The Negro Leagues Database Blog
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.
Pages from the Hilldale Scorebook, showing the Bacharach Giants crushing Hilldale 11 to 2 on September 18, 1926.
This week we add the 1936 Negro National League to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database. The season started with a major defection: the Chicago American Giants, founding members of the league back in 1933, and the oldest continuously existing professional club in black baseball (dating back to 1911), decided to go independent in 1936. Most of their best players jumped ship and signed with league teams: Turkey Stearnes, Larry Brown, and Jack Marshall went to the Philadelphia Stars, Willie Wells and Mule Suttles to the Newark Eagles, Alex Radcliff to the New York Cubans. To take their place, the American Giants brought in a number of younger players, including a 19-year-old Ted Strong. Along with the Kansas City Monarchs (still stubbornly independent), the Cincinnati Tigers, and a new version of the St. Louis Stars, the American Giants were laying the foundations for a new western league, one that would get started in 1937.
Meanwhile, back east the Negro National League suffered from even more instability, though it may have come out stronger in the end. The cellar-dwelling Newark Dodgers of 1935 folded, and the franchise was bought up by Abe Manley of the Brooklyn Eagles. He merged the two teams and created the Newark Eagles, which would become one of the best-known franchises of the later Negro leagues. The Elite Giants left Columbus for Washington, D. C ., their third home in three years. And in mid-season the Black Yankees, who had successfully resisted the lure of league play for five years, finally joined the Negro National League.
The 1936 season saw the swan song of the great Pittsburgh Crawfords. While the team would continue past 1936, this season would bring its last championship. Satchel Paige (6-1, 2.72, 57 Ks in 53 innings) was back in the fold. At first base manager Oscar Charleston started phasing in a promising youngster, Johnny Washington (.375/.435/.538), but Oscar could still swing the bat a little himself (.344/.459/.639) when he was needed. The bulk of the offense, of course, rested on the broad shoulders of Josh Gibson (.347/.455/.719).
The competition was actually quite tight. The Crawfords opened up an advantage on the rest of the league despite only outscoring their opponents by 22 runs. The previous year’s runners up, the New York Cubans, dipped a little in 1936. Their standout player was (no surprise) player-manager Martín Dihigo (.346/.452/.705). The Homestead Grays fielded a very similar team to its 1935 edition, with very similar results (though young pitchers Edsall Walker and Roy Welmaker would pay dividends in the future). The Philadelphia Stars dropped to the bottom of the league, although they weren’t that much worse than the 1935 team that had finished over .500. Stearnes (.327/.391/.500), Roy Parnell (.374/.414/.481), and Jud Wilson (.309/.392/.496) hit as well as they usually did, but the pitching was poor, as Slim Jones (2-2, 7.62) continued his slide into oblivion.
Next up for the DB: the 1926 Eastern Colored League, which should arrive pretty shortly.
The 1936 Cincinnati Tigers: gearing up for the Negro American League.
The latest addition to the Seamheads Negro Leagues DB covers the 1920/21 winter league season in Cuba. Heading the bill that off-season was none other than the biggest name in baseball at the time, one George Herman Ruth, fronting the New York Giants.
The Babe was a little late, showing up only for the last half of the Giants’ schedule against Habana and Almendares (see his passport application here). Most famously, this series saw Ruth get upstaged by Cuban slugger Cristóbal Torriente, who smashed three home runs in one game (albeit these were off George Kelly, not normally a pitcher) while Ruth went hitless. Torriente also added a double off Ruth himself, driving in six runs as Almendares beat the Giants 11 to 4. It wasn’t until Ruth’s seventh game that he finally provided the Cuban fans with a home run. The Babe ended up hitting well for the series anyway (.345/.525/.828), and the Giants won 9, lost 4, and tied 4, despite only outscoring their opponents 69 to 62.
The Giants left Havana in mid-November, and their place was taken by the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants of the Negro leagues. The team’s trip was organized by its secretary, Edward B. Lamar, for many years a well-known promoter in black baseball circles and founder of the Cuban X-Giants. Lamar was actually the instigator of the first trips to Cuba by black American teams in the 20th century, sending his X-Giants to Havana several times in the 1900s. For this trip the Bacharachs brought the core of their regular team, captain and ace pitcher Dick Redding, shortstop Dick Lundy, pitcher Red Ryan, and catcher Julio Rojo, and added superstar Oscar Charleston and infielder Morten “Specs” Clark from the Indianapolis ABCs, slugger Charlie Blackwell and infielder Joe Hewitt from the St. Louis Giants, and a trio of stars from the Hilldale Club, catcher Louis Santop, spitballer Phil Cockrell, and fancy-fielding first baseman Toussaint Allen. Oliver Marcell, the Bacharachs’ star third baseman, also applied for a passport, but for some reason did not make the trip.
Guided by Cuban Stars manager Tinti Molina, the Bacharachs played a (pretty unsuccessful) six-game series with Habana and Almendares, then it was decided to enter them as the third club in the regular Cuban League season. The league used a split-season format. On December 26 Almendares player-manager Dolf Luque argued with the umpire during a game with Habana and pulled his team off the field, and then Almendares refused to show up for a game the next day against the Bacharachs. Luque was suspended and Almendares forfeited both games, but the Blues, led by Cheo Hernández (4-1, 1.62), shortstop Pelayo Chacón (.321/.418/.410), and left fielder Merito Acosta (.281/.410/.406), managed to overcome these problems to win the first half. In addition to his three-homer game against the Giants, center fielder Torriente (.306/.398/.482) set a Cuban League record by legging out three triples in one game on January 12.
The Bacharachs couldn’t really get untracked, and lagged well behind in last place, despite the efforts of Charleston (.471/.514/.500), Blackwell (.367/.472/.433), Clark (.350), and Santop (.343). They finished the first half with a 5-11 record (including the forfeit win over Almendares). After losing the opening game of the second half, the Bacharachs dropped out of the league. Inspired by second baseman Bienvenido “Hooks” Jiménez (.310/.412/.425), infielder/outfielder Manuel Cueto (.283/.383/.359), and pitchers Oscar Tuero (5-3, 1.81) and José Acosta (5-2, 1.94), Habana won six out of the eight remaining games to take the second half title and set up a best-of-three championship series.
In the playoffs, the Reds spotted Almendares one win (a three-hit shutout by Luque), then won the last two to take the pennant.
1920 passport photos for Dick Lundy, Babe Ruth, and Oscar Charleston.