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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1937 Negro American League

Here’s a brief, belated introduction to the 1937 Negro American League, which we added to the site last month (July 10, to be precise). For a broader view of that eventful year in black baseball history, see my entry on the 1937 Negro National League, which we added to the DB back in 2015. Meanwhile, here are a view highlights from the first season of the NAL, a Midwest-based league that was the true successor of Rube Foster’s original NNL.

•The team with the best overall record in the league was the Cincinnati Tigers, managed by Double Duty Radcliffe, and starring ace Jess Houston (8-3, 2.19) and shortstop Howard Easterling (.355/.400/.595). Like the 1981 Cincinnati Reds, though, the Tigers failed to win either half of the NAL’s split season.

•Luck instead favored the two most dominant clubs from the old NNL, the Kansas City Monarchs and Chicago American Giants, who won the first and second halves, respectively. The Monarchs, featuring Hilton Smith (11-4, 1.65) and outfielder Willard Brown (.372/.423/.661), took the championship series in five games.

•The Indianapolis Athletics were a brand-new club, organized and managed by Ted Strong, Sr., who was fortunate enough to have an extravagantly talented son, Ted Strong, Jr., to play shortstop and bat cleanup for him. (The younger Strong, who later starred for the Kansas City Monarchs, was also a great basketball player for the Harlem Globetrotters.) The Athletics, however, folded after the 1937 season.

•On May 16 Hilton Smith of the Kansas City Monarchs tossed an opening day no-hitter, beating the American Giants 4 to 0 in Kansas City.

•On July 24 in Dayton, Ohio, lefty Roy Partlow of the Cincinnati Tigers struck out 18 batters in a 10-4 win over the Birmingham Black Barons.

•The Monarchs’ Eddie Dwight, who hit .235, had as many stolen bases as he did hits (20 for both, in 31 games), and even more walks than either (24). His teammate Henry Milton stole 29 bases.

•No World Series was organized between the Monarchs and the Homestead Grays, champions of the NNL. But a combined team of American Giants and Monarchs played a series against a combined team of Grays and Newark Eagles, the eastern team winning 6 out of 7 games. Over the course of the series, which was played in Chicago, Indianapolis, Dayton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Brooklyn, the press just started referring to it as a Grays/American Giants series, so that’s how we’ve treated it in the stats here.

Thanks to Patrick Rock for providing Kansas City Call coverage for 1937, as well as Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers for filling in some gaps with other hard-to-find box scores.

Up next: 1945 through 1948 Negro leagues. On deck: Mexican League, East-West All-Star Games, various Cuban season. We’re also working on adding the third leg of the 1937 season, the (in)famous Dominican championship.

Players for the Indianapolis Athletics of the 1937 NAL, including manager Ted Strong and his son, Ted Strong, Jr.

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1944 NNL & NAL

Check out the 1944 Negro leagues, newly added to the DB this week.

Another wartime season, 1944 saw a large number of the most promising young players, as well as many players in the primes of their careers, off to the war. In the NAL, the Kansas City Monarchs struggled without sluggers Willard Brown and Ted Strong and sank to fourth place. The NNL’s Newark Eagles, missing their core of Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Leon Day, and Max Manning, finished fifth. In an effort to protect themselves from the draft, the Black Yankees announced an effort to sign players who had been declared 4-F. This plan enabled them to improve from a 4-24 league finish in 1943 to…8-35 in 1944.

The war did open up opportunities for promising young players like Don Newcombe, Sam Hairston, George Jefferson, Clyde Nelson, and Bill Ricks. Teams also brought in Latin American players who had never appeared in the U.S. before: Cubans such as Claro Duany, Héctor Rodríguez, Leovigildo Xiqués (known in the U.S. as Leo Lugo), as well as a contingent of players from Panama: Patricio Scantlebury, Vic Barnett, Archie Brathwaite.

Two of the year’s most noteworthy rookies were shortstops with remarkably parallel careers— the Black Barons’ Artie Wilson and the Philly Stars’ Frank Austin (another Panamanian). Both were Negro league batting champions who didn’t get much of a chance in the majors after integration (Wilson got 22 at bats with the Giants, Austin never went up at all), but went on to play for many years in the Pacific Coast League.

Of course, a number of the Negro leagues’ best-known and most bankable stars were in their 30s and 40s and never went into the service during World War II: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown. Benefiting from their presence, and from the absence of most of the white major league stars, the Negro leagues were more successful and profitable than ever. And the team with the most of these guys, the Homestead Grays, won the NNL pennant for the seventh time in eight years, and then defeated the young Black Barons in the World Series for the second straight year.

The 1944 numbers we’re presenting come originally from Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers. Like all the seasons we post that originate with Wayne and Larry, this is part of an updated version of the NLRAG/Hall of Fame Negro league study, edited and with some new box scores added by us.

It’s worth noting that by the mid-1940s box scores are relatively scarce compared to earlier eras, as daily newspapers published fewer and fewer of them. Consequently a number of the 1944 teams are not very well-represented in the DB. None suffers more than the NAL champion Black Barons, who were 33-18 in league games we found, and 40-31 against black major league teams overall—but went only 8-17 in games with box scores (9-21 if you count the World Series). We’ll continue  working to improve this situation, though, so keep checking back.

Coming soon: Negro leagues 1945 through 1948, 1937 Negro American League, 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban League, East-West All Star Games, and more.

Artie Wilson & Frank Austin

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.

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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.

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