The Negro Leagues Database Blog
Today we add the 1928 Negro leagues to the DB. This was the year the Eastern Colored League fell apart, putting an end to the first edition of the Black World Series. Meanwhile the Negro National League continued with a split-season format. The St. Louis Stars won the first half going away; in the second half, the American Giants just edged the Stars and the Kansas City Monarchs, setting up an NNL championship series with St. Louis that would take the place of the World Series that year.
The problems that doomed the ECL in 1928 had roots going back several years, involving arguments about schedules, players, parks, umpires, and money. The first real warning signs cropped up in 1927, when the New York Lincoln Giants were kicked out of the ECL for signing the outfielder Estéban Montalvo away from the western Cuban Stars, thus violating the peace deal that had been in effect between the two leagues since 1924. The Lincolns were readmitted in spring 1928, in exchange for giving Montalvo back to the Cuban Stars. But then Harrisburg Giants owner Colonel Strothers decided he could no longer afford to bankroll his club, a perennial contender, and folded the team (though the Giants would return midway through 1928 with a less-distinguished roster). Soon after that Nat Strong‘s Brooklyn Royal Giants resigned from the league, and the next day Ed Bolden pulled his Hilldale Club, perhaps the ECL’s flagship franchise, out of the circuit. Even with the Lincolns back in the fold, the ECL was still reduced to four clubs.
A Philadelphia gangster named Smittie Lucas had put together a team he called the Eastern League Stars, an all-star team originally intended only for spring play. Desperate for more teams, especially one based in Philadelphia, the league admitted Lucas’s club—though he had to return most of his stars to their original teams, and the name of his outfit was eventually changed to the Philadelphia Tigers. Another new club, the Brooklyn Stars, failed to materialize. So the Eastern Colored League started the 1928 season with five teams.
Harmony didn’t last long. When the Harrisburg Giants left the league, their players were divvied up among the other clubs, and outfielders Rap Dixon and Fats Jenkins were awarded to Baltimore. While Dixon signed with the Black Sox, Jenkins refused, and started appearing for the Lincoln Giants under the pseudonym “Williams.” Other disagreements ensued involving the scheduling of games with independent clubs, particularly Hilldale, and by late May the Lincolns and Cuban Stars had left the league. Plans to replace them with Syd Pollock’s Havana Red Sox and other teams came to nothing, and the Eastern Colored League was finally through.
It’s not certain when exactly the league came to end, and no “final” standings were ever published. If games through May 20 are counted, then the Baltimore Black Sox ended with the best record at 9-3, with five of their wins coming against the Philadelphia Tigers. The teams continued to play each other (with the exception of the Black Sox and Lincoln Giants, where lingering bad feeling about the Jenkins incident kept them apart through the whole season). We’ve chosen to present the standings for all games played between the ECL clubs throughout the 1928 season. By this measure the Bacharach Giants, champions in 1926 and 1927, took the virtual 1928 ECL pennant as well, with an 18-12 record.
The Bacharachs were helped to this record by none other than Fats Jenkins (.365/.425/.464), whom they immediately stole from the Lincoln Giants when the league dissolved. Chaney White (.371/.424/.517), player-manager Dick Lundy (.338/.401/.498), and Rats Henderson (8-2, 3.42) also contributed, as did double threat Luther Farrell (.395/.489/.618, 9-7 as a pitcher). The Baltimore Black Sox enjoyed great seasons from Rap Dixon (.398/.478/.701), Jud Wilson (.399/.492/.652), and Laymon Yokely (12-6, 2.77). The 44-year-old John Henry Lloyd hit .383 against top black clubs for his Lincoln Giants, while his double play partner, George Scales, hit .328/.416/.605 (which doesn’t include a 6 for 6, two home run performance against Hilldale, since a box score hasn’t been found yet). Alex Pompez‘s Cuban Stars struggled without renaissance man Martín Dihigo, though former Boston Red Sox infielder Ramón Herrera contributed a .331 average, new captain José María Fernández (replacing Pelayo Chacón after 12 years) hit .333, and infielder Angel Alfonso scorched the ball for a .489 average and .872 slugging percentage in 12 games against top black competition.
The Hilldale Club, the team whose abandonment of the ECL probably doomed it, may have been the best club on the east coast in 1928. Bolden scooped up Oscar Charleston (.346/.449/.605), Walter Cannady (.325/.389/.490), and Darltie Cooper (10-5, 2.39) from the defunct Harrisburg Giants, and used them to revitalize a cast that already included Biz Mackey (.342/.410/.533). The Homestead Grays grabbed John Beckwith (.306) from Harrisburg, and had already signed Martín Dihigo (.313, 4 homers) away from Pompez in 1927. The Grays also pirated a couple of NNL stars, enticing lefty Sam Streeter (4-2) to leave the Birmingham Black Barons and Jelly Gardner to abandon the American Giants. Making the most of a limited opportunity, a 33-year-old West Virginia coal miner named Grover Lewis blasted three home runs for the Grays in a game against Hilldale before disappearing back to Appalachian semipro ball. (If you haven’t already seen it, check out Scott Simkus‘s great piece about Lewis in a back issue of the Seamheads Outsider Baseball Bulletin.)
