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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1931 Eastern Negro Leagues

New to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database: the 1931 eastern black teams. Once again, there was no league on the east coast. As in the case of 1930, we are at this time including only games between these independent eastern clubs, so the Homestead Grays and the Cuban House of David, who played western NNL teams extensively, aren’t fully represented yet. The NNL’s Cleveland Cubs also toured the east coast, so most of the teams here have at least a few games against top black teams that aren’t yet counted.

The ’31 Grays are commonly cited as one of the great teams in Negro league history. To a core that included Oscar Charleston (.319/.379/.513), Joe Williams (3-1. 1.80), George Scales (.308/.368/.548), and the 19-year-old Josh Gibson (.287/.353/.548), owner/manager Cum Posey added Jud Wilson from the Baltimore Black Sox and lights-out leftander Willie Foster from the Chicago American Giants, along with catcher/pitcher Double Duty Radcliffe from the Detroit Stars. Wilson tore up eastern pitching to the tune of a .422 average in 23 games, while Foster went 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA.

In games purely between the eastern teams, however, the Grays finished behind the Hilldale Club, who went 30-11 (although the Grays did beat the Hilldales 4 games to 3 in head-to-head matchups). In 1930 Hilldale, with longtime owner Ed Bolden deposed, had hemorrhaged players and collapsed, managing only 7 wins against black professional teams. This year a new owner, Johnny Drew, lured Judy Johnson back from his job captaining the 1930 Grays to rescue the team. As his first order of business, he retained Biz Mackey and installed him at his best position, catcher. Mackey rewarded him with a .373/.448/.536 performance. Johnson also brought back old favorites Martín Dihigo (.306/.414/.519), Porter Charleston (6-1, 2.86), and Chaney White (.290), and signed Rap Dixon from the Black Sox (.234, 5 triples) and Walter Cannady (.314/.399/.446) and slick-fielding basketball star Bill Yancey (.276) from the defunct Lincoln Giants. Hilldale might have done even better if submarine ace Webster McDonald (4-0, 0.97) hadn’t spent most of the summer playing for a white independent team in Little Falls, Minnesota.

One of the most established institutions in black baseball disappeared in 1931. The New York Lincoln Giants, originally founded by the McMahon brothers back in 1911, did not field a team. Ironically they were the victims of their own success. The year before the Lincolns had played the Baltimore Black Sox in a July doubleheader in Yankee Stadium, the first games between black teams in that august venue. The games were a huge success (and were repeated in September during the championship series with the Homestead Grays), but afterwards the Lincolns fans, according to W. Rollo Wilson of the Pittsburgh Courier, “stayed away from the Protectory Oval in large numbers, refusing to go to that bandbox park after seeing their favorites work on a real diamond.” To top it off, the team’s owner, James Keenan, was bitterly disappointed by the loss of championship honors to the Grays. He publicly criticized his players and fired his manager, the venerable Pop Lloyd, further alienating the fans.

Within a few weeks of the end of the 1930 season, there was already talk of a new team arising in New York, one that was seeking Yankee Stadium as its permanent home. It was financed by the famous dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and his agent, the theatrical promoter Marty Forkins. Their first move, after securing a venue, was to hire John Henry Lloyd as manager. Lloyd convinced a number of his Lincolns players to join him. By April Keenan, facing the prospect of playing to diminished crowds with a drastically weakened team, had thrown in the towel. The Lincoln Giants of Cyclone Joe Williams, Dick Redding, Spot Poles, Bill Pettus, and many other stars, were no more.

In their place Forkins, Robinson, and Lloyd originally intended to present a club called the Black or Colored Yankees. This name was reportedly scotched by New York Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham, who objected because some of their home games were to be played in the Polo Grounds. It was also claimed that the Yankees themselves opposed the name, for whatever reason. The next idea, to call the team the “Brown Buddies,” mercifully died long before any games were played. Lloyd settled on “New York All Stars,” noting that “New York has been fed up on ‘Giants’ for the past quarter of a century, and as we are all going on the diamond to play baseball, a name devoid of any suggestion of clowning will be something that will mean much to the team” (Philadelphia Tribune, April 16, 1931, p. 10). The team’s warmup jackets were emblazoned “N. Y.,” but they still ended up most often referred to as the Harlem Stars.

They also went into business with Nat Strong, whose booking empire controlled independent baseball on the east coast. He had been for many years a very controversial figure among African American baseball men. Now, with Strong in charge of booking the Harlem Stars, other managers became reluctant to schedule games with them, despite their access to the big ballparks. Cum Posey categorically refused to bring his powerhouse Grays to New York City. In the absence of a league and a steady flow of quality opponents, the Stars  drew poorly, and by the end of the season the team was tottering financially.

