Negro Leagues DB Update: 1933
This week we’re making a slight break with chronological order and adding the 1933 Negro leagues to the DB. Many thanks to Scott Simkus, the creator of the Strat-O-Matic Negro leagues set, who did most of the heavy lifting on this.
The year 1933 marked something of a fresh beginning for the Negro leagues, with the start of a new league and the inauguration of what became black baseball’s biggest event, the annual East-West All-Star Game. The Eastern Colored League had fallen apart in early 1928; its successor, the American Negro League, lasted only a single season. When the Depression broke up the original Negro National League in 1931, it was left to the Negro Southern League to expand temporarily into the north, while Cumberland Posey’s East-West League failed to last through the 1932 season. So in 1933 numbers king Gus Greenlee, owner of the independent Pittsburgh Crawfords, started a new Negro National League, one that, unlike Rube Foster’s original, tried to bring the east coast and the Midwest together.
The tough economic times continued, and it was hard for Greenlee to keep the league up and going. The Chicago American Giants were evicted from Schorling Park, their home since the team’s founding by Rube Foster back in 1911, when it was turned into a dog racing track When the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s moved to Detroit due to low attendance, the American Giants moved to Indianapolis and started playing their home games in the A.B.C.’s former park, Perry Stadium. The Homestead Grays were kicked out in July for poaching two players (Big Jim Williams and Jimmy Binder) from Detroit. Syd Pollock‘s Cuban Stars opted against taking the Grays’ place, and subsequent attempts at placing teams in Akron and Cleveland didn’t last long. In the end only the American Giants, Nashville Elite Giants, and Greenlee’s own Pittsburgh Crawfords finished the season. The Crawfords and the American Giants both claimed the championship; it wasn’t until well into the 1934 season that the Giants conceded the 1933 title to Pittsburgh.
The Crawfords are possibly the most famous team in Negro league history, featuring five Hall of Famers. Their offense was led by the 21-year-old Josh Gibson, by far the league’s dominant hitter (.411, 14 home runs), and the 35-year-old first baseman/manager Oscar Charleston (.352, 12 homers). Their pitching may have been even more impressive, with southpaws Sam Streeter (8-2, 2.62) and Leroy Matlock (7-5) and right-hander Bert Hunter (8-1) taking pressure off the undisputed star, Satchel Paige. Paige’s won-lost record (4-6) doesn’t look like much, but he struck out 77 hitters in 80 innings, sported the Negro leagues’ best ERA (2.03). In four of his ten starts against major Negro league competition, Paige suffered 2-0, 2-1, 2-1, and 3-1 losses.
As great as the Crawfords look, the American Giants were more than worthy rivals, with four future Hall of Famers of their own. Though Rube Foster was dead, under the management of Foster protégé Dave Malarcher the Giants had scooped up several of the star players cut loose by the end of Foster’s old Negro National League, most notably Willie Wells and Mule Suttles from the defunct St. Louis Stars, and Turkey Stearnes (.346/.404/.590) from the old Detroit Stars. Together with a pitching staff led by Rube’s younger brother Willie Foster (6-4, 2.56), the Giants’ stars took the first half pennant, and pushed the Crawfords the whole way during the second half.
The Nashville Elite Giants couldn’t quite keep up with the big boys, but they did feature fine performances from veteran lefthander Percy “Dimps” Miller (6-2, 3.01), outfielder Wild Bill Wright (.336), catcher Tommie Dukes (.340), and second baseman Sammy T. Hughes (.341). The Baltimore Black Sox, now owned by Joe Cambria, had lost a court battle with former investors and lost the rights to the “Black Sox” name—they played the 1933 season as the Baltimore Sox, with shortstop Jake Dunn (.392) and a towering young southpaw named Stuart Jones (5-3) providing some rare bright spots. The Columbus Blue Birds, managed by Dizzy Dismukes, seemed promising at first, but good hitting from outfielder Jabbo Andrews (.398) and shortstop Leroy Morney (.382) couldn’t make up for poor pitching.
The Akron Grays were cobbled together out of players from church teams and local sandlots in both Akron and Pontiac, Michigan, along with a few journeyman veterans (catcher Clarence “Spoony” Palm and outfielder Lou Dials) and a couple of high-profile pitchers on loan from other league teams (Bert Hunter from the Crawfords, Willie Powell from the American Giants). They pretty much performed to expectation. The Cleveland Giants started the 1933 season as a semipro team featuring a female infielder named Isabelle Baxter; upon entering the league they were provided with a roster drawn from the other defunct Ohio teams (Akron and Columbus). They only managed to complete a single league game, a 14 to 7 loss to the Crawfords, then failed to show up for subsequent games in Pittsburgh and Nashville. Disputes over these forfeits contributed greatly to the confusion that marred the season’s conclusion.
Greenlee’s league aspired to take in the whole blackball world, but several important teams were leery of committing themselves. The Kansas City Monarchs remained aloof, preferring for the most part to barnstorm. The New York Black Yankees (who, despite their name, actually operated out of Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey) claimed the world’s colored championship after defeating the Crawfords in a late-season series. Ed Bolden, the key figure behind the old Eastern Colored League, had lost control of his Hilldale Club (which folded after the 1932 season), but founded a new independent team, originally known as Bolden’s Philadelphia All-Stars. Behind the hitting of Rap Dixon (.394/.462/.628) and Jud Wilson (.372/.456/.551), the Stars served notice that they would be a team to be reckoned with in the future.
Next up for the DB: 1928 and 1934 Negro leagues; East-West All-Star Games; Mexican League 1937-1954; 1918/19 through 1922/23 and 1927/28 Cuban leagues, including Babe Ruth’s famous appearance in Havana with the New York Giants in 1920.