Over in the Negro National League, Candy Jim Taylor had been quietly incubating a powerful Stars lineup over the past few seasons; this was the year his patience would bear fruit, as the Stars dominated from the start. Mule Suttles (.365, 21 home runs), Willie Wells (.357, 21), and Wilson Redus (.352, 22) took full advantage of the 250-foot left field fence at Stars Park, caused by the intrusion of a trolley car barn into the outfield. Given all those runs to play with, right-handed curveballer Ted Trent pitched well enough (2.36 ERA, 121 strikeouts in214 innings) to go 19-3. Slap Hensley, Luther McDonald, and Johnny Williams added solid mound work, while Roosevelt Davis became the closest thing to a relief ace the Negro leagues had so far seen, going 8-0 while relieving in twice as many games as he started (15 to 8).
The American Giants relied on the arms of Willie Foster (13-8, 2.82) and Willie Powell (9-6, 2.00) and the bats of Steel Arm Davis (.319/.364/.442) and shortstop Pythias Russ (.339/.372/.431), a converted catcher whose career was cut short when he died of tuberculosis in 1930 at the age of only 26. The Monarchs lacked the slugging they had become known for in the early 1920s, when they could boast the likes of Dobie Moore and Heavy Johnson in their lineup. They were now a team that relied on speed, pitching, and glovework. Andy Cooper (12-7, 3.38) led the pitchers, while catcher Frank Duncan, shortstop Newt Allen, and center fielder Eddie Dwight (whose speed drew comparisons with Cool Papa Bell) anchored a solid defense. Bullet Rogan, now 34, hit .348/.405/.512, went 10-2 as a pitcher, and even filled in at second base—in addition to managing the team. (He also clouted 3 home runs in a 16-2 route of the Detroit Stars played in Clinton, Missouri, but a box score hasn’t been found yet.) This formula worked well enough to give the Monarchs the second-best overall record, although they agonizingly fell short of winning either half.
Utility man Wilson “Stack” Martin got the Detroit Stars’ season off to a great start when he hit 6 for 6 on opening day. Turkey Stearnes popped a league-leading 24 homers, Big George Mitchell went 13-8, Ed Rile, a 6’7″ converted pitcher, hit .348/.425/.508, and veteran second baseman Claude Johnson drew a league-leading 40 walks—but these Stars couldn’t keep up with the other Stars, finishing in third place overall. Meanwhile, in a breakout sophomore season the Birmingham Black Barons’ Leroy “Satchel” Paige (11-4, 2.32, a league-leading 121 strikeouts in 132 innings) served notice of what was to come. He couldn’t quite lift the Black Barons to a .500 record; while a couple of other pitchers were decent, the hitting was abject, with only Roy Parnell (.316/.365/.503) able to contribute much.
Player-manager Carl Glass (12-10, 2.96) and catcher Larry Brown (.265, sterling defense) were still the mainstays of the otherwise woeful Memphis Red Sox. Of Cleveland’s fifth attempt at an NNL team, the Tigers, the less said the better, though it’s worth noting the nearly heroic performance of Edward “Babe” Milton, who played eight positions while hitting .354 with 13 triples for an otherwise terrible team.
Tinti Molina’s Cuban Stars suffered through one of their worst seasons ever, finishing dead last with a team that managed only two home runs in 47 games. Most mysteriously, Estéban Montalvo, the slugger who was so good the Lincoln Giants had quit the ECL rather than give him up in 1927, and who had once hit three home runs in a single ECL game all by himself, couldn’t hit the side of a barn in 1928, managing only a .136/.219/.189 line. It’s hard not to think that he was perhaps not properly motivated to play for Molina, the manager he’d tried to escape the year before—although in retrospect, he may also have been suffering the early effects of the illness that would finally kill him in 1930.
The league championship was a classic, as recounted by Kevin Johnson. The teams split four games in Chicago; before the series moved to St. Louis, Chicago’s number two starter, Willie Powell, was shot in the face by his father-in-law during a domestic altercation. He would survive and continue his pitching career, but he was out of this series. In St. Louis the Stars shortstop Willie Wells took over, blasting six home runs in the last five games (our stats cover only three of them, as two box scores are missing), and the Stars prevailed 5 games to 4.
