Negro Leagues Database Update: 1923 Negro National League
We’re pleased to announce the addition of the 1923 Negro National League, compiled by Patrick Rock, to the Negro Leagues Database. Patrick’s work was the first statistical compilation of a Negro league season to reach the levels of thoroughness and completeness that we’re aspiring to here, and has been a key inspiration for my own work. Patrick originally prepared these statistics for Replay Games, and his 1923 Negro National League Yearbook for Replay (2004) is one of the great unsung accomplishments of Negro league scholarship.
The 1923 season saw the Kansas City Monarchs finally come into their own. Led by right fielder Heavy Johnson (.406, 20 home runs), pitcher-outfielder Bullet Rogan (.362, 16-11), slugging shortstop Dobie Moore (.365), and veteran pitcher-manager José Méndez (12-4), the Monarchs edged their arch-rivals, the Chicago American Giants, in September.
The biggest blackball news in 1923 was the formation of the Eastern Colored League, and the NNL’s loss of such stars as Biz Mackey, Dave Brown, and George Scales to player raids by the new circuit. But Rube Foster’s league was able to muster up some impressive new players to replace the jumpers, most notably a trio of future Hall of Famers: Rube’s southpaw brother Willie Foster, the Birmingham Black Barons’ Mule Suttles, and the Detroit Stars’ Turkey Stearnes, surely the runaway Rookie of the Year had there been such an award.
Rube struggled to keep a full eight-team league afloat, as the Toledo Tigers folded in July, and the Milwaukee Bears followed suit in August. In response, the NNL extended its reach into the south, granting associate status to the Memphis Red Sox and Birmingham Black Barons, both of which would become perennial league members in future years.
The ABCs’ Oscar Charleston and the American Giants’ Cristóbal Torriente had their usual strong seasons, while Chicago’s 6’7″ Ed Rile and Indianapolis rookie Darltie Cooper enjoyed breakout years on the mound…but the most remarkable performance of all was probably put in by Candy Jim Taylor of the Toledo Tigers and St. Louis Stars. The 39-year-old player-manager, brother of C.I. and Ben, had been a sterling infielder and decent (but not great) hitter since the late 1900s. In 288 games and 1170 plate appearances against top black teams from 1916 through 1922, Candy Jim hit exactly two home runs. In 1923 he hit TWENTY.
No, Taylor probably wasn’t loading up on some kind of bootleg Jazz Age PEDs. He hit five of his homers for Toledo—four of them against the Stars in St. Louis. When the Tigers folded and Taylor moved to St. Louis, he smashed 15 more—all at home. As it happens, left field in Stars Park, pressed up against a trolley car barn, was only 250 feet. Clearly the canny right-handed Taylor worked out a way to pull the ball over the very short porch, much the same thing Pete Hill did with the short right field fence at Mack Park in 1919.
Next we’ll be adding more early Cuban material, including two more Cuban Winter League seasons and five years of the little-known Cuban Summer League. Shortly after that we’ve got the 1908-1915 Negro leagues lined up—and in the coming months look for Patrick’s work on the 1923 ECL, to get the other half of the 1923 blackball story.