April 25, 2014

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1934 Negro National League

October 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The latest addition to the Negro Leagues DB includes the 1934 Negro National League plus four important independent clubs from that year.  The league enjoyed more stability this year.  Once again pursuing a split-season format, the NNL started the first half with six clubs: the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Chicago American Giants, and Nashville Elite Giants were retained from 1933, while the Philadelphia Stars, Newark Dodgers and Cleveland Red Sox were added to the fold.  The Homestead Grays, Baltimore Black Sox, and Philadelphia Bacharach Giants withdrew from the league, although the Grays were associate members.  The Kansas City Monarchs and New York Black Yankees also opted to stay out.

The American Giants, led by Turkey Stearnes (.356/.407/.601) and Mule Suttles (.315/.378/.450), were the first-half champions.*  In the second half the league added the Black Sox and Bacharachs. The Philadelphia Stars rode the young arm of 21-year-old lefty Slim Jones (20-6, 1.31, 170 Ks in 212 innings) and the veteran bat of 38-year-old Jud Wilson (.360/.436/.500) to the second half title, setting up a playoff matchup against the American Giants for the league championship.  In a thrilling series, the Stars fell behind three game to one, but rallied to tie the series at three apiece.  Then in the final game on October 2 Jones secured the NNL pennant with a five-hit shutout.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1933 champions, were left out in the cold, having failed to win either half despite great performances from Satchel Paige (13-2, 1.45, 141 Ks in 136 innings), Josh Gibson (.318/.385/.607, 12 home runs), and player-manager Oscar Charleston (.324/.403/.505).

This was perhaps Satchel Paige’s greatest year, which is saying a lot.  On the Fourth of July he no-hit the Homestead Grays while striking out 17.  He was the winning pitcher in the East’s 1 to 0 victory in the East-West All-Star Game.  In August Gus Greenlee loaned him out to the bearded (and otherwise all-white) House of David team for a tournament of independent and semipro teams sponsored by the Denver Post.  He won three games in five days to pitch the Davids to the championship, including a crucial 2 to 1 win (with 12 strikeouts) over a Kansas City Monarchs team that had been reinforced by Willie Foster, Turkey Stearnes, and Sam Bankhead.  To top the season off, Paige beat 30-game-winner and World Series champion Dizzy Dean (fronting a semipro team) in late October.

Satchel Paige and his young counterpart, Slim Jones, were so dominant that in September two special showdowns were scheduled in Yankee Stadium.  The first, on September 9, ended in a 1 to 1 deadlock.  In the rematch (which forced a delay in the NNL playoffs) Satchel prevailed, 3 to 1. He fanned seven, walked nobody, and allowed the eventual league champs only five hits.  Jones pitched well, but three unearned runs gave the Crawfords the win.

This would be the high water mark for Stuart Jones.  Alcoholism ruined his career and within four years he would be dead.  Satchel Paige, of course, kept on going, and going, and going, all the way to the major leagues and the Hall of Fame.

*-Note that the historical record really does the American Giants a major injustice in 1934.  In games with box scores the team went 18-21-3, but in games without box scores the Giants were 19-5.   Individual Giants’ players surely take a statistical hit because of this.  It’s hard not to think that Willie Wells, who hit only .204 in games we’re able to include, probably did a lot better in those 24 missing games.

Slim Jones and Satchel Paige

Slim Jones and Satchel Paige

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