April 4, 2020

The 1928 Negro Leagues – The Two Leagues

December 12, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

The Negro National League (1920-1931).   Also known as the Western League.

The Eastern Colored League (1924-1928).   Also known as the Eastern League.

The Product

How they played the game:

(Negro Leagues Data from National Baseball Hall of Fame)

In the 1920’s, the two Negro Leagues had both Batting Averages and Slugging Averages slightly lower than Major League Baseball.

(Negro Leagues Data courtesy of Gary Ashwill)

On the other hand, in 1928 the two Negro Leagues averaged a half run per game more than MLB.

(Negro Leagues Data courtesy of Gary Ashwill)

Part of the run difference could be explained by the over a half an error per game more committed in Negro League games.   If we estimate an increase of .7 runs per error, that would explain around 0.35 of runs scoring difference.   Given the batting differences, there would still be at least .3 runs per game to explain which could be due to better base running in the Negro Leagues, or more timely hitting.

The Market

Where they played the game:

Eastern Colored League Teams

Hilldale (Philadelphia)
Harrisburg Giants
Bacharach Giants (Atlantic City)
Baltimore Black Sox
New York Lincoln Giants
Cuban Stars
Brooklyn Royal Giants
Washington Potomacs (also Wilmington)
Newark Stars
Homestead Grays (Pittsburgh)

Teams ordered roughly by their league success, except for Homestead, which never joined the ECL, but remained independent, playing mostly semi-pro teams while barnstorming through Pennsylvania.    However, Homestead did also play against most of the ECL teams and some NNL teams, and was definitely a top caliber major eastern team.

The Cuban Stars were a traveling team, with no home city in the U.S.  The Brooklyn Royal Giants were effectively a traveling team also, as owner Nat Strong’s white semi-pro Bushwicks team received most of the home dates at Brooklyn’s Dexter Park.

The ECL had seven strong, stable franchises.  Eight tended to be the ideal number for scheduling purposes, and Homestead would have made a fantastic eighth team, but the profits from barnstorming were good for Homestead, and they continually declined invitations to join.   Washington/Wilmington (two years) and Newark (less than one year) were the only weak links.

Negro National League Teams

Chicago American Giants
Kansas City Monarchs
St. Louis Stars
Detroit Stars
Indianapolis ABCs
Birmingham Black Barons
Memphis Red Sox
Cuban Stars

Teams also ordered roughly by level of success.   The NNL had several teams that were ‘one and done’ such as Milwaukee, Dayton, Louisville, Nashville, Cincinnati and Columbus, which are not listed.

Chicago and Kansas City basically won everything except for occasional success by St. Louis.   After Detroit, there was a great drop-off in franchise stability and success.   Indianapolis had been a great 1910’s franchise, but the death of owner/manager C. I. Taylor in 1922 coupled with player raids from the ECL significantly weakened the team.   Birmingham and Memphis were successful Negro Southern League teams who struggled with the move up to the tougher NNL competition.  The western Cuban Stars never had a winning season.   Finally, Cleveland was a mess, with owners changing every year, wholesale  player changes sometimes even within a season, and a stranglehold on eighth place.

One major difference between the two leagues was the distance required to travel for league games.  The western teams were much more spread out than the eastern  teams, resulting in a huge cost advantage for the ECL.   The western teams tried to mitigate the difference by sometimes setting up a ‘quad’ travel plan, with Detroit-Cleveland-Chicago-Indianapolis being one continuous northern road trip, and St. Louis-Kansas City-Memphis-Birmingham being the southern road trip for teams.   However, travel expenses for NNL teams have been estimated to have been on average almost three times greater than the average for ECL teams.

The east had a second advantage, which was more high level semi-pro white teams in their nearby areas, providing better revenue opportunities.   With more revenue and lower expenses, the ECL was able to offer higher salaries to the top black ball players.

Note that New York is off the chart at 7 million.  Boston was the largest MLB city without a major Negro Leagues team.  Kansas City was the largest Negro Leagues city without a competing MLB team.

(U. S. Census Bureau 1930 Census)

If we look at just the Black population (cities in same order as previous graph), we get a little different perspective on markets.   New York does not dominate quite as much over Chicago and Philadelphia.   We see possibly why such a large city as Cleveland struggled with franchise stability.   Baltimore looks like a strong market.  The Washington area looks like it could have been successful as the eighth successful ECL franchise if a decent team had ever been assembled there.   Memphis and Birmingham appear to be more attractive markets than we might have assumed.   Now we can see why Boston never had a major Negro League team.

Next Week – Part II of The Two Leagues.


2 Responses to “The 1928 Negro Leagues – The Two Leagues”
  1. mikkyld says:

    It could also be because of worse pitching in the negro leagues. after all the main stars of the game are not the pitchers, with a few notable exceptions

  2. KJOK says:

    That’s true, but you would expect ‘worse’ pitching to show up in batting average and slugging average (against), and the Negro Leagues were actually lower than MLB in those categories, so you would still expect that runs would be lower too if there weren’t other factors at play.

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