Ballparks are not uniform in baseball. Each one has unique dimensions and can be either a friend of Pitcher and foe of the batter, or vice versa. And beyond that, they can be friendly to RH batters, or LH batters, or both, or neither.
Over the last decade, we’ve been continually building a “Negro Leagues Database” of statistics at seamheads.com. As researchers, at first, we were glad just to have ANY statistics on the Negro Leagues. But now that we have a significant set of them, we can take the next step and try to put them in context – the context being the level of competition, the offensive environment, and the ballpark effects that the events were achieved against and within. We do this routinely with Organized Baseball statistics, understanding that hitting 40 Home Runs in the 1990’s playing ½ of your games in Coors Field is different from hitting 40 Home Runs playing ½ of your games in the Astrodome in the 1960’s. We are now to the point where we can do similar types of analysis for the Negro Leagues.
Why look at Mack Park? First, because it’s a significant park in the Negro Leagues. It ranks 4th in the number of major Negro League games hosted in the seamheads.com database. In terms of number of games, the MLB equivalent would be Tiger Stadium.
Mack Park was built around 1911 or 1912 and was used thru the 1929 season. The park was damaged by fire on July 7, 1929, but the team was able to make the park useable enough to finish out the season there.
Second, because it had an unusual shape, with a short distance to RF:
Left Field: 358
Straightaway Left Field: 365
Left Center: 390
Center Field Corner: 444 (at 42 degrees and left of dead CF
Center Field: 405
Right Center: 318
Straightaway Right Field: 278
Right Field: 265
Fence Height: 12 Feet
Our assumption going in is that the park favored hitters over pitchers, and in particular favored LH hitters. But by how much exactly? What types of offense? What players specifically may have benefited or been hurt by the park?
We examined all Detroit Stars games where we have box scores from 1919 thru 1928, except for 1926 and 1927, which have not yet been ‘processed’ into a useable electronic form.
For approximately 11% of the Plate Appearances, we do not know the handedness of the batter.
For switch-hitters, we assumed they batted LH if the starting pitcher was RH, and RH if the starting pitcher was LH.
The average OPS for Detroit Stars games in Mack Park was .752. LH batters performed quite a bit better than RH batters:
LH batters hit HR’s at a rate of 92% higher than RH batters.
Detroit Stars Mack Park games vs. Other Parks Games:
On a rate basis, batters in Mack Park hit 128% more Home Runs than at other parks. However, OPS was only 6% higher.
Left-handed batters hit 187% more home runs at Mack Park, on a rate basis. Right-handed batters hit 68% more.
Now let’s look at how some prominent individual Detroit Stars players did at Mack Park vs. at other parks:
Bill Riggins was a switch-hitting shortstop. His overall production was about equal between Mack Park and other games, but he hit HR’s at a rate of 55% higher in Mack Park.
Edgar Wesley was a LH hitting 1st baseman. I would say he probably took more advantage of the short Mack Park right field than anyone.
Clarence Smith, a right-handed hitting right fielder, also was able to take advantage of Mack Park.
Frank Warfield was a slick fielding right-handed hitting second baseman.
Bruce Petway is regarded as the best fielding catcher in Negro League history. As you can see, he certainly was not much of a hitter, especially away from Mack Park.
Turkey Stearnes was the best player ever to play for the Detroit Stars. As a left-handed hitting center fielder, he hit 194% more home runs at Mack Park than at other parks. However, note he did have a .360 batting average away from Mack Park, so he was an excellent hitter in any park.
And now for a few pitchers:
Bill Gatewood was a long-time Negro League RH pitcher. As a pitcher who didn’t give up many home runs, he actually had better statistics pitching at home in Mack Park than he did pitching in other parks.
Right-handed pitcher Bill Force was able to mitigate home runs allowed at Mack Park, so he too actually had better results there than he did elsewhere
Bill Holland’s results may be the weirdest of all. He gave up a much higher rate of home runs at Mack Park, and yet he too still was able to pitch better overall at his home park.
Andy Cooper in a left-handed pitcher, who was clearly the best Detroit Stars pitcher, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His results are more in line with the averages we saw in our beginning baseline – he was able to have better results AWAY from Mack Park, particularly in giving up home runs.
What Do You Think?
