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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1943 NNL & NAL

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.

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.

Willard Brown is greeted by Joe Greene after homering in game 3 of the 1942 Negro League World Series. Josh Gibson and umpire Fred McCreary look on.

Willard Brown is greeted by Joe Greene after homering in game 3 of the 1942 Negro League World Series. Josh Gibson and umpire Fred McCreary look on.

Introducing the New Negro Leagues Database

It’s been over five years since we originally launched the Negro Leagues Database. Over that time, there have been significant additions to the database, in terms of new seasons and statistics. But the website and the presentation of these statistics have largely remained the same. In May of 2015, I overhauled the Major League part of The Baseball Gauge, and I’ve wanted to do the same with the Negro Leagues section. Today, we re-launch the award-winning Negro Leagues Database. Here are some of the new features:

Per 162 games

One of the biggest issues with Negro Leagues statistics is that they are incomplete. We don’t have box scores for every game and we currently do not have data for every season and league. Because of this, it’s tough to compare Buck Leonard’s 62 career home runs to Cristóbal Torriente’s 70, the same way we compare Harmon Killebrew (573) to Andre Dawson (438).

To help fix this issue, I’ve included “per 162 games” rates on player and season/career leaderboard pages. Here we’ll see that Buck Leonard averaged 26 home runs per 162 games, while Torriente averaged 11.

Similarity scores

Comparing raw stats from Negro Leagues to Major Leagues is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for league quality, park factors or era. Having said that, we have similarity scores on all player pages, to see which Major Leaguer had the most similar career. Because of the issue described above, “per 162 games” statistics are used instead of career totals. There is also the ability to only compare to Hall of Famers or active players.

The similarity score tool shows us that Oscar Charleston’s most similar Major Leaguer was Rogers Hornsby
Charleston vs Hornsby

Defensive Regression Analysis

These fielding statistics have been available on the Major League site for a few years now and they are finally included in The Negro Leagues Database. Defensive Regression Analysis, created by Michael Humphreys, takes basic fielding statistics and estimates how many runs a player has saved (or allowed) compared to average.

Defensive Regression Analysis shows us that Dick Seay, while a lightweight with the bat (career 51 OPS+), saved 67 runs at second base in the season we have fielding data.

New Wins Above Replacement

The calculation for Wins Above Replacement now matches the Major League site. It uses Base Runs for offense, Defensive Regression Analysis for fielding, and runs allowed (with an adjustment for fielding) for pitching. The replacement level has been set at .294 to be consistent with Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.

There is also Wins Above Average and Wins Above Greatness if you prefer a different baseline. As with the previous version of the website, Win Shares and Win Shares Above Bench are included.

The career leaders per 162 games contains many familiar names:
WAR per 162

Roster pages

These are available on team, year, franchise, and all-time pages. They contain vitals, uniform #’s, and birth/death information.

Data Coverage

These pages give the user an idea of which statistics we have and which we are missing.

New Logo

We have a beautiful new logo, which was kindly provided by Gary Cieradkowski, creator of the Infinite Baseball Card Set and author of The League of Outsider Baseball.

Finally, we have all the features that were previously available on The Negro Leagues Database as well as the Major League version of The Baseball Gauge.

Today's Birthdays
Player Pos Years Born WAR
John Henry Lloyd
Jack Johnson
Roy Dorsey
George Fiall

Died on This Day
Player Pos Years Died WAR
Bert Hunter
Lzaro Salazar
Alonzo Bailey

Any questions, comments, suggestions?? Please contact the webmaster at

Statistical and biographical data for the The Negro Leagues Database, except 1923 and 1933, were compiled by Gary Ashwill. Copyright 2011-2013 Gary Ashwill. All rights reserved. Playing statistics for 1923 were compiled by Patrick Rock. Copyright 2011-2013 Patrick Rock. All rights reserved. Playing statistics for 1933 were compiled by Scott Simkus. Copyright 2013 Scott Simkus. All rights reserved.

Defensive Regression Analysis data used here was obtained with permission from Michael Humphreys, author of Wizardry

Win Shares are calculated using the formula in the book Win Shares by Bill James