The 1928 Negro National League champion St. Louis Stars
This week we’re making a slight break with chronological order and adding the 1933 Negro leagues to the DB. Many thanks to Scott Simkus, the creator of the Strat-O-Matic Negro leagues set, who did most of the heavy lifting on this.
The year 1933 marked something of a fresh beginning for the Negro leagues, with the start of a new league and the inauguration of what became black baseball’s biggest event, the annual East-West All-Star Game. The Eastern Colored League had fallen apart in early 1928; its successor, the American Negro League, lasted only a single season. When the Depression broke up the original Negro National League in 1931, it was left to the Negro Southern League to expand temporarily into the north, while Cumberland Posey’s East-West League failed to last through the 1932 season. So in 1933 numbers king Gus Greenlee, owner of the independent Pittsburgh Crawfords, started a new Negro National League, one that, unlike Rube Foster’s original, tried to bring the east coast and the Midwest together.
The tough economic times continued, and it was hard for Greenlee to keep the league up and going. The Chicago American Giants were evicted from Schorling Park, their home since the team’s founding by Rube Foster back in 1911, when it was turned into a dog racing track When the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s moved to Detroit due to low attendance, the American Giants moved to Indianapolis and started playing their home games in the A.B.C.’s former park, Perry Stadium. The Homestead Grays were kicked out in July for poaching two players (Big Jim Williams and Jimmy Binder) from Detroit. Syd Pollock‘s Cuban Stars opted against taking the Grays’ place, and subsequent attempts at placing teams in Akron and Cleveland didn’t last long. In the end only the American Giants, Nashville Elite Giants, and Greenlee’s own Pittsburgh Crawfords finished the season. The Crawfords and the American Giants both claimed the championship; it wasn’t until well into the 1934 season that the Giants conceded the 1933 title to Pittsburgh.
The Crawfords are possibly the most famous team in Negro league history, featuring five Hall of Famers. Their offense was led by the 21-year-old Josh Gibson, by far the league’s dominant hitter (.411, 14 home runs), and the 35-year-old first baseman/manager Oscar Charleston (.352, 12 homers). Their pitching may have been even more impressive, with southpaws Sam Streeter (8-2, 2.62) and Leroy Matlock (7-5) and right-hander Bert Hunter (8-1) taking pressure off the undisputed star, Satchel Paige. Paige’s won-lost record (4-6) doesn’t look like much, but he struck out 77 hitters in 80 innings, sported the Negro leagues’ best ERA (2.03). In four of his ten starts against major Negro league competition, Paige suffered 2-0, 2-1, 2-1, and 3-1 losses.
As great as the Crawfords look, the American Giants were more than worthy rivals, with four future Hall of Famers of their own. Though Rube Foster was dead, under the management of Foster protégé Dave Malarcher the Giants had scooped up several of the star players cut loose by the end of Foster’s old Negro National League, most notably Willie Wells and Mule Suttles from the defunct St. Louis Stars, and Turkey Stearnes (.346/.404/.590) from the old Detroit Stars. Together with a pitching staff led by Rube’s younger brother Willie Foster (6-4, 2.56), the Giants’ stars took the first half pennant, and pushed the Crawfords the whole way during the second half.
The Nashville Elite Giants couldn’t quite keep up with the big boys, but they did feature fine performances from veteran lefthander Percy “Dimps” Miller (6-2, 3.01), outfielder Wild Bill Wright (.336), catcher Tommie Dukes (.340), and second baseman Sammy T. Hughes (.341). The Baltimore Black Sox, now owned by Joe Cambria, had lost a court battle with former investors and lost the rights to the “Black Sox” name—they played the 1933 season as the Baltimore Sox, with shortstop Jake Dunn (.392) and a towering young southpaw named Stuart Jones (5-3) providing some rare bright spots. The Columbus Blue Birds, managed by Dizzy Dismukes, seemed promising at first, but good hitting from outfielder Jabbo Andrews (.398) and shortstop Leroy Morney (.382) couldn’t make up for poor pitching.
The Akron Grays were cobbled together out of players from church teams and local sandlots in both Akron and Pontiac, Michigan, along with a few journeyman veterans (catcher Clarence “Spoony” Palm and outfielder Lou Dials) and a couple of high-profile pitchers on loan from other league teams (Bert Hunter from the Crawfords, Willie Powell from the American Giants). They pretty much performed to expectation. The Cleveland Giants started the 1933 season as a semipro team featuring a female infielder named Isabelle Baxter; upon entering the league they were provided with a roster drawn from the other defunct Ohio teams (Akron and Columbus). They only managed to complete a single league game, a 14 to 7 loss to the Crawfords, then failed to show up for subsequent games in Pittsburgh and Nashville. Disputes over these forfeits contributed greatly to the confusion that marred the season’s conclusion.
