May 25, 2017

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1944 NNL & NAL

April 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

Artie Wilson & Frank Austin

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