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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1941 NNL & NAL

For the second year in a row, the Negro Leagues’ best player, Josh Gibson, played in the Mexican League instead of with the Homestead Grays. For the standings at least, it didn’t matter as Homestead finished first for the fifth consecutive year. The Grays were a very veteran team by 1941. Thirty-three year old first baseman Buck Leonard was the MVP of the NNL, with an AVE/OBP/SLG of .354/.477/.696 in 198 Plate Appearances. The pitching was led by also thirty-three year old Ray Brown, who went 11-5 with a 2.85. Most amazingly, the “10th man” in the lineup, forty-five year old third baseman Jud Wilson, hit .444/.515/.633 in 106 PA’s.

Just as in 1940, 2nd and 3rd place in the NNL belonged to the Baltimore Elite Giants and the Newark Eagles. With Josh Gibson out of the league, the best NNL catcher was Baltimore’s nineteen year old Roy Campanella, who hit .345/.418/.644 in 100 PA’s. Left fielder Bill Hoskins hit .367/.413/.669. On the mound veteran Bill Byrd was 8-3 with a 2.02 ERA for Baltimore. In contrast to Homestead, Newark had an extremely young team. Twenty-two year old short stop Monte Irvin hit .401/.450/.639 in 169 PA’s while twenty-four year old Leon Day moved away from regular pitching, splitting his time between centerfield and second base, and hitting .320/.367/.524.

Over in the Negro American League, the Crawfords franchise was now completely gone, while the Cleveland Bears moved south to become the Jacksonville Red Caps. But at the top of the league, it was once again the Kansas City Monarchs, who like the Grays had the league’s best overall record for the fifth year in a row. And while the Negro Leagues were missing one big star in Gibson, they got one back, with Satchel Paige returning to the Monarchs after several years of injury and contract issues. The thirty-five year old Paige overall went 5-0 with a 2.15 ERA in 37 innings and struck out a league leading 25% of batters faced. But Paige wasn’t the Monarchs’ best pitcher – that would be Hiton Smith, the ‘relief pitcher’ who went 7-0 with a 1.42 ERA in 50 innings. Smith also batted .435/.480/.609 in 26 PA’s. Right fielder Ted Strong hit .325/.456/.602 while center fielder Willard Brown batted .321/.378/.550.

The Birmingham Black Barons, who finished second, were beginning to build a good, young team to challenge the Monarchs. Twenty-three year old first baseman Lyman Bostock led them with .378/.410/.541 at the plate.

Notable Missing:
Josh Gibson – Mexican League
Bus Clarkson – Mexican League
Luis Tiant – Mexican League
Sammy Hughes – Mexican League
Turkey Stearnes – Retired
Webster McDonald – Retired
Frog Redus – Retired

Notable New:
Dave Barnhill. Barnhill was ‘rookie of the year’ although he was a veteran of the lower level, barnstorming/clowning teams. Homestead signed him after he led the 1940-41 Puerto Rican League in strikeouts.

The bulk of our data for the 1941 season comes from Larry Lester, Wayne Stivers, and the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group.

Up next: The 1942 NNL and NAL, 1943 NNL/NAL, the 1937 NAL, the 1926 NNL, plus the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues.
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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1940 NNL & NAL

After two years of relative stability, 1940 proved to be a difficult season for the Negro leagues, as the trickle of players defecting to Venezuela or (especially) Mexico became a flood. Many of black baseball’s biggest stars—Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Leon Day—spent most or all of 1940 south of the border.

Compounding this problem, the most famous of the Negro leaguers, Satchel Paige, spent his fourth consecutive season in exile. Injury and a refusal to play for the Newark Eagles, the team that owned his contract, had kept him off league rosters since 1936. Finally a complicated deal that awarded the Eagles two other players from the Crawfords—shortstop Bus Clarkson and pitcher Ernie Carter—resulted in Paige being allowed to suit up for league games with the Kansas City Monarchs, the club whose barnstorming B-team he had been headlining for two years. (Unfortunately we don’t yet have any box scores covering his league appearances late in 1940.)

The Homestead Grays may have lost Josh Gibson to Mexico, but they retained most of the rest of their roster, including Ray Brown (16-2, 1.88), Buck Leonard (.369, 8 homers), and Edsall Walker (11-4, 3.13). The Grays, now playing most of their home games in Washington, D. C., also added Howard Easterling (.344./.404/.511) and the 44-year-old Jud Wilson. The latter was supposed to make up for the loss of Gibson’s power but finished the year homerless and with a .260 average. Still, these players proved to be just enough to stave off the Elite Giants’ challenge and give the Grays their third pennant in four years.

Over in the Negro American League, the defending champion Kansas City Monarchs lost their two best everyday players, Willard Brown and Ted Strong. But KC compensated through the fine play of infielders Herb Souell (.340) and Jesse Williams (.368) and the pitching of Frank Bradley (4-1, 2.38), Jack Matchett (6-2, 2.58), and others, and won the pennant going away.

Once again, we owe our stats for the 1940 season to Larry Lester, Wayne Stivers, and the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group.

Up next: the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues. On deck: the 1941-43 Negro leagues and the 1937 Negro American League.

