April 22, 2021

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1943 NNL & NAL

December 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Here is Scott Simkus to introduce his work on the 1943 Negro leagues:

With war raging overseas, Negro league rosters were once again ravaged by the draft in 1943, with star players Monte Irvin, Ted Strong, and Max Manning headlining a list of more than a couple dozen active African-American ballplayers entering the armed services. Additionally, a loosening of travel restrictions allowed Roy Campanella, Bill Wright, Ray Dandridge, and several other key contributors to play their summer ball in Mexico in ‘43, instead of here in the States. Despite this, several newspapers (both black and white) opined the Negro league rosters hadn’t suffered as harshly as the white Major Leagues. As evidence, the Negro leagues still featured the services of many future Hall of Famers, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Jud Wilson, Leon Day, and Larry Doby. The departures opened the door to some younger faces, with future big leaguers Sam Jethroe, Henry Thompson, and Joe Black all having an impact, or making their blackball debuts.

On the diamond, 1943 was a season of redemption for the Homestead Grays and their star catcher, Josh Gibson, who recovered from substance abuse issues during the off-season to have one of his finest years, slashing .442/.541/.806, with 20 home runs and 112 RBI in just 77 games. The Grays, who’d won several consecutive NNL pennants, but had lost the previous year’s World Series to the Kansas City Monarchs, bounced back under the direction of new manager Jim Taylor to compile a 105-31-2 overall record, including 78-23-1 versus Negro league clubs, culminating in a seven game World Series victory over the upstart Birmingham Barons. John Wright made headlines on the pitching mound. Jackie Robinson’s future roommate rolled to a 22-4 record, with a 2.33 era as the leader of the Grays staff. Besides Gibson and Wright, other players such as Willard Brown, Buck O’Neil, Bill Byrd, Dave Barnhill, and Jim West also had excellent seasons and were considered the shining stars of black professional baseball.

The Birmingham Black Barons, featuring the services of Piper Davis, Clyde Spearman, and Tommy Sampson, were becoming a powerhouse in the west with a core group that would return to the World Series the following year and again in 1948. The Black Barons’ left-handed pitcher Alvin Gipson made baseball history by striking out 20 Philadelphia Stars batters on August 21st. Memphis’s Porter Moss and Newark’s Jimmy Hill both tossed no-hitters in 1943 (both against the woeful New York Black Yankees), and additional pitching history was made on August 7, when five Cincinnati Clowns and Birmingham Black Barons hurlers combined to walk 21 men during a 9-inning game played in Appleton, Wisconsin. Rookie lefty-hander Eugene Jones fanned 16 Newark Eagles during a game played in Springfield, Ohio; and as has famously been reported many times before, Josh Gibson belted 10 home runs in Washington D.C.’s Griffith Stadium, in just over 100 at bats, while the entire white American League managed to hit only 9 there during the season, in more than 4,000 at bats.

The 1943 season can also be viewed as a turning point for the two Negro leagues themselves. It was the last of the old ways, where the summer consisted of a short “official” league schedule (with league games played mostly on Sundays), supplemented by dozens of “exhibition” games with these very same league teams, as well as interleague games with squads from the other loop.  There was, as one could imagine, often confusion regarding which games counted and which games didn’t. All told, several Negro league teams played more than 100 games against other blackball teams in 1943, but only thirty or so counted in the actual standings, and all of the action (both wins and losses by teams, as well as the performances of the individual players) was haphazardly compiled, and sporadically reported. The next year, in 1944, this would all change, as both leagues hired professional stat services and the scheduling was adjusted so that ALL games between league teams would count in the standings, not just the handful played on special pre-arranged dates. This was fully two years before Jackie Robinson made his Negro league debut, but it was already the common opinion among Negro league owners that integration was about to happen, and they wanted to get their business in order before this occurred.

I need to thank several people for their help on this project. Without the efforts and generosity of Todd Peterson, Gary Cieradkowski, Ryan Whirty, Larry Lester, and Wayne Stivers (plus dozens of librarians and local historians, especially the folks at Howard University), this dataset would only be a fraction of what is posted here at Seamheads. Thank you all!

–Scott Simkus


The great Josh Gibson.

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