Greenlee’s league aspired to take in the whole blackball world, but several important teams were leery of committing themselves. The Kansas City Monarchs remained aloof, preferring for the most part to barnstorm. The New York Black Yankees (who, despite their name, actually operated out of Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey) claimed the world’s colored championship after defeating the Crawfords in a late-season series. Ed Bolden, the key figure behind the old Eastern Colored League, had lost control of his Hilldale Club (which folded after the 1932 season), but founded a new independent team, originally known as Bolden’s Philadelphia All-Stars. Behind the hitting of Rap Dixon (.394/.462/.628) and Jud Wilson (.372/.456/.551), the Stars served notice that they would be a team to be reckoned with in the future.
Next up for the DB: 1928 and 1934 Negro leagues; East-West All-Star Games; Mexican League 1937-1954; 1918/19 through 1922/23 and 1927/28 Cuban leagues, including Babe Ruth’s famous appearance in Havana with the New York Giants in 1920.
Satchel Paige, Gus Greenlee, Josh Gibson
We’ve just added the following to the DB: the 1916/17 Cuban Winter League, the 1917 and 1918 Florida Hotel League, and a handful of games from the 1899 and 1900 seasons, as well as new games for 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1912.
In 1899 the Cuban X Giants came west to play the two Chicago clubs, the Unions (which had existed since the 1880s) and the Columbia Giants, formerly the Page Fence Giants of Adrian, Michigan, which had moved to Chicago under the auspices of the Columbia Club, a local social organization. In addition, 1899 saw Abel Linares organize the first tour of Cuban professionals in the United States. The All-Cubans played a pair of grudge matches against the Cuban X Giants in Hoboken, ostensibly motivated by the (real) Cubans’ desire to uphold the honor of their national name.
The following season saw both the Cuban X Giants and the Genuine Cuban Giants come west. That season the American League’s new Chicago White Sox built a new park on the South Side at the corner of 39th and Wentworth. Unfortunately this was across the street from the Columbia Giants’ park (the former Daly Park, home of the white semipro Daly Baseball Club), and just a couple of blocks away from the Unions’ home grounds, at 37th and Butler. Eventually the major leaguers would drive both black teams out of the neighborhood, although the Columbias did use the White Sox park as their home field in 1902. (It would later, as Schorling Park, become the home field for the Chicago American Giants for many years.)
William “Hippo” Galloway, of the 1900 Cuban X Giants, had become in 1899 simultaneously the last black player to appear openly in organized baseball in North America (with the Woodstock club of the Canadian League) and the first black player to appear in a hockey league (with Woodstock in the Central Ontario Hockey Association).
Jumping forward a few years, in the winter of 1916/17 Cuban baseball saw yet another group of organizers put together a new circuit, which they called the Cuban-American League, despite the complete absence of American players. The old Almendares Park had been torn down, and the games were played in Marianao’s Oriental Park, which was actually a horse racing venue.
Marianao’s Oriental Park racetrack in 1921.
The Almendares players were reassembled under the name “Orientals” (or Orientales), while Habana reappeared as the “Red Sox” (Medias Rojas). The traditional third Havana team, Fe, no longer existed, and the previous season’s attempt to replace them with a team called San Francisco Park had ended in abject failure. So this year Tinti Molina and Abel Linares simply decided to enter their barnstorming Cuban Stars as the third team, under the name “White Sox” (Medias Blancas).
It took so long to organize everything that the league did not get underway until February 1917, and lasted only 15 games. Dolf Luque pitched and hit well for the Orientals (1.84 ERA, .355 average), and his team did just enough to take the pennant with an 8-6 record.
At exactly the same time as the brief Cuban-American League season, Palm Beach hosted the annual series between teams representing the Royal Poinciana Hotel (managed this year by Rube Foster) and the Breakers Hotel (managed by Joe Williams). The Cuban-American lefty Juan Padrón had been slated to join the Cuban Stars / White Sox in Cuba, but instead he turned up here, pitching for Foster. He started against Joe Williams four times, winning three with one tie. Overall he went 5-2 with three shutouts and an 0.61 ERA, providing just enough for the Poincianas to edge the Breakers 7 games to 6.
The winter of 1917/18 saw no formal league organized in Cuba, but the Palm Beach series continued. Juan Padrón switched sides, but managed only a single win this time. Meanwhile Dick Whitworth went 5-0, 1.07, for the Poincianas. That was enough for Foster’s team to win 9 out of 14 games.
Coming up for the DB: the 1933 Negro league season, the East-West All-Star Games, the Mexican League, more Cuban seasons, and a lot more.
Bill Galloway, Juan Padrón, Dick Whitworth