April 22, 2021

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1948 NAL & NNL

October 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The latest addition to the Seamheads Negro Leagues DB encompasses the 1948 Negro American League, Negro National League, and World Series.

This was the last season for the NNL, which ceased operations in 1949 as the Homestead Grays and Black Yankees dropped out, and the four remaining teams joined the Negro American League. It was thus also the last season for the Black World Series.

In the NAL the Kansas City Monarchs won the first half behind the efforts of Jim LaMarque (8-1, 2.74), Hank Thompson (.368/.460/.613), and Willard Brown (.387/.460/.622), but were upset in the league championship series by the second-half champion Birmingham Black Barons, led by a 17-year-old rookie named Willie Mays. The Black Barons had plenty of other good players, though, not the least of which was shortstop and batting champ Artie Wilson, who became the last player in a U.S. professional league to bat .400 in the 20th century (.402 according to official statistics, and a whopping .462 in the subset of games with box scores).

The Barons met their match in the World Series in the form of the veteran Homestead Grays, who cut them down in five games despite being exiled from both of their home parks due to scheduling conflicts with the Pirates and Senators, their major league landlords. This marked the third time in six years that the Grays defeated Birmingham in the black fall classic.

The slugger Luke Easter (.304/.418/.514) spurred the Grays to the NNL first half title. The Baltimore Elite Giants won the second half, led by pitchers Bill Byrd (10-4, 1.68) and Joe Black (9-3, 1.94, with a league-leading 94 strikeouts) and outfielders Lester Lockett (.370/.416/.537) and Henry Kimbro (.269/.450/.365). Kimbro walked 58 times in the 58 regular season games with box scores; he added 5 more in 4 post-season games to end with 63 in 62 games, which surpasses Josh Gibson’s 59 walks in 1943 to stand as the most walks we’ve recorded by a hitter in a single season against Negro league competition. (Brent Kelley’s wonderful interview with Kimbro, which appears in Kelley’s book Voices from the Negro Leagues, is very much worth checking out.)

Down 2 games to 1 in the league championship series, Baltimore elected to forfeit the pennant when they objected to a decision by the league to continue a tie game that had been called due to darkness.

Our 1948 numbers result from a collaboration with Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers of the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group. As is too often the case in the mid- to late 1940s, the Negro American League clubs get short shrift, due to the failure of newspapers to publish their box scores.

Next up for the DB: 1901/02 Cuban League, 1927 Eastern Colored League, 1929 American Negro League, and more.

Henry Kimbro of the Baltimore Elite Giants

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