The Negro Leagues Database Blog
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
We’re making a small but important addition to the DB today—the 1922/23 Cuban winter league, plus a few additional games for 1916, 1919, and 1922.
After a few seasons of turbulence in the Cuban game, the 1922/23 season marked a new beginning. The league added two new teams, Santa Clara and Marianao, to the Habana-Almendares duopoly. Santa Clara was run by Tinti Molina, who put together the most famous outfield in Cuban baseball history: Alejandro Oms (.411) in left, Oscar Charleston (.418) in center, and Pablo Mesa (.286) in right. Molina also added lefty Dave Brown (5-4, 2.47) and a few other stateside stars, and the Leopardos sprinted to the league lead—but after a victory over Marianao was thrown out by league authorities, Santa Clara angrily withdrew. They would be vindicated the following winter, when the 1923-24 Santa Clara Leopardos emerged as the most legendary team in Cuban history, the island’s equivalent of the 1927 Yankees.
Of the three remaining teams, Almendares could boast of outfielders Bernardo Baró (.403/.452/.544) and Valentín Dreke (.324), manager-shortstop Joseíto Rodríguez (.316), and minor league southpaw Eddie LePard (7-5, 2.17), but Habana would probably have been considered the favorite. Los Leones featured both the best everyday player in Cuban baseball at the time, Cristóbal Torriente (.344/.435/.515) and the best Cuban pitcher (and perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, period), Dolf Luque. In 1923, Luque would go 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds. In the 1922/23 Cuban League, he went 11-7, 1.53.
Yet both of these traditional powers fell short in the end. It was the brand new Marianao club, led by player-manager Merito Acosta, that claimed a surprise championship. Acosta himself contributed a .282 average and a league-leading 32 walks. Right-hander Lucas Boada was acclaimed as “el nuevo diamante negro” (“the new black diamond”; that is, the new José Méndez) as he tied Luque with 11 victories. Veterans José María Fernández (.304), Manuel Cueto (.288), and Pelayo Chacón (.307) also played important roles in what was a true team effort for Marianao.
The Marianao club, champions of the 1922-23 Cuban League.
A couple of important notes:
1) We are still missing box scores for six games, all of them Santa Clara home games. Since the Leopardos won four of those six games, the Santa Clara players are probably slightly disadvantaged in the stats we’re able to present.
2) You may notice that other sources have Santa Clara going 14-13, rather than 15-12, as we’ve got it here. We’ve checked this very carefully, and 15-12 is the correct W/L record for games actually played. I’ll write this up in more detail at my blog in the next couple of days.
In the works for the DB: 1925 & 1934 Negro leagues, East-West All-Star Games, Mexican League 1937-1954, Cuban League 1918-19, 1919-20, 1920-21, and 1927-28, and much more.
Today we add the 1928 Negro leagues to the DB. This was the year the Eastern Colored League fell apart, putting an end to the first edition of the Black World Series. Meanwhile the Negro National League continued with a split-season format. The St. Louis Stars won the first half going away; in the second half, the American Giants just edged the Stars and the Kansas City Monarchs, setting up an NNL championship series with St. Louis that would take the place of the World Series that year.
The problems that doomed the ECL in 1928 had roots going back several years, involving arguments about schedules, players, parks, umpires, and money. The first real warning signs cropped up in 1927, when the New York Lincoln Giants were kicked out of the ECL for signing the outfielder Estéban Montalvo away from the western Cuban Stars, thus violating the peace deal that had been in effect between the two leagues since 1924. The Lincolns were readmitted in spring 1928, in exchange for giving Montalvo back to the Cuban Stars. But then Harrisburg Giants owner Colonel Strothers decided he could no longer afford to bankroll his club, a perennial contender, and folded the team (though the Giants would return midway through 1928 with a less-distinguished roster). Soon after that Nat Strong‘s Brooklyn Royal Giants resigned from the league, and the next day Ed Bolden pulled his Hilldale Club, perhaps the ECL’s flagship franchise, out of the circuit. Even with the Lincolns back in the fold, the ECL was still reduced to four clubs.
