolns wanted to play more games than Strong was willing to schedule. They attempted to schedule some games without going through Strong, and were thrown out of the existing league structure in New York. Barnstorming followed.

With the founding Foster’s Negro National League, the eastern teams found it to their advantage to form their own league, the Eastern Colored League, in 1923. The Lincolns were a significant member of the league. They never won a league championship, finishing as high as third in 1924. By 1928 the ECL was on life support. A changing economy, weak teams, chaos at the top of the league (again another story for another time), and the dominance of Foster’s NNL, caused it to collapse.

The remnants of the ECL formed a new league, the American Negro League in 1929. It lasted one year. The Lincoln Giants held on one more year in a declining economy and finally folded after the 1930 season.

During their existence, the New York Lincoln Giants were dominant in the East. They won unofficial championships most of the decade of the 19-teens and led Strong’s New York league most years (which is why they thought they could challenge him). They provided Eastern black baseball with some of the greatest players of the era in Lloyd, Wood, Santop, Redding, and later Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes. Not a bad legacy.

the 1911 version of the Lincoln Giants cap

the 1911 version of the Lincoln Giants cap