We’re pleased to announce the addition of the 1947 Negro leagues to the DB. In that year history continued to bear down on the NNL & NAL. Josh Gibson tragically died in January. Jackie Robinson debuted for the Dodgers in April, and by mid-season other big league clubs were sniffing around the Negro leagues for more bargains. The two defending league champions, the Kansas City Monarchs and Newark Eagles, were the most inviting targets. In July the Cleveland Indians signed Newark’s best player, Larry Doby. Then the St. Louis Browns followed by taking Willard Brown and Hank Thompson from the Monarchs. The latter two were back in Kansas City within a month, as the St. Louis Browns, at this point a pretty awful organization, offered them little support in the face of hostility from their teammates. Both the Monarchs and the Eagles wound up in second place.
In the NAL it was the Cleveland Buckeyes who finished on top, winning their second pennant in three years due to the sterling work of center fielder Sam Jethroe, veteran pitchers Doc Bracken and Chet Brewer, and player-manager Quincy Trouppe, in addition to a pair of teenagers—the shortstop Al Smith and Panamanian southpaw Vibert Clarke.
Over in the NNL the New York Cubans secured the first-ever pennant victory by a Cuban team in the Negro leagues behind third baseman Orestes Miñoso, shortstop Silvio García, and a brilliant pitching staff led by Luis Tiant, Sr., Patricio Scantlebury, and Lino Donoso. The Cubans went on to make short work of the Buckeyes in the World Series.
Our 1947 statistics started with the work of Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers, to which we have made extensive additions to create the best account of this season yet compiled. That said, the NAL teams (aside from the Monarchs) are not particularly well-represented here, due to the failure of newspapers to print box scores for NAL games.
You can also check out the standings for the 1948 Negro leagues—player stats will be posted within the next few months.
Also coming up: 1900-1902 Cuban leagues, 1927 ECL, 1929 ANL, and more.
We’ve added the 1938 Negro American League to the database, meaning that we now have every major Negro league from 1933 through 1946—with 1947 coming soon.
In 1938 the NAL’s center of gravity moved decisively to the South. The Cincinnati Tigers, St. Louis Stars, and Detroit Stars all folded—while two new clubs in the South were added, the Atlanta Black Crackers and Jacksonville Red Caps. This meant that four of the NAL’s seven teams were now located in the South. And for two of these teams, 1938 marked the high point of their history.
The Memphis Red Sox had finished in seventh place in 1937. For the new season they hired the manager of one of the teams that had folded, Double Duty Radcliffe of the Cincinnati Tigers—and he brought in the core of the Tigers, a very good team that had finished with the second-best overall record in the league, despite missing the split-season playoffs. These players included the outfielder Lloyd Davenport, pitchers Porter “Ankleball” Moss and Willie Jefferson, first baseman Jelly Taylor, and (most importantly) center fielder Neil Robinson. Radcliffe moved Robinson, the best athlete on the team, to shortstop, and brought back the old Memphis hero Larry Brown to catch. Thus reinforced, the Red Sox managed to edge the defending champion Kansas City Monarchs for the first-half title.
(Sadly, at the moment our coverage of Memphis is pretty unfair to a good team—they went only 15-17 in games for which we have box scores.)
The NAL’s second half is the (rather improbable) story of another southern club. The Atlanta Black Crackers ended the first half far adrift from the leaders, having gone 11-22 against NAL teams. One manager (Nish Williams) had been fired for insubordination and replaced by the aging star Dick Lundy, whose forearm had been fractured by a pre-season pitch, rendering him too injured to play (he would never play in the Negro leagues again, in fact). Shortly after the second half started Lundy was hired away by the Newark Eagles, and the Black Crackers, seemingly desperate, gave the job to the 19-year-old second baseman, Gabby Kemp. A loudmouth spark plug who didn’t hit much (.193 for Atlanta), Kemp had already been dealt to Jacksonville earlier in the season, then quickly reacquired after impressing in a series against the Black Crackers.