A Philadelphia gangster named Smittie Lucas had put together a team he called the Eastern League Stars, an all-star team originally intended only for spring play. Desperate for more teams, especially one based in Philadelphia, the league admitted Lucas’s club—though he had to return most of his stars to their original teams, and the name of his outfit was eventually changed to the Philadelphia Tigers. Another new club, the Brooklyn Stars, failed to materialize. So the Eastern Colored League started the 1928 season with five teams.
Harmony didn’t last long. When the Harrisburg Giants left the league, their players were divvied up among the other clubs, and outfielders Rap Dixon and Fats Jenkins were awarded to Baltimore. While Dixon signed with the Black Sox, Jenkins refused, and started appearing for the Lincoln Giants under the pseudonym “Williams.” Other disagreements ensued involving the scheduling of games with independent clubs, particularly Hilldale, and by late May the Lincolns and Cuban Stars had left the league. Plans to replace them with Syd Pollock’s Havana Red Sox and other teams came to nothing, and the Eastern Colored League was finally through.
It’s not certain when exactly the league came to end, and no “final” standings were ever published. If games through May 20 are counted, then the Baltimore Black Sox ended with the best record at 9-3, with five of their wins coming against the Philadelphia Tigers. The teams continued to play each other (with the exception of the Black Sox and Lincoln Giants, where lingering bad feeling about the Jenkins incident kept them apart through the whole season). We’ve chosen to present the standings for all games played between the ECL clubs throughout the 1928 season. By this measure the Bacharach Giants, champions in 1926 and 1927, took the virtual 1928 ECL pennant as well, with an 18-12 record.
The Bacharachs were helped to this record by none other than Fats Jenkins (.365/.425/.464), whom they immediately stole from the Lincoln Giants when the league dissolved. Chaney White (.371/.424/.517), player-manager Dick Lundy (.338/.401/.498), and Rats Henderson (8-2, 3.42) also contributed, as did double threat Luther Farrell (.395/.489/.618, 9-7 as a pitcher). The Baltimore Black Sox enjoyed great seasons from Rap Dixon (.398/.478/.701), Jud Wilson (.399/.492/.652), and Laymon Yokely (12-6, 2.77). The 44-year-old John Henry Lloyd hit .383 against top black clubs for his Lincoln Giants, while his double play partner, George Scales, hit .328/.416/.605 (which doesn’t include a 6 for 6, two home run performance against Hilldale, since a box score hasn’t been found yet). Alex Pompez‘s Cuban Stars struggled without renaissance man Martín Dihigo, though former Boston Red Sox infielder Ramón Herrera contributed a .331 average, new captain José María Fernández (replacing Pelayo Chacón after 12 years) hit .333, and infielder Angel Alfonso scorched the ball for a .489 average and .872 slugging percentage in 12 games against top black competition.
The Hilldale Club, the team whose abandonment of the ECL probably doomed it, may have been the best club on the east coast in 1928. Bolden scooped up Oscar Charleston (.346/.449/.605), Walter Cannady (.325/.389/.490), and Darltie Cooper (10-5, 2.39) from the defunct Harrisburg Giants, and used them to revitalize a cast that already included Biz Mackey (.342/.410/.533). The Homestead Grays grabbed John Beckwith (.306) from Harrisburg, and had already signed Martín Dihigo (.313, 4 homers) away from Pompez in 1927. The Grays also pirated a couple of NNL stars, enticing lefty Sam Streeter (4-2) to leave the Birmingham Black Barons and Jelly Gardner to abandon the American Giants. Making the most of a limited opportunity, a 33-year-old West Virginia coal miner named Grover Lewis blasted three home runs for the Grays in a game against Hilldale before disappearing back to Appalachian semipro ball. (If you haven’t already seen it, check out Scott Simkus‘s great piece about Lewis in a back issue of the Seamheads Outsider Baseball Bulletin.)
