The History of a St. Louis Baseball Franchise: The Original St. Louis Stars
The following is from the unpublished manuscript LOST LEAGUES: The 1928 Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues.
The St. Louis Stars were born when Richard William Kent, Sam Sheppard, Dr. J. W. â€œGeorgeâ€ McClelland and Dr. G. B. Keys purchased the Negro National League ( NNL) St. Louis Giants franchise after the 1921 season. Dick Kent was a very successful businessman who went from being a shoe shine boy to a real estate mogul, barber shop owner, finance company stockholder, St. Louis American Newspaper owner, manager/owner of two taxi companies, and elected official. Sheppard, a parking garage owner, served as the business manager/general manager, with former 1915-1918 St. Louis Giant Bill Gatewood brought back to manage the team. Ten 1921 Giants players were joined by several new players, including three that would become the longest tenured Stars: pitcher Logan â€œSlapâ€ Hensley, and outfielders Branch Russell and James â€œCool Papaâ€ Bell.
The team started play in 1922 at Giants Park, butÂ a parcelÂ sometimes used as a playing field at Compton, Market, and Laclede was immediately purchased. The park built on the site was known as Stars Park, was estimated to cost $27,000, and had a capacity of 16,000. What is currently Interstate 64 was then a major trolley line, and a trolley barn stood north of Market Street about 250 feet from home plate. In most seasons, any ball hit on top of the barn was a home run, which made Stars Park one of the best hitterâ€™s parks in the NNL. When the team disbanded during the 1931 season, the park was sold to the city of St. Louis for $100,000 for use as a playground. Today, the lot is a Harris-Stowe State University baseball field.
Future Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell was the star among Stars, considered the teamâ€™s â€˜franchiseâ€™ player, who played in over 500 league games for the team through 1931, the end of the teamâ€™s first run in St. Louis. The 19-year-old Bell played that first season as the teamâ€™s #2 pitcher, and in 1923 he was the #1 pitcher, but like Babe Ruth a few years earlier, he began to play in the outfield on his non-pitching days, and by 1924 he was a fixture in center field, leading off.
The Stars were a mediocre team their first three years, but several players had outstanding seasons. The 1922 team won-lost record was 23-35. Right fielder Charles Blackwell was the hitting star, with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .365/.445/.550 against major blackball teams, while George Meyers anchored the pitching staff with a record of 9-5 and 5.05 Runs Allowed per Game (RAPG). In 1923, the team brought in Candy Jim Taylor as manager, and went 28-44. While Bell was the pitching star with his 11-7 record and 5.86 RAPG, third baseman George Scales led the hitting attack with a robust .390/.505/.738. In spite of the death of second baseman Eddie Holtz in July from pneumonia, the team had an improved 1924 season, going 42 â€“34, as Taylor began a major recruiting drive. The team added Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells, outfielder Frog Redus, third baseman Dewey Creacy, and pitcher Rosey Davis, and by 1925 the team started itâ€™s â€˜dynastyâ€™ era. Taylor left for one season in 1926 to manage Cleveland, and Dizzy Dismukes became the teamâ€™s acting manager and business manager, adding first baseman/outfielder George â€œMuleâ€ Suttles and second baseman John Henry Russell, followed by pitcher Ted Trent in 1927. After going 42-34 in 1924, this great Stars team rebounded to produce three championship seasons in 1925, 1928 and 1930 – each year winning more than 70 percent of their games.
The 1928 championship series was especially noteworthy, as the Stars came from being down two games to none to win the series five games to four, with Willie Wells hitting six home runs in the last five series games played in St. Louis.
The original Stars teamâ€™s last season, in 1931, proved to be an eventful one. Twenty-four-year-old pitcher Leroy Matlock emerged as a star, going a reported 19 â€“ 1. The core of the 1931 team â€“ Bell, Wells, Suttles, Trent, Matlock, Creacy, Newt Allen, George Giles, Quincy Trouppe, and Bertrum Hunter – went to Detroit in 1932 to help form the new Detroit Wolves in the short-lived East-West League.
After the NNL folded in 1931, St. Louis did not have a major Negro League team until 1937, when a new version of the St. Louis Stars, owned by Henry L. Moore, joined the Negro American League. However, this new franchise never produced a star like Cool Papa Bell, never could capture the popularity of the original Stars, and eventually the franchise split parts of seasons with both New Orleans and Harrisburg. Fortunately, the legacy of the original Stars, with Cool Papa Bell, Willie Wells, and Mule Suttles enshrined in baseballâ€™s Hall of Fame, lives on.
â€œSt. Louis to Have $27,000 Baseball Park.â€ Chicago Defender, 15 April, 1922, national edition: pg. 10
â€œSt. Louis Voters Elect Kent Committeeman.â€ Chicago Defender, 16 August, 1930, national edition: pg. 13
Ashwill, Gary. 1922 nnl plus, v. 2.01. 11 October 2006. http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2006/10/1922_nnl_plus_v.html
Ashwill, Gary and Rock, Patrick. 1923 negro national league. 23 April 2007. http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2007/04/1923_negro_nati.html
â€œBall Player Buried.â€ Baltimore Afro-American 18 July 1924, pg. 15.
Johnson, Kevin. â€œSt. Louisâ€™ Forgotten Champions on 1928.â€ Mound City Memories, Tiemann, Bob, Editor. Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2007.
â€œBaseball Notes.â€ Chicago Defender, 21 November, 1931, national edition: pg. 8
â€œSt. Louis Ball Players Make Attack on Fan.â€ Chicago Defender, 4 July, 1931, national edition: pg. 9
Jackson, J. A. â€œParks and Fairs.â€ Baltimore Afro-American 21 July 1922, pg. 11.
â€œSt. Louis Stars Ball Park Sold for $100,000.â€ Chicago Defender, 1 August, 1931, national edition: pg. 9
Kevin Johnson lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with his wife and two daughters, but grew up in St. Louis as an avid Cardinal fan. He works for a travel technology company. He maintains a database on major league ballparks, has been a contributor to Total Baseball and The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, is helping coordinate the SABR Minor League Committee Minor League Encyclopedia project, and his article, â€œSt. Louisâ€™ Forgotten Champions of 1928″ was published in SABRâ€™s Mound City Memories in 2007.