The slugger John Beckwith had been slated to take over for Lloyd as Lincoln Giants manager, but when Keenan withdrew from the field, Beckwith was snapped up by the Baltimore Black Sox. Beck continued to hit in Baltimore, but he was the only real bright spot for the Dark Hose, who continued their gradual downward slide from the heights of 1929.

The promoter Syd Pollock, based in Tarrytown (on the Hudson River in Westchester County, just north of New York City), had for some years been operating a traveling team called the Havana Red Sox. Pollock worked the same upstate New York barnstorming circuit as Pop Watkins’s old Havana Red Sox, and probably took the name from them. Watkins’s team, however, featured no actual Cubans, whereas Pollock used both Cuban and U.S. players on his rosters. Some of the Americans played under silly fake “Spanish” names, southpaw Barney Brown turning out as “Brownez,” and Johnnie Bob Dixon as “Dixonez.”

In 1930 Abel Linares, owner of the western Cuban Stars for many years, passed away, and his manager, Tinti Molina, found himself unable to field a team in the U.S. for the 1931 season. Pollock saw an opening, and decided to combine the Cuban marketing hook with another well-known baseball brand, the House of David, the religious sect from Benton Harbor, Michigan, that famously fielded teams of bearded players. The “Cuban House of David” had no connection with the actual House of David, but Pollock apparently did get his players to grow “a great assortment of side-burns, mutton-chops, flowing-beards and what not in hirsute adornment” (Altoona Tribune, May 25, 1931, p. 10). And although John Henry Lloyd might have wished otherwise, the Cuban House of David was dedicated to keeping alive the old tradition of clowning; during the off-season the players were said to be hard at work back in Cuba practicing shadowball and other comedy routines.

In Pittsburgh the Homestead Grays were served notice by an upstart sandlot team calling themselves the Crawford Giants. Their owner, the gambling king Gus Greenlee, had ambitions that extended way beyond the Pittsburgh area. His money brought in some established figures, including southpaw Sam Streeter and Rube Foster’s old shortstop Bobby Williams as manager. The Crawford Giants were still using a city playground, Ammon Field, as their home park, where they had to collect “donations” rather than charge for tickets. In 1932 Greenlee’s team would lose the “Giants” and gain a new, purpose-built park.

Satchel Paige spent much of the season with the NNL’s Cleveland Cubs, but halfway through the year he began exhibiting signs of entering the “hired gun” phase of his career. In August he took the mound for the Crawford Giants, and in September appeared briefly for the Homestead Grays.

Among the refugees from the demise of the Lincoln Giants was Charlie “Chino” Smith, who joined Nat Strong’s Brooklyn Royal Giants, a team that was gradually withdrawing from big-time blackball into the barnstorming life. He spent the whole season with them, and was still batting third and playing right field in September. Before the winter was out he would be dead of stomach cancer.

Along with the Lincolns, black baseball lost its most peculiar setting, the Catholic Protectory Oval, a tiny field wedged between Gothic buildings at an orphanage in the Bronx. This had an effect on statistics. Nearly a third of the games between eastern teams we included in the database for 1930 were played at the Protectory. Negro league teams batted .347/.419/.531 in these games, as opposed to .297/.356/.417 at all other parks combined. The Lincoln Giants hit .381 at home. In 1931, the overall averages are .264/.323/.363.  The loss of the Protectory doesn’t account for all of the big drop in offense we see from 1930 to 1931, but it is obviously a huge factor.

One more note on 1931: we haven’t chosen to include games involving the Bacharach Giants, Newark Browns, or Providence Colored Giants. These teams are all right on the knife’s edge between inclusion and exclusion. Other sources do include at least Newark and the Bacharachs, and it’s possible that after further review we will count them in the future.

On deck for the DB: the 1932 East-West League, 1901/02 and 1924/25 Cuban League, and much more.

From the Pittsburgh Courier, January 10, 1931, p. 14.

From the Pittsburgh Courier, January 10, 1931, p. 14.

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1930 Eastern Negro Leagues

We’ve added games between the 1930 eastern Negro league teams to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database. It was an astonishing year in black baseball history, a year that saw the first Negro league games played at night, the first Negro league games played in Yankee Stadium, and the sudden emergence of one of the greatest talents in baseball history.

There was no eastern league in 1930, the American Negro League having disbanded after a single season—but the major eastern teams continued to play each other, leaving a decent number of games to compile. Ed Bolden, co-founder of the old Eastern Colored League, had lost control of the Hilldale Club to team official (and scorekeeper) Lloyd Thompson, and many of the team’s best players fled. Biz Mackey (.444/,496/.704) was the biggest star who stayed, although he was pressed into service at shortstop instead of his best position, catcher. The talent just wasn’t there for Hilldale, which won only 7 games against east coast black professionals while losing 28.