Over in the Negro National League, Candy Jim Taylor had been quietly incubating a powerful Stars lineup over the past few seasons; this was the year his patience would bear fruit, as the Stars dominated from the start. Mule Suttles (.365, 21 home runs), Willie Wells (.357, 21), and Wilson Redus (.352, 22) took full advantage of the 250-foot left field fence at Stars Park, caused by the intrusion of a trolley car barn into the outfield. Given all those runs to play with, right-handed curveballer Ted Trent pitched well enough (2.36 ERA, 121 strikeouts in214 innings) to go 19-3. Slap Hensley, Luther McDonald, and Johnny Williams added solid mound work, while Roosevelt Davis became the closest thing to a relief ace the Negro leagues had so far seen, going 8-0 while relieving in twice as many games as he started (15 to 8).
The American Giants relied on the arms of Willie Foster (13-8, 2.82) and Willie Powell (9-6, 2.00) and the bats of Steel Arm Davis (.319/.364/.442) and shortstop Pythias Russ (.339/.372/.431), a converted catcher whose career was cut short when he died of tuberculosis in 1930 at the age of only 26. The Monarchs lacked the slugging they had become known for in the early 1920s, when they could boast the likes of Dobie Moore and Heavy Johnson in their lineup. They were now a team that relied on speed, pitching, and glovework. Andy Cooper (12-7, 3.38) led the pitchers, while catcher Frank Duncan, shortstop Newt Allen, and center fielder Eddie Dwight (whose speed drew comparisons with Cool Papa Bell) anchored a solid defense. Bullet Rogan, now 34, hit .348/.405/.512, went 10-2 as a pitcher, and even filled in at second base—in addition to managing the team. (He also clouted 3 home runs in a 16-2 route of the Detroit Stars played in Clinton, Missouri, but a box score hasn’t been found yet.) This formula worked well enough to give the Monarchs the second-best overall record, although they agonizingly fell short of winning either half.
Utility man Wilson “Stack” Martin got the Detroit Stars’ season off to a great start when he hit 6 for 6 on opening day. Turkey Stearnes popped a league-leading 24 homers, Big George Mitchell went 13-8, Ed Rile, a 6’7″ converted pitcher, hit .348/.425/.508, and veteran second baseman Claude Johnson drew a league-leading 40 walks—but these Stars couldn’t keep up with the other Stars, finishing in third place overall. Meanwhile, in a breakout sophomore season the Birmingham Black Barons’ Leroy “Satchel” Paige (11-4, 2.32, a league-leading 121 strikeouts in 132 innings) served notice of what was to come. He couldn’t quite lift the Black Barons to a .500 record; while a couple of other pitchers were decent, the hitting was abject, with only Roy Parnell (.316/.365/.503) able to contribute much.
Player-manager Carl Glass (12-10, 2.96) and catcher Larry Brown (.265, sterling defense) were still the mainstays of the otherwise woeful Memphis Red Sox. Of Cleveland’s fifth attempt at an NNL team, the Tigers, the less said the better, though it’s worth noting the nearly heroic performance of Edward “Babe” Milton, who played eight positions while hitting .354 with 13 triples for an otherwise terrible team.
Tinti Molina’s Cuban Stars suffered through one of their worst seasons ever, finishing dead last with a team that managed only two home runs in 47 games. Most mysteriously, Estéban Montalvo, the slugger who was so good the Lincoln Giants had quit the ECL rather than give him up in 1927, and who had once hit three home runs in a single ECL game all by himself, couldn’t hit the side of a barn in 1928, managing only a .136/.219/.189 line. It’s hard not to think that he was perhaps not properly motivated to play for Molina, the manager he’d tried to escape the year before—although in retrospect, he may also have been suffering the early effects of the illness that would finally kill him in 1930.
The league championship was a classic, as recounted by Kevin Johnson. The teams split four games in Chicago; before the series moved to St. Louis, Chicago’s number two starter, Willie Powell, was shot in the face by his father-in-law during a domestic altercation. He would survive and continue his pitching career, but he was out of this series. In St. Louis the Stars shortstop Willie Wells took over, blasting six home runs in the last five games (our stats cover only three of them, as two box scores are missing), and the Stars prevailed 5 games to 4.
The 1928 Negro National League champion St. Louis Stars