The Negro Leagues Database Blog
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.
Satchel Paige, Gus Greenlee, Josh Gibson
We’ve just added the following to the DB: the 1916/17 Cuban Winter League, the 1917 and 1918 Florida Hotel League, and a handful of games from the 1899 and 1900 seasons, as well as new games for 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1912.
In 1899 the Cuban X Giants came west to play the two Chicago clubs, the Unions (which had existed since the 1880s) and the Columbia Giants, formerly the Page Fence Giants of Adrian, Michigan, which had moved to Chicago under the auspices of the Columbia Club, a local social organization. In addition, 1899 saw Abel Linares organize the first tour of Cuban professionals in the United States. The All-Cubans played a pair of grudge matches against the Cuban X Giants in Hoboken, ostensibly motivated by the (real) Cubans’ desire to uphold the honor of their national name.
The following season saw both the Cuban X Giants and the Genuine Cuban Giants come west. That season the American League’s new Chicago White Sox built a new park on the South Side at the corner of 39th and Wentworth. Unfortunately this was across the street from the Columbia Giants’ park (the former Daly Park, home of the white semipro Daly Baseball Club), and just a couple of blocks away from the Unions’ home grounds, at 37th and Butler. Eventually the major leaguers would drive both black teams out of the neighborhood, although the Columbias did use the White Sox park as their home field in 1902. (It would later, as Schorling Park, become the home field for the Chicago American Giants for many years.)
William “Hippo” Galloway, of the 1900 Cuban X Giants, had become in 1899 simultaneously the last black player to appear openly in organized baseball in North America (with the Woodstock club of the Canadian League) and the first black player to appear in a hockey league (with Woodstock in the Central Ontario Hockey Association).
Jumping forward a few years, in the winter of 1916/17 Cuban baseball saw yet another group of organizers put together a new circuit, which they called the Cuban-American League, despite the complete absence of American players. The old Almendares Park had been torn down, and the games were played in Marianao’s Oriental Park, which was actually a horse racing venue.
Marianao’s Oriental Park racetrack in 1921.
The Almendares players were reassembled under the name “Orientals” (or Orientales), while Habana reappeared as the “Red Sox” (Medias Rojas). The traditional third Havana team, Fe, no longer existed, and the previous season’s attempt to replace them with a team called San Francisco Park had ended in abject failure. So this year Tinti Molina and Abel Linares simply decided to enter their barnstorming Cuban Stars as the third team, under the name “White Sox” (Medias Blancas).
It took so long to organize everything that the league did not get underway until February 1917, and lasted only 15 games. Dolf Luque pitched and hit well for the Orientals (1.84 ERA, .355 average), and his team did just enough to take the pennant with an 8-6 record.
At exactly the same time as the brief Cuban-American League season, Palm Beach hosted the annual series between teams representing the Royal Poinciana Hotel (managed this year by Rube Foster) and the Breakers Hotel (managed by Joe Williams). The Cuban-American lefty Juan Padrón had been slated to join the Cuban Stars / White Sox in Cuba, but instead he turned up here, pitching for Foster. He started against Joe Williams four times, winning three with one tie. Overall he went 5-2 with three shutouts and an 0.61 ERA, providing just enough for the Poincianas to edge the Breakers 7 games to 6.
The winter of 1917/18 saw no formal league organized in Cuba, but the Palm Beach series continued. Juan Padrón switched sides, but managed only a single win this time. Meanwhile Dick Whitworth went 5-0, 1.07, for the Poincianas. That was enough for Foster’s team to win 9 out of 14 games.
Coming up for the DB: the 1933 Negro league season, the East-West All-Star Games, the Mexican League, more Cuban seasons, and a lot more.
Bill Galloway, Juan Padrón, Dick Whitworth
This week we’ve added two leagues from the 1915/16 winter season—the Cuban League and the Florida Hotel League—along with the 1907 Southern Championship contested between the Birmingham Giants and San Antonio Black Bronchos.
In Cuba, due to a labor dispute, the old Cuban National League was no more, replaced by a player-led league, the Cuban National Association. The players of the three former clubs–Almendares, Fe, and Habana—reorganized themselves into teams called Almendares Park, Habana Park, and San Francisco Park, presumably unable to use the old team names for legal reasons.
In 1914/15 Fe, despite hiring Spot Poles, Dick Redding, and several other black players from the United States, had finished with an abject 5-28 record. So it probably seemed safe for San Francisco Park, the team that took Fe’s place, to dispense with the Americans and add Eustaquio Pedroso, perhaps the most valuable player in Cuban baseball the past couple of winters. But Pedroso soon switched back to Almendares Park and San Francisco Park lost 21 out of 22 games, whereupon the league sent to the United States for Rube Foster and his Chicago American Giants to replace them. Foster’s team, still playing under the San Francisco name, won 5 and lost 9 before returning to the U.S., and a thrown-together outfit lost the club’s last three scheduled games. Altogether, the three different versions of San Francisco Park fielded a total of 56 players.
Despite the cosmetic name changes, Almendares and Habana fielded similar teams to their 1914/15 editions. Habana Park again featured mostly players from organized baseball in the U.S., including major leaguers Armando Marsans and Mike González, but lost the pennant to Almendares Park. The eventual champions starred Cristóbal Torriente (.401/.491/.562), Manuel Cueto (.403/.481/.493), Gervasio González (.370/.517/.407, with a league-leading 32 walks), and Dolf Luque (12-5, 2.80), along with the two-way threat Pedroso, who hit .451 and went 9-2 as a pitcher after leaving San Francisco Park for Almendares.
This would be the last winter season in old Almendares Park, which was torn down and replaced by a new stadium in time for the 1918/19 season.
Meanwhile in Palm Beach, Florida, the New York Lincoln Giants and the Indianapolis ABCs clashed in a 15-game series. The annual Florida Hotel League, also known as the Coconut League, had taken place from January to March since at least the mid-1900s. The teams represented the exclusive Breakers Hotel and Royal Poinciana Hotel. The 1916 series saw John Donaldson, already a legendary, fireballing southpaw for J. L. Wilkinson‘s All-Nations Club, make his big-time blackball debut. It was a rough start, as the equally legendary Cyclone Joe Williams out-dueled him several times. Unfortunately we only have box scores for 6 of 15 games that year, and in those games Donaldson went 0-4.
Our additions to the DB also bring us back to the start of Joe Williams’s career at the age of 21, with the San Antonio Black Bronchos in 1907, playing for the Southern black championship against C. I. Taylor’s Birmingham Giants.
Eustaquio Pedroso, John Donaldson, Joe Williams