June 1, 2020

History of a St. Louis Baseball Franchise: The St. Louis Stars

February 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

St. Louis Stars

The St. Louis Stars were born when Richard William Kent, Sam Sheppard, Dr. J. W. “George” McClelland and Dr. G. B. Keys purchased the NNL St. Louis Giants franchise after the 1921 season. Dick Kent was a very successful businessman, who went from being a shoe shine boy to a real estate mogul, barber shop owner, finance company stockholder, St. Louis American Newspaper owner, manager/owner of two taxi companies, and elected official. Sheppard, a parking garage owner, served as the Business Manager/General Manager, with former 1915-1918 St. Louis Giant Bill Gatewood brought back to manage the team. Ten 1921 Giants players were joined by several new players, including three that would become the longest tenured Stars: pitcher Logan “Slap” Hensley, and outfielders Branch Russell and James “Cool Papa” Bell.

Future Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell was the star among stars, considered the team’s ‘franchise’ player, who played in over 500 league games for the team through 1931, the end of the team’s first run in St. Louis. The 19 year old Bell played that first season as the team’s #2 pitcher, and in 1923 he was the #1 pitcher, but he began to play in the outfield on his non-pitching days, and by 1924 he was a fixture in center field, leading off.

The Stars were a mediocre team their first three years, but several players had outstanding seasons. The 1922 team won-lost record was 23-35. Right fielder Charles Blackwell was the hitting star, with an AVE/OBP/SLG of .365/.445/.550, while George Meyers anchored the pitching staff with a record of 9-5 and 5.05 Runs Allowed per Game (RAPG). In 1923, the team brought in Candy Jim Taylor as manager, and went 28-44. While Bell was the pitching star with his 11-7 record and 5.86 RAPG, third baseman George Scales led the hitting attack with .390/.505/.738. In spite of the death of second baseman Eddie Holtz in July from pneumonia, the team had an improved 1924 season, going 42 –34, as Taylor began a major recruiting drive. The team added Hall of Famer short stop Willie Wells, outfielder Frog Redus, third baseman Dewey Creacy, and pitcher Rosey Davis, and by 1925 the team started it’s ‘dynasty’ era. Taylor left for one season in 1926 to manage Cleveland, and Dizzy Dismukes became the team’s acting Manager and Business manager, adding first baseman/outfielder George “Mule” Suttles and second baseman John Henry Russell, followed by pitcher Ted Trent in 1927. After going 42-34 in 1924, this great Stars team rebounded to produce three championship seasons in 1925, 1928 and 1930, each year winning more than an incredible 70 percent of their games.

The 1928 championship series was especially noteworthy, as the Stars came from being down two games to none to win the series five games to four, with Willie Wells hitting six home runs in the last five series games played in St. Louis.

The original Stars team’s last season, in 1931, proved to be an eventful one. The 24 year old pitcher Leroy Matlock emerged as a star, going a reported 19 – 1. The core of the 1931 team – Bell, Wells, Suttles, Trent, Matlock, Newt Allen, Dewey Creacy, George Giles, Quincy Trouppe, and Bertrum Hunter – went to Detroit in 1932 to help form the new Detroit Wolves in the short-lived East-West League.

The team started play in 1922 at Giants Park, but land that the 1910’s Giants sometimes used as a playing field at Compton, Market, and Laclede was immediately purchased. The park was known as Stars Park, was estimated to cost $27,000, and had a capacity of 16,000. What is currently Interstate 64 was then a major trolley line, and a trolley barn stood North of Market Street about 250 feet from home plate. In some seasons, any ball hit on top of the barn was a home run, which made Stars Park one of the best hitter’s parks in the NNL. Since the team disbanded during the 1931 season, the park was sold to the City of St. Louis for $100,000 for use as a playground. . Today, the lot is a Harris-Stowe State University baseball field.

After the NNL folded in 1931, St. Louis did not have a major Negro league team until 1937, when a new version of the St. Louis Stars, owned by Henry L. Moore, joined the Negro American League. Dizzy Dismukes had begun organizing the team as an independent in 1936, and once again became the Manager/Business Manager. The new Stars team used its original home location, now called Metropolitan Park, for home games. The 1937 season was a disaster, with the team finishing last, and seven players narrowly escaping injury when their car caught on fire on a road trip to Memphis. After being out of the league in 1938, the team had a brief success, playing in South End Park (aka National Nite Baseball Park), in winning the 2nd half of the 1939 season, but lost a playoff series to the Kansas City Monarchs, 3 games to 2. The team never could recapture the popularity of the original Stars, and had to share the franchise with both New Orleans in 1940-41 and Harrisburg in 1943. Like the early 1920’s Stars, even though the team performed poorly, a few individual players had standout seasons. In 1939, pitcher Theolic Smith. Second baseman Marshall Riddle and outfielder Dan Wilson were named to the Negro Leagues West All-Star Team. Before 40,000 fans, Wilson’s two-run homer in the eighth inning propelled the West squad to 4-2 victory. In 1941, Wilson was joined on the All-Star Team by center fielder Alfred “Buddy” Armour, second baseman Jimmy Ford, and manager Big George Mitchell.

Although the franchise ended with somewhat of a whimper instead of a bang, the St. Louis Stars continue to be synonymous with great players like Cool Pap Bell, and the great 1928 through 1931 teams.

“St. Louis to Have $27,000 Baseball Park.” Chicago Defender, 15 April, 1922, national edition: pg. 10

“St. Louis Voters Elect Kent Committeeman.” Chicago Defender, 16 August, 1930, national edition: pg. 13

Ashwill, Gary. 1922 nnl plus, v. 2.01. 11 October 2006. http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2006/10/1922_nnl_plus_v.html

Ashwill, Gary and Rock, Patrick. 1923 negro national league. 23 April 2007. http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2007/04/1923_negro_nati.html

“Ball Player Buried.” Baltimore Afro-American 18 July 1924, pg. 15.

Johnson, Kevin. “St. Louis’ Forgotten Champions on 1928.” Mound City Memories, Tiemann, Bob, Editor. Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2007.

“Baseball Notes.” Chicago Defender, 21 November, 1931, national edition: pg. 8

“St. Louis Ball Players Make Attack on Fan.” Chicago Defender, 4 July, 1931, national edition: pg. 9

Jackson, J. A. “Parks and Fairs.” Baltimore Afro-American 21 July 1922, pg. 11.

“St. Louis Stars Ball Park Sold for $100,000.” Chicago Defender, 1 August, 1931, national edition: pg. 9

“St. Louis Ball Team Escapes as Auto Burns.” Chicago Defender, 5 June, 1937, national edition: pg. 13

Lester, Larry. Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933 – 1953. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

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