Negro Leagues DB Update: 1924 ECL & NNL
This week we’ve added the 1924 Negro leagues, both the Negro National League and Eastern Colored League. This year marked the end of the war between the leagues and saw the champions meet in the first Colored World Series, one of the classic postseason series of all time.
The ECL expanded to eight teams, adding the Washington Potomacs (an independent club in 1923) and the Harrisburg Giants, which had existed as an independent team for nearly 20 years. Before peace was declared, Harrisburg was able to snare several NNL stars, including Detroit first baseman Edgar Wesley, Indianapolis ace Darltie Cooper, and the biggest prize of all, center fielder Oscar Charleston, who captured the triple crown (.405, 15 home runs, 63 RBI). Still, even with these players plus rookie Rap Dixon, the Giants couldn’t quite manage a .500 finish.
Hilldale, under rookie manager Frank Warfield, won its second straight ECL pennant, led by Nip Winters, who set a blackball record with 23 overall wins (counting the World Series) despite a declining strikeout rate. The team was packed with hitters (Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, Judy Johnson, George Carr), but had become defensively unbalanced; Jake Stephens, the best defensive infielder on the team, could not hit well enough (.151 for his Negro league career through 1924) to hold down a spot, meaning that Biz Mackey, one of the most renowned defensive catchers in the history of the Negro leagues, had to fill in at shortstop, while catching only five games the whole season. This would come back to haunt them in October.
Veteran Pete Hill took over the reins of 1923′s last-place Baltimore Black Sox and brought in slugging shortstop John Beckwith to team up with first baseman Jud Wilson. The Black Sox rocketed to second, pushing Hilldale the whole way. The New York Lincoln Giants also turned their team around, moving up from fifth the previous year to third, even though they had cut loose their longtime manager and biggest star, Cyclone Joe Williams.
Back in the Negro National League, José Méndez‘s Kansas City Monarchs consolidated their dynasty behind the hard hitting of shortstop Dobie Moore, left fielder Heavy Johnson, and third baseman Newt Joseph, and an astonishing season by pitcher/outfielder Bullet Rogan, who went 16-5 while batting .411/.454/.636. Cristóbal Torriente (league-leading 77 RBI) and the Chicago American Giants gave the Monarchs some stiff competition, though they ultimately fell short by a handful of games.
Other stars around the league included Detroit‘s sophomore center fielder Turkey Stearnes (the league’s co-HR champ); Cuban Stars center fielder Valentín Dreke (.378); and Birmingham lefthander Sam Streeter (14-6 with 128 strikeouts and only 24 walks in 200 innings). This season also saw Candy Jim Taylor, in his first full season as manager of the St. Louis Stars, lay the foundations for that team’s future success with one of the best one-team rookie crops in the history of the Negro leagues, including eventual Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells, third baseman Dewey Creacy, outfielder Wilson “Frog” Redus, and pitcher Roosevelt Davis. This was also the year Taylor made the lefthanded pitcher Cool Papa Bell into a full-time outfielder.
The World Series was contested in a ten-game October extravaganza played in four cities. (For a full account, check out this book by Larry Lester.) After the first five games Hilldale led three games to one (with one tie), but the Monarchs scrapped out two wins to tie the series. In game 8, Hilldale led 2 to 0 going into the bottom of the ninth, when a celebrated series of defensive blunders handed the Monarchs three runs and the series lead. It was Kansas City’s third consecutive one-run victory. Hilldale rallied in game 9 to tie the series again, but 39-year-old José Méndez, suffering from illness, pitched a three-hit shutout in the decisive game. Although many teams had in the past claimed the “colored championship” of baseball, this marked the first time a truly undisputed champion had been crowned.
The 1924 season witnessed the swan song of Hall of Famer Sol White‘s managerial career; for the second time he helped to start up a new Ohio club for the Negro National League (he had served as secretary and coach for the 1921 Columbus Buckeyes), this time managing the team himself; but the Cleveland Browns quickly sank into the second division.
Sadly no fewer than three active players died during the season. In May St. Louis second baseman Eddie Holtz developed double pneumonia and never recovered, dying in July. In June the Cuban Stars’ diminutive shortstop Matías Ríos fell ill and returned to Havana, where he passed away the following month. In August, Black Sox third baseman Henry Blackmon died of complications from a throat ailment. Also in August, Bill Pettus, a very underrated catcher/first baseman for many years, died of tuberculosis at the age of 40; and in September Anthony Mahoney, lefthanded pitcher and former Black Sox captain, died at Walter Reed Hospital. He had been the victim of a poison gas attack on the front lines in World War I, and despite pitching for several years after the war, he had never fully recovered.