Negro Leagues DB Update: 1942 NAL & NNL
Along with the new design and features added by our webmaster and Baseball Gauge guru Dan Hirsch, and the new logo designed by Gary Cieradkowski (of Infinite Baseball Cards fame), we’ve also added two whole new seasons this week, 1942 and 1943. The 1943 season is the work of Scott Simkus (you know him from the Strat-O-Matic Negro League set and the essential book Outsider Baseball), and Scott will have a post up about it tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll briefly introduce 1942, which results from our collaboration with Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers of the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group.
The Negro leagues in 1942 hit something of a sweet spot, as a number of important players (including Josh Gibson, Sammy Hughes, and Bus Clarkson) returned home from Mexico, and the wartime draft hadn’t yet taken a heavy toll. The year’s rookies were led by swift-footed Buckeyes outfielder Sam Jethroe and Newark’s teenaged infielder Larry Doby, preserving his college eligibility by playing under the name Larry Walker.
The results of the pennant races proved to be a repeat of 1941. The Kansas City Monarchs, boasting the best pitching in either league as well as the bats of Ted Strong (.364/.419/.561), Willard Brown (.338/.373/.493), and rookie second baseman Bonnie Serrell (.360/.395/.561), again edged out the young Birmingham Black Barons for the NAL flag. Meanwhile Josh Gibson’s homecoming sparked the Homestead Grays to lap the field in the NNL, leaving the Baltimore Elite Giants distant runners-up for the second year in a row. Gibson (.327/.444/.580) was far and away the Grays’ best hitter, as the normally reliable Buck Leonard, suffering from a broken finger, slumped to an awful .220/.345/.270, and only one other regular (David Whatley) managed to hit .300 in the games we’ve recovered. Still, Homestead’s superior pitching and defense, starring Ray Brown (10-5, 3.30) and Roy Partlow (6-2, 1.69), allowed the team to continue its usual dominance.
The Elites, led by Bill Byrd (10-3, 2.91), Roy Campanella (.295), and Wild Bill Wright (.317), continued their run of finishing no worse than second going back to 1938 (including a controversial pennant victory in the 1939 postseason Ruppert Cup tournament). The league’s other main contenders, the Newark Eagles, couldn’t make their overload of talent count for much in the pennant race. Despite six eventual Hall of Famers appearing in an Eagles uniform in 1942 (seven if you count bench manager Biz Mackey), the team finished 14 ½ games behind the Grays. One of the main reasons for the disappointing performance was that the team’s best player, 22-year-old Monte Irvin, appeared in only two league games before jumping to Mexico, where he hit .397 to win the batting title.
Over in the Negro American League Winfield Welch’s Black Barons had another good year behind outfielder Lloyd Davenport (.337), second baseman Tommy Sampson (.333) , and southpaw Robert “Black Diamond” Pipkins (7-2). A new club, the Buckeyes, split time between Cincinnati and Cleveland. Their first season in the big time was marred by tragedy: in September the team was involved in a terrible car accident that killed two players, catcher Ulysses “Buster” Brown and pitcher Raymond “Smoky” Owens.
For the first time in 15 years, there was a true Negro league World Series. Since the NNL dominated the NAL in inter-league contests in 1942, winning 38 and losing only 14, it might have seemed like the Monarchs had little chance against the mighty Homestead Grays. But the NAL’s poor record was largely due to just two teams: the Buckeyes, who dropped a woeful 19 out of 20 games to NNL teams, and the last-place Chicago American Giants, who were 0-7.
Still, it was a surprise when the Monarchs brutally dismantled the overmatched NNL champs, 4 games to 0, adding for good measure an extra victory in an exhibition game that wasn’t counted as part of the World Series. Kansas City used only three pitchers—Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, and Jack Matchett—but they held Josh Gibson to a paltry .077 average, and the whole Grays’ team to .196. Monarchs catcher Joe Greene and shortstop Jesse Williams, relatively light hitters, both hit .500, while Willard Brown pounded out a .467 average.
The only traction the Grays got was when they brought in ringers from Newark and Philadelphia for game 4—pitcher Leon Day, first baseman Lennie Pearson (.346, a league-leading 11 homers), outfielder Ed Stone (.286/.378/.456), and shortstop Bus Clarkson (.355/.439/.622), possibly the best player in black baseball that year. The Monarchs protested but played the game anyway, and the reinforced Grays won behind Day’s pitching, 4 to 1. The game was eventually thrown out, and the Monarchs went on to take the real game 4 and the series.
Tomorrow Scott Simkus will give us the lowdown on the 1943 season.
Coming to the DB in the near future: Negro league exhibition games against major league teams, 1901-1924; the 1919-20 and 1921-22 Cuban winter seasons; the 1937 Negro American League; and more.