Another longtime owner, Alejandro Pompez of the eastern Cuban Stars, dropped out of baseball entirely in 1930. His business partner, the somewhat notorious promoter Nat Strong, worked with veteran shortstop and Cubans captain Pelayo Chacón to bring a Cuban team to the New York area. This one was called the Stars of Cuba (recalling the name of a 1910 team), and it was mostly noteworthy for bringing Martín Dihigo back to the Cuban fold (he had spent the previous two seasons with the Homestead Grays and Hilldale).

A player identified in press accounts as “Pelayo Chacón, Jr.” appeared briefly for the Stars in 1930, marking the first time I’ve seen that a father and son appeared in the same lineup for a Negro league team. (Willie Wells, Jr., would play alongside his father for the Memphis Red Sox in 1944.) We’ve been so far unable to identify him, except to note that he is clearly NOT this Pelayo Chacón, Jr., who was born in Venezuela in 1933, and was the brother of Elio Chacón.

The collapse of the ANL meant that the eastern clubs were free to raid the western NNL teams for players. The Baltimore Black Sox were especially enthusiastic about this option, grabbing Satchel Paige from Birmingham and Mule Suttles from St. Louis. Both performed well (Paige went 3-1, Suttles hit .370 with 4 homers in 13 games), but the lack of a settled league cut into attendance and thus the team’s revenue, and the Black Sox couldn’t afford to keep their pricey acquisitions past mid-June.

Like the Black Sox, the New York Lincoln Giants landed a big NNL star—the Detroit Stars’ eccentric slugger Turkey Stearnes, the man who talked to his bats, flapped his arms while he ran, and specialized in lofting home runs over the close right field fence at Detroit’s Mack Park. Stearnes flourished (.425, 6 home runs in 19 games) in the Lincolns’ equally eccentric home park, the Catholic Protectory Oval, with its 150-foot foul lines. But like Suttles and Paige, by mid-June Stearnes had jumped back to Detroit.

Even not counting Stearnes, the Lincolns boasted of some of the east’s top perfomers, including John Beckwith (.486/.537/.905), Charlie “Chino” Smith (.406/.526/.700), and Bill Holland (13-3, 3.98). On July 5 they met the Black Sox in the first Negro league game ever staged in Yankee Stadium. The doubleheader that day attracted a crowd of 20,000, said to be the largest ever to view games between black teams to that date. The games were so successful that when the Lincolns met the Homestead Grays in an informal championship series in September, two more doubleheaders were held in the House That Ruth Built.

The Grays featured an 18-year-old catcher from the Pittsburgh sandlots named Joshua Gibson, who had been drafted into service when the Grays’ veteran backstop Buck Ewing broke his finger during a game. In the Grays-Lincolns series Gibson announced his arrival as a superstar, hitting .361 with four home runs (one of them legendary) as the Grays won, 6 games to 4. Meanwhile Chino Smith suffered an injury that was later (probably wrongly) blamed for his premature death in 1932.

An important note on the 1930 stats we’ve added: they do not include the 1930 Negro National League, and they do not include games between the eastern teams and the NNL teams. Of the teams currently posted, this mainly affects the Homestead Grays, who played the NNL extensively, especially the Kansas City Monarchs. (So Cyclone Joe Williams’s famous 12-inning, 27-strikeout, 1 to 0 victory over Chet Brewer and the Monarchs is not yet in the DB.)

In addition to 1930, we have added games for 1896, 1897, 1898, and 1901—unfortunately, there were few black professional teams active during that era, and they didn’t play each other very often. Also, we have new games for 1912, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1926, 1934, 1935, and 1936. Many, many thanks to Todd Peterson, Paul Healey, and Scott Simkus for their considerable help in collecting box scores.

Next up for the DB: 1931 eastern Negro leagues, 1924/25 Cuban League, 1932 East-West League, and more.

Turkey Stearnes, Josh Gibson, Charlie Smith

Turkey Stearnes, Josh Gibson, Charlie Smith

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1926 Eastern Colored League

The newest addition to the Negro Leagues DB, the 1926 Eastern Colored League (the Negro National League and World Series will arrive later), showcases the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants’ breakthrough season. After three years of playing .500 ball in the ECL, Dick Lundy (.355) and company rode the arms of Claude Grier (12-7, 3.21) and Rats Henderson (12-7, 2.58) to an upset pennant victory over defending three-time champs Hilldale.

Once again, the league remained fairly stable, with one exception. Only the Wilmington Potomacs were dropped from the 1925 lineup. They were replaced by the Newark Stars, a team that only lasted 11 league games themselves (winning one) before giving up. The Stars’ main distinction was that they provided Sol White, Hall of Fame manager, player, and writer, with his final job in organized baseball, as a special assistant to manager Andy Harris.