Kemp was paired with another teenager at shortstop, the fielding wizard Tommy Butts, who hadn’t even graduated from high school yet. Atlanta got some good pitching from the likes of Bullet Eddie Dixon (5-3, 2.92) and Telosh Howard (2.01 and a 17-strikeout game against the Red Caps), slick fielding from first baseman Red Moore, and hitting from Moore (.364), Donald Reeves (.397, 5 homers) , and Babe Davis (.301, 15 extra base hits in 38 games). The Black Crackers suddenly gelled, winning twelve games in a row, and beat out the Monarchs and American Giants for the second half crown.
The all-Southern championship series between Atlanta and Memphis proved anticlimactic. The Red Sox easily took the first two games in Memphis. However, the Black Crackers rented Ponce de Leon Park from the white Atlanta Crackers. The latter had made their league’s playoffs, so now the park was unavailable. When the Black Crackers couldn’t come up with an alternative, the league eventually called the series off. Officially there was no winner, but in subsequent years the Memphis Red Sox were usually thought of as the 1938 NAL champs.
There was no World Series in 1938, but there probably didn’t need to be. The NNL champion Homestead Grays beat the Black Crackers three straight in an early season series, and absolutely dominated the Memphis Red Sox, going 10-0 against them. This included 9 wins in a late July barnstorming series through the Midwest. On July 28, in Zanesville, Ohio, Josh Gibson drove the Grays to a 17-4 win over Memphis with four home runs, the only four-homer game ever recorded in the Negro leagues. (Unfortunately no box score or score card has been found, so the game isn’t counted in Gibson’s statistics.)
Next up for the DB: the 1947 and 1948 Negro leagues, the 1900-1902 Cuban League, the 1927 ECL , 1929 ANL, and more.
St. Louis Stars
The St. Louis Stars were born when Richard William Kent, Sam Sheppard, Dr. J. W. “George” McClelland and Dr. G. B. Keys purchased the NNL St. Louis Giants franchise after the 1921 season. Dick Kent was a very successful businessman, who went from being a shoe shine boy to a real estate mogul, barber shop owner, finance company stockholder, St. Louis American Newspaper owner, manager/owner of two taxi companies, and elected official. Sheppard, a parking garage owner, served as the Business Manager/General Manager, with former 1915-1918 St. Louis Giant Bill Gatewood brought back to manage the team. Ten 1921 Giants players were joined by several new players, including three that would become the longest tenured Stars: pitcher Logan “Slap” Hensley, and outfielders Branch Russell and James “Cool Papa” Bell.
Future Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell was the star among stars, considered the team’s ‘franchise’ player, who played in over 500 league games for the team through 1931, the end of the team’s first run in St. Louis. The 19 year old Bell played that first season as the team’s #2 pitcher, and in 1923 he was the #1 pitcher, but he began to play in the outfield on his non-pitching days, and by 1924 he was a fixture in center field, leading off.
The Stars were a mediocre team their first three years, but several players had outstanding seasons. The 1922 team won-lost record was 23-35. Right fielder Charles Blackwell was the hitting star, with an AVE/OBP/SLG of .365/.445/.550, while George Meyers anchored the pitching staff with a record of 9-5 and 5.05 Runs Allowed per Game (RAPG). In 1923, the team brought in Candy Jim Taylor as manager, and went 28-44. While Bell was the pitching star with his 11-7 record and 5.86 RAPG, third baseman George Scales led the hitting attack with .390/.505/.738. In spite of the death of second baseman Eddie Holtz in July from pneumonia, the team had an improved 1924 season, going 42 –34, as Taylor began a major recruiting drive. The team added Hall of Famer short stop Willie Wells, outfielder Frog Redus, third baseman Dewey Creacy, and pitcher Rosey Davis, and by 1925 the team started it’s ‘dynasty’ era. Taylor left for one season in 1926 to manage Cleveland, and Dizzy Dismukes became the team’s acting Manager and Business manager, adding first baseman/outfielder George “Mule” Suttles and second baseman John Henry Russell, followed by pitcher Ted Trent in 1927. After going 42-34 in 1924, this great Stars team rebounded to produce three championship seasons in 1925, 1928 and 1930, each year winning more than an incredible 70 percent of their games.
