Last week the Negro Leagues DB added the 1945 Negro National League and Negro American League.
In the NAL the Cleveland Buckeyes, led by Sam Jethroe (.339/.435/.559) and player-manager Quincy Trouppe, ended the two-year run of the Birmingham Black Barons as league champions. The Buckeyes were the eleventh attempt (in 24 years) at fielding a Cleveland team in the organized Negro leagues, and the first to win a pennant.
The Kansas City Monarchs snagged a former UCLA football star named Jack Roosevelt Robinson. He had never played professional baseball, but he won the shortstop job right away, and became the best player in the (war-weakened) league, hitting .384/.445/.606 in games with box scores. Even with his help, the Monarchs languished in third place.
In the NNL the Homestead Grays won their eighth pennant in nine years with one of the oldest championship squads ever put together, featuring four players in their 40s. Josh Gibson battled depression and drug addiction, but fought through it to post his usual 203 OPS+. Even so, the young Roy Campanella (.389/.483/.571) of the Elite Giants might have matched (or even surpassed) Gibson as the Negro leagues’ premier catcher.
Going for their third straight World Series win, the Grays found themselves shackled by the unheralded Buckeyes’ pitchers. The mighty Grays offense could only squeeze out three runs in four games on an anemic .165 batting average. Homestead went down meekly in four straight games, and the long-suffering fans of black baseball in Cleveland finally had something to cheer for.
But all this was overshadowed by Jackie Robinson’s departure from the Monarchs in late August for a meeting with Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey. Change was rounding third and on its way home.
Our 1945 stats are based on the work of Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers, with new research and additional box scores from us.
Up next: 1946, 1947, and 1948 Negro leagues, 1938 Negro American League, 1927 Eastern Colored League, 1929 American Negro League…and more.
Here’s a brief, belated introduction to the 1937 Negro American League, which we added to the site last month (July 10, to be precise). For a broader view of that eventful year in black baseball history, see my entry on the 1937 Negro National League, which we added to the DB back in 2015. Meanwhile, here are a view highlights from the first season of the NAL, a Midwest-based league that was the true successor of Rube Foster’s original NNL.
•The team with the best overall record in the league was the Cincinnati Tigers, managed by Double Duty Radcliffe, and starring ace Jess Houston (8-3, 2.19) and shortstop Howard Easterling (.355/.400/.595). Like the 1981 Cincinnati Reds, though, the Tigers failed to win either half of the NAL’s split season.
•Luck instead favored the two most dominant clubs from the old NNL, the Kansas City Monarchs and Chicago American Giants, who won the first and second halves, respectively. The Monarchs, featuring Hilton Smith (11-4, 1.65) and outfielder Willard Brown (.372/.423/.661), took the championship series in five games.
•The Indianapolis Athletics were a brand-new club, organized and managed by Ted Strong, Sr., who was fortunate enough to have an extravagantly talented son, Ted Strong, Jr., to play shortstop and bat cleanup for him. (The younger Strong, who later starred for the Kansas City Monarchs, was also a great basketball player for the Harlem Globetrotters.) The Athletics, however, folded after the 1937 season.
•On May 16 Hilton Smith of the Kansas City Monarchs tossed an opening day no-hitter, beating the American Giants 4 to 0 in Kansas City.
•On July 24 in Dayton, Ohio, lefty Roy Partlow of the Cincinnati Tigers struck out 18 batters in a 10-4 win over the Birmingham Black Barons.
•No World Series was organized between the Monarchs and the Homestead Grays, champions of the NNL. But a combined team of American Giants and Monarchs played a series against a combined team of Grays and Newark Eagles, the eastern team winning 6 out of 7 games. Over the course of the series, which was played in Chicago, Indianapolis, Dayton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Brooklyn, the press just started referring to it as a Grays/American Giants series, so that’s how we’ve treated it in the stats here.
Thanks to Patrick Rock for providing Kansas City Call coverage for 1937, as well as Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers for filling in some gaps with other hard-to-find box scores.
Up next: 1945 through 1948 Negro leagues. On deck: Mexican League, East-West All-Star Games, various Cuban season. We’re also working on adding the third leg of the 1937 season, the (in)famous Dominican championship.
Check out the 1944 Negro leagues, newly added to the DB this week.
Another wartime season, 1944 saw a large number of the most promising young players, as well as many players in the primes of their careers, off to the war. In the NAL, the Kansas City Monarchs struggled without sluggers Willard Brown and Ted Strong and sank to fourth place. The NNL’s Newark Eagles, missing their core of Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Leon Day, and Max Manning, finished fifth. In an effort to protect themselves from the draft, the Black Yankees announced an effort to sign players who had been declared 4-F. This plan enabled them to improve from a 4-24 league finish in 1943 to…8-35 in 1944.
The war did open up opportunities for promising young players like Don Newcombe, Sam Hairston, George Jefferson, Clyde Nelson, and Bill Ricks. Teams also brought in Latin American players who had never appeared in the U.S. before: Cubans such as Claro Duany, Héctor Rodríguez, Leovigildo Xiqués (known in the U.S. as Leo Lugo), as well as a contingent of players from Panama: Patricio Scantlebury, Vic Barnett, Archie Brathwaite.
Two of the year’s most noteworthy rookies were shortstops with remarkably parallel careers— the Black Barons’ Artie Wilson and the Philly Stars’ Frank Austin (another Panamanian). Both were Negro league batting champions who didn’t get much of a chance in the majors after integration (Wilson got 22 at bats with the Giants, Austin never went up at all), but went on to play for many years in the Pacific Coast League.
Of course, a number of the Negro leagues’ best-known and most bankable stars were in their 30s and 40s and never went into the service during World War II: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown. Benefiting from their presence, and from the absence of most of the white major league stars, the Negro leagues were more successful and profitable than ever. And the team with the most of these guys, the Homestead Grays, won the NNL pennant for the seventh time in eight years, and then defeated the young Black Barons in the World Series for the second straight year.
The 1944 numbers we’re presenting come originally from Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers. Like all the seasons we post that originate with Wayne and Larry, this is part of an updated version of the NLRAG/Hall of Fame Negro league study, edited and with some new box scores added by us.
It’s worth noting that by the mid-1940s box scores are relatively scarce compared to earlier eras, as daily newspapers published fewer and fewer of them. Consequently a number of the 1944 teams are not very well-represented in the DB. None suffers more than the NAL champion Black Barons, who were 33-18 in league games we found, and 40-31 against black major league teams overall—but went only 8-17 in games with box scores (9-21 if you count the World Series). We’ll continue working to improve this situation, though, so keep checking back.
Coming soon: Negro leagues 1945 through 1948, 1937 Negro American League, 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban League, East-West All Star Games, and more.