1940 NNL championship patch belonging to Wilmer Fields.

1940 NNL championship patch belonging to Wilmer Fields.

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1939 NNL & NAL

This week we’re adding further results of our collaboration with the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group (Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers) with the unveiling of the 1939 Negro league season. We’ve got both leagues, the Negro National League and Negro American League, plus the postseason series. This represents the first NAL season we’ve done for the database—we’ll be going back to fill in the NAL’s 1937 and 1938 seasons soon.

The NAL had started in 1937 with its two oldest charter members, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Chicago American Giants, facing off in the playoffs. The next season saw something of an upheaval as, for the first time in the history of the black majors, two Southern teams contested the championship, the Memphis Red Sox defeating the Atlanta Black Crackers for the pennant. For 1939, the Indianapolis ABCs moved to St. Louis to become the latest incarnation of the St. Louis Stars; the Atlanta Black Crackers, 1938’s runners up, became the Indianapolis ABCs; and the Jacksonville Red Caps played as the Cleveland Bears.

The two playoff teams from 1938 had rough times in 1939. For the Memphis Red Sox, it was a case of first to worst, as the defending champions collapsed to last in the league. Meanwhile, the ABCs/Black Crackers couldn’t even secure a home field in Indianapolis. After playing a round of league games on the road, they returned to Atlanta, where they entertained NAL teams in mid-June. The league, which had evidently counted on cutting travel expenses, was not pleased, and demoted them to associate membership. The ABCs/Black Crackers dissolved shortly thereafter, and their players were scattered all over the league.

The Monarchs, led by Hilton Smith, Willard Brown, Ted Strong, and the veteran Turkey Stearnes, dominated the first half, and ended with by far the best overall record in the league. In the playoffs they dispatched the St. Louis Stars, winners of the second half, with ease. (We are still missing a considerable number of Stars’ home games, so at this point our stats don’t reflect fairly on the Stars and their players.)

Over in the Negro National League Alex Pompez was back with his New York Cubans to replace the failed Washington Black Senators from 1938, maintaining the league at seven members. With his home park demolished, Gus Greenlee sold the Pittsburgh Crawfords to Olympic hero Jesse Owens and a financial partner, and they moved the team to Toledo. This proved to be a little too far away for the other NNL clubs, all clustered on the east coast, and in June the Crawfords switched to the Negro American League to replace the unfortunate ABCs/Black Crackers.

In the NNL pennant race it looked like the third straight year of Grays domination, accomplished by the usual suspects (Josh Gibson, Ray Brown, Buck Leonard). But at season’s end the league decided to put on a Shaughnessy-style playoff, pitting the top four teams against each other in an elimination tournament. The Baltimore Elite Giants, a .500 team in the regular season, hit their stride at exactly the right time. They upset the Newark Eagles in the first round, setting up a final series with the Grays.

The Grays edged the first game, held in Philadelphia, 2 to 1. The Elites took the first game of a doubleheader in Baltimore’s Oriole Park, 7 to 5, with the second game ending in a 1 to 1 tie. Back in Philadelphia, the Elites’ young catcher Roy Campanella hit 4 for 5 with a double and a home run and drove in five runs to lead his team to a 10 to 5 win. The next day in Yankee Stadium, Jonas Gaines and Willie Hubert combined to hold the mighty Grays to just 3 hits in a 2 to 0 win, making the Elites the champions of the NNL. (To be fair to the Grays, they did not play a single home game during the whole playoffs.)

Although this was a third straight season of relative stability for the two leagues, no World Series was even contemplated, much less arranged.

Next up: the 1940 Negro leagues. On deck: the 1941 and 1942 Negro leagues, the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues, and the 1937 Negro American League.

Willard Brown & Ted Strong of the Kansas City Monarchs.

Willard Brown & Ted Strong of the Kansas City Monarchs.

 
All-Time
Top Players By Position
Pos Player Years
WS
C
1920 - 1941
154.8
1903 - 1919
109.9
1B
1909 - 1928
163.3
1922 - 1941
144.2
2B
1914 - 1932
99.6
1910 - 1928
90.1
3B
1903 - 1916
100.0
1918 - 1936
90.2
SS
1906 - 1932
234.1
1916 - 1937
120.1
LF
1910 - 1934
122.0
1911 - 1924
88.2
CF
1915 - 1941
303.8
1913 - 1928
280.3
RF
1903 - 1919
91.3
1915 - 1928
84.4
SP
1908 - 1925
215.1
1920 - 1936
199.2
1907 - 1926
196.5
1911 - 1931
165.5
1907 - 1932
164.5

Batting Average
Career Leaders
# Player
Pos
Years
BA
1
1B
1933-1941
.380
2
RF
1920-1932
.372
3
LF
1938-1941
.364
4
1B
1922-1941
.363
5
RF
1925-1931
.360
6
C
1930-1940
.353
7
CF
1923-1940
.351
8
CF
1915-1941
.349
9
LF
1914-1925
.346
10
2B
1934-1941
.346

Strikeouts per Walk
Career Leaders
# Player Pos Years
SO/BB
1
SP
1928-1941
4.14
2
SP
1907-1932
2.52
3
SP
1932-1938
2.44
4
SP
1909-1914
2.43
5
SP
1903-1913
2.43
6
SP
1925-1928
2.34
7
SP
1921-1935
2.32
8
SP
1908-1925
2.26
9
SP
1920-1936
2.19
10
SP
1919-1941
2.12
 
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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.

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