Not unexpectedly, it seems clear that Mack Park favored hitters over pitchers, and particularly was friendly to left-handed hitters. However, some of the longer-term Detroit Star pitchers were apparently able to figure out how to be quite successful in their difficult for pitchers home environment.
(NOTE: This article is based on an oral presentation given at the 2019 Detroit Stars Centennial Conference in Detroit, Michigan)
Check out the latest addition to the database, the 1930 Negro National League, based on the work of Larry Lester, Wayne Stivers, and the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group. Also part of this addition are games between NNL and eastern teams, especially the Homestead Grays, which gives a much fuller picture of the Grays’ 1930 season than we had before.
In the NNL the St. Louis Stars, led by Willie Wells (.411/.492/.682) and now managed by Johnny Reese, ran away with the first half, and finished the season way out in front in terms of overall record. In the league championship series St. Louis just edged the second-half winners Detroit Stars in 7 games. With no league in the east there could be no genuine World Series. Combining two different series played in April and August/September, the St. Louis Stars did beat the Homestead Grays four games to three, although all games were played in the Stars’ home park.
The Monarchs’ efforts to defend their 1929 championship were hampered by illness and injury, as Bullet Rogan found himself hospitalized for much of the season with an unnamed ailment. It probably did not help that when J. L. Wilkinson decided to spend a large chunk of the season barnstorming against the Homestead Grays with a portable light system. Already missing Rogan, the Monarchs’ roster was really stretched when a car crash at the start of the tour put several other players out of action. Kansas City borrowed Roosevelt Davis and Wilson Redus from St. Louis, but they were of little help as the ruthless Grays won 15 out of 17 games. The tour made headlines all across the Midwest; it was the first time night baseball was staged in most of the towns and cities the teams visited.
The Grays-Monarchs series was also noteworthy for one of the most legendary Negro league games of all time, and for the debut of an all-time great. In Kansas City on August 2 Cyclone Joe Williams and Chet Brewer clashed in a 12-inning duel under apparently faulty lights, Williams striking out 27 batters and allowing only one hit while Brewer’s emery ball helped him fan 19. The Grays finally won when Oscar Charleston worked Brewer for a walk in the twelfth, then scored on Chaney White’s double.
In the lineup that night, batting eighth, going hitless, and striking out twice, was a very raw 18-year-old catcher named Joshua Gibson. He had joined the Grays just a week earlier (on July 25) in Pittsburgh when the regular catcher, Buck Ewing, injured his finger. Gibson would hit only 2 for 15 against Kansas City, but he started to click when the Grays visited Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago, and really came into his own during the informal eastern championship series with the Lincoln Giants, when he banged out four home runs in 11 games, including a famous blast to left field in Yankee Stadium.
In fact, the Grays were not Gibson’s first major Negro league team. Back on June 8, about six weeks before his Grays’ debut, the Memphis Red Sox had scheduled a doubleheader with the Grays in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Memphis outfielder Nat Rogers, interviewed by John Holway, tells the story:
We didn’t have no catcher and had to use the second baseman. Candy Jim Taylor was managing the Red Sox, picked Josh up and carried him up there to Shannon [sic], Pennsylvania to catch. So Josh played for Memphis. Just that one game. Candy said he’d never make a catcher. (Holway, Josh and Satch, p. 22).
Gibson got a couple of singles off Joe Williams (whom he would later catch in the 27-strikeout game) and also committed an error as the Grays crushed Memphis 13 to 3. Taylor gave opportunities that year to several players who would go on to notable careers, such as Neil Robinson and Chester Williams, but passed on the best of them all.
Next up for the DB: 1927 Negro National League, 1932 Negro Southern League, 1926 Negro National League, and more Mexican League seasons.
From its inception in 1924, thru the 1939 season, the Mexican League was basically a league of native Mexican semi-pro players, playing for their local teams. There were a few foreign imports that played in the league during those seasons, most notably Martin Dihigo, who left the New York Cubans after the 1936 season to spend his summers in Mexico. Not surprisingly, Dihigo put up some outstanding batting and pitching statistics when he joined the league. In 1938, fellow Cubans Ramon Bragna, Lazaro Salazar, Silvio Garcia and Julio Rojo joined Dihigo, and in 1939 Negro Leaguers Quincy Trouppe, Roosevelt Davis, Barney Brown, Barney Morris, Andy Porter and Eugene Smith all played on Mexican League teams.