The Brooklyn Royal Giants, playing very few games in their ostensible home park (Dexter Field), once again provided cannon fodder for the rest of the league. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the Royal Giants failed to schedule very many league games, preferring to spend much of the summer barnstorming in upstate New York. Outfielder Charlie “Chino” Smith (.375/.444/.521)  and lefthander Willis “Pud” Flournoy (5-2, 2.45) nevertheless provided a few bright spots for the Royals.

Pete Hill, who had led the Baltimore Black Sox to a second place finish in 1925, left at the end of that season. Although the Black Sox replaced his leadership with the steady hand of first baseman Ben Taylor, the team collapsed in 1926. They did start the season with a murderer’s row of Jud Wilson (.363/.476/.541), Heavy Johnson (.350/.418/.540), and John Beckwith (.333/.394/.611 for the Black Sox), but Beckwith clashed with management and got himself traded to the Harrisburg Giants. Meanwhile, everybody else on the team forgot to hit—no fewer than three regulars hit less than .200.

Up in the Bronx, Robert Hudspeth (.372) and 42-year-old player-manager John Henry Lloyd (.326) took full advantage of the narrow confines of the Catholic Protectory Oval, helping the team improve from a disastrous 1925 (when they finished dead last at 7-39). One of the twelve pitchers the Lincolns tried was named Silas Simmons. He had pitched for the Homestead Grays as far back as 1913, and he would pass away in 2006 at the age of 111, probably the last living player to have appeared in the Eastern Colored League, and the longest-lived professional ballplayer of all time, as far as anyone knows.

Alex Pompez’s Cuban Stars, mostly a road team, had one of their better seasons, led by their longtime player-manager Pelayo Chacón (.344) and budding superstar Martín Dihigo, who led the league in average (.375) and home runs (14) while playing eight positions (including pitcher).  Over at Island Park, Oscar Charleston’s Harrisburg Giants challenged for the title behind the bats of Charleston himself (.308, 10 homers), Rap Dixon (.323), and mid-season acquisition John Beckwith (.330/.392/.578 for the Giants).

The Bacharachs’ strongest rivals, the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania, still relied on the strong left arm of Nip Winters (17-4, 2.92), though his strikeout rate had been cut in half since its peak in 1922 and 1923. Biz Mackey contributed 10 homers, 25 doubles, and a .327 average, while catching 79 of the team’s 88 league games.

Incidentally an important source for this compilation was the Hilldale scorebook for 1926 (kindly provided to me by Dick Clark and Larry Lester some years ago), one of the most important documents of Negro league history, in my view.

NOTE: This compilation covers 94% of all known games between ECL teams. Eleven of the missing thirteen games involve the Bacharachs, and nine of those missing games were Bacharach wins—so the champions are a little ill-served by the statistics we’re presenting.

Hilldale Scorebook_1926-9-18a

Pages from the Hilldale Scorebook, showing the Bacharach Giants crushing Hilldale 11 to 2 on September 18, 1926.

Pages from the Hilldale Scorebook, showing the Bacharach Giants crushing Hilldale 11 to 2 on September 18, 1926.

 
All-Time
Top Players By Position
Pos Player Years
WS
C
1920 - 1936
125.6
1903 - 1917
104.5
1B
1909 - 1928
154.0
1922 - 1936
107.7
2B
1914 - 1932
91.2
1910 - 1928
87.1
3B
1903 - 1916
100.1
1907 - 1936
84.2
SS
1906 - 1932
220.8
1916 - 1935
108.7
LF
1910 - 1934
109.8
1911 - 1924
88.5
CF
1915 - 1936
276.2
1913 - 1928
267.9
RF
1903 - 1917
88.0
1910 - 1924
79.7
SP
1908 - 1925
213.6
1907 - 1926
193.1
1907 - 1932
164.3
1920 - 1936
162.0
1911 - 1931
160.7

Weighted On Base Average
Career Leaders
# Player
Pos
Years
wOBA
1
RF
1926-1931
.459
2
CF
1923-1936
.456
3
RF
1920-1932
.455
4
1B
1922-1936
.449
5
C
1930-1936
.448
6
CF
1913-1928
.447
7
CF
1915-1936
.446
8
SP
1920-1936
.419
9
3B
1919-1935
.418
10
RF
1915-1928
.411

Strikeouts
Career Leaders
# Player Pos Years
SO
1
SP
1911-1931
1,189
2
SP
1907-1932
1,134
3
SP
1907-1926
1,082
4
SP
1908-1925
1,041
5
SP
1919-1936
824
6
SP
1910-1921
749
7
SP
1908-1923
740
8
SP
1915-1924
730
9
SP
1920-1936
654
10
SP
1919-1924
580
 
Any questions, comments, suggestions? Please contact the webmaster at BaseballGauge@gmail.com

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