The 1928 championship series was especially noteworthy, as the Stars came from being down two games to none to win the series five games to four, with Willie Wells hitting six home runs in the last five series games played in St. Louis.
The original Stars team’s last season, in 1931, proved to be an eventful one. The 24 year old pitcher Leroy Matlock emerged as a star, going a reported 19 – 1. The core of the 1931 team – Bell, Wells, Suttles, Trent, Matlock, Newt Allen, Dewey Creacy, George Giles, Quincy Trouppe, and Bertrum Hunter – went to Detroit in 1932 to help form the new Detroit Wolves in the short-lived East-West League.
The team started play in 1922 at Giants Park, but land that the 1910’s Giants sometimes used as a playing field at Compton, Market, and Laclede was immediately purchased. The park was known as Stars Park, was estimated to cost $27,000, and had a capacity of 16,000. What is currently Interstate 64 was then a major trolley line, and a trolley barn stood North of Market Street about 250 feet from home plate. In some seasons, any ball hit on top of the barn was a home run, which made Stars Park one of the best hitter’s parks in the NNL. Since the team disbanded during the 1931 season, the park was sold to the City of St. Louis for $100,000 for use as a playground. . Today, the lot is a Harris-Stowe State University baseball field.
After the NNL folded in 1931, St. Louis did not have a major Negro league team until 1937, when a new version of the St. Louis Stars, owned by Henry L. Moore, joined the Negro American League. Dizzy Dismukes had begun organizing the team as an independent in 1936, and once again became the Manager/Business Manager. The new Stars team used its original home location, now called Metropolitan Park, for home games. The 1937 season was a disaster, with the team finishing last, and seven players narrowly escaping injury when their car caught on fire on a road trip to Memphis. After being out of the league in 1938, the team had a brief success, playing in South End Park (aka National Nite Baseball Park), in winning the 2nd half of the 1939 season, but lost a playoff series to the Kansas City Monarchs, 3 games to 2. The team never could recapture the popularity of the original Stars, and had to share the franchise with both New Orleans in 1940-41 and Harrisburg in 1943. Like the early 1920’s Stars, even though the team performed poorly, a few individual players had standout seasons. In 1939, pitcher Theolic Smith. Second baseman Marshall Riddle and outfielder Dan Wilson were named to the Negro Leagues West All-Star Team. Before 40,000 fans, Wilson’s two-run homer in the eighth inning propelled the West squad to 4-2 victory. In 1941, Wilson was joined on the All-Star Team by center fielder Alfred “Buddy” Armour, second baseman Jimmy Ford, and manager Big George Mitchell.
Although the franchise ended with somewhat of a whimper instead of a bang, the St. Louis Stars continue to be synonymous with great players like Cool Pap Bell, and the great 1928 through 1931 teams.
“St. Louis to Have $27,000 Baseball Park.” Chicago Defender, 15 April, 1922, national edition: pg. 10
“St. Louis Voters Elect Kent Committeeman.” Chicago Defender, 16 August, 1930, national edition: pg. 13
Ashwill, Gary. 1922 nnl plus, v. 2.01. 11 October 2006. http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2006/10/1922_nnl_plus_v.html
Ashwill, Gary and Rock, Patrick. 1923 negro national league. 23 April 2007. http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2007/04/1923_negro_nati.html
“Ball Player Buried.” Baltimore Afro-American 18 July 1924, pg. 15.
Johnson, Kevin. “St. Louis’ Forgotten Champions on 1928.” Mound City Memories, Tiemann, Bob, Editor. Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2007.
“Baseball Notes.” Chicago Defender, 21 November, 1931, national edition: pg. 8
“St. Louis Ball Players Make Attack on Fan.” Chicago Defender, 4 July, 1931, national edition: pg. 9
Jackson, J. A. “Parks and Fairs.” Baltimore Afro-American 21 July 1922, pg. 11.
“St. Louis Stars Ball Park Sold for $100,000.” Chicago Defender, 1 August, 1931, national edition: pg. 9
“St. Louis Ball Team Escapes as Auto Burns.” Chicago Defender, 5 June, 1937, national edition: pg. 13
Lester, Larry. Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933 – 1953. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.