But things really changed in 1940, when Veracruz team owner Jorge Pasquel took control of the league. Pasquel, along with his brothers, are famous for trying to sign Major League Baseball players in 1946 to play in Mexico. However, before that, Pasquel made a very successful effort to sign Negro League players prior to the 1940 season. Negro League players were not bound by a reserve clause, at least one that was enforced, and they could be enticed to leave the US leagues for much less money than players in Organized Baseball. A total of 67 players that either had or would later play in the Negro Leagues played in the 1940 Mexican League, which was almost 1/3 of all the league players. That number included Baseball HOFers Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Willie Wells, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Hilton Smith and Dihigo. The level of play in the Mexican League jumped exponentially overnight, perhaps going from something equivalent to a “Class D” league at the time to a league similar in quality to the Eastern League, a “Class A” league, which would be equivalent to AA in today’s Organized Baseball classification. The NNL and NAL had 318 total players participating in 1940, so of course the Negro Leagues would have suffered a decline in quality of play with so many players leaving their leagues.
THE 1940 MEXICAN LEAGUE SEASON
As Gary Ashwill mentioned the 1940 Mexican League Season add is part of an update to the Seamheads Negro League database, which includes the 1929 NNL season. Although he only played about 1/4th of the season, Josh Gibson was the best player in the league, posting a .467/.546/.989 AVE/OBP/SLG with 11 HR in only 109 Plate Appearances. Cool Papa Bell hit .437/.496/.686 with 28 Stolen Bases. Wild Bill Wright slashed .360/.437/.571 in 398 PAs. On the pitching side, Willie Jefferson was 22-9 with 2.65 ERA, Cuban HOFer Ramon Bragana went 16-8 with a 2.58 ERA, Andy Porter had 21-14 W/L with a 3.34 ERA, including 232 strikeouts, and Leroy Matlock went 15-10 with a 3.27 ERA. Pascual’s own Veracruz team, fortified by his transfer of Bell and Gibson to the team during the season, added to an already strong roster with Dihigo, Wells, Dandridge, Day, Bragna, Barney Brown, and Ted Radcliffe, finished first with a 61-30 record.
NOTES ON THE DATA
The 1940 Mexican League is the first league on seamheads.com where the data has not been built ‘from the ground up’ using box scores. The data comes primarily from Pedro Cisneros’ “Mexican League Encyclopedia”, compiled into electronic form by Frank Hamilton. I, Juan Rivera, Eric Chalek, and Gary Ashwill all reviewed, edited, modified and added to the data, particularly in areas of team information, player identification and biographical material. Using this already compiled data meant we had to address a few issues. The first issue is some players, particularly the Negro Leaguers, played on multiple teams, but the Encyclopedia has all their playing data combined. We address this by listing the player on the roster for all the teams he played for but placing the stats on the team we think he played with the most, based on what we know. The second issue is there is obviously some missing data, particularly for the Tampico team, but likely also for the other teams who were opponents in the Tampico games that may not have had statistics compiled. Possibly related to this second issue, the third issue is not all stats ‘balance’, like we normally require for our database. For example, all pitcher wins total to 282, but all pitcher losses total only to 272. Another example is that only selected pitchers have batting data, so batter hits add to lower totals than pitcher hits allowed. The fourth issue is the lack of any fielding data. Fielding positions have been assigned based on a combination of the few box scores we have, positions if listed in the Mexican League Encyclopedia, known positions played in other league/seasons by players, and what would make sense for the team (so we don’t end up with 3 SS and no 2B, for example.)
We believe we have been able to logically and to the greatest extent possible remediate these issues. The data isn’t perfect, but without this Mexican League data, many of the Negro Leaguer’s careers would be incomplete. In 1940 the Mexican League, like some of the Cuban Leagues, had almost become another Negro League – although ironically an INTEGRATED one, just like the Cuban Leagues. We plan on continuing to add Mexican League seasons from 1941 thru 1954, which are the years the league was an independent international league and outside of Organized Baseball, and years in which there were still a substantial number of Negro League players.
Finally, note also in our grouping of leagues, we have created a new category, “LATIN LEAGUES”, which will group the Cuban and Mexican international leagues together, so you can easily filter this playing data out or in to any queries, as you desire.