The Negro Leagues Database Blog
Imagine a last-place team with no fewer than three future Hall of Famers on its roster, all in their prime. That’s the story of the Cuba Baseball Club of the 1927/28 Cuban Winter League, which we’ve added to the DB. Despite the efforts of Oscar Charleston (.350/.481/.567, a league-leading 32 walks in 34 games), Willie Foster (6-8, 3.17), and Judy Johnson (.333/.375/.439), the Cuba team finished deep in the cellar with a 12-21-1 record.
Almendares (17-15-1) put up more of a fight. Player-manager Adolfo Luque (6-4, a league-best 2.64 ERA) led an otherwise ordinary staff, but los Azules were able to send some decent hitters to the plate, including Dick Lundy (.346/.365/.496), Oliver Marcell (.339/.398/.424), and Chaney White (.367/.398/.422), all from the two-time Eastern Colored League champion Bacharach Giants.
Still, they couldn’t quite match the champion Habana Leones (20-13), led by MVP Martín Dihigo, who pitched (4-2, 3.10) and played outfield and first base while hitting .389/.453/.588 with a league-leading 14 doubles. Left fielder Jud Wilson (.431/.535/.724) was far and away the league’s best hitter. And Dihigo, along with Oscar Levis (7-2, 3.14) and Cliff Bell (6-2, 3.14), gave los Rojos a solid trio of pitchers.
In the works for the DB: the 1935 & 1936 Negro leagues, the 1926 Eastern Colored League, the 1923/24 Cuban League, the Mexican League, the East-West All-Star Games, and more.
An unlucky trio: Willie Foster, Oscar Charleston, and Judy Johnson, the first two in their Cuba Baseball Club uniforms.
The latest addition to the Negro Leagues DB includes the 1934 Negro National League plus four important independent clubs from that year. The league enjoyed more stability this year. Once again pursuing a split-season format, the NNL started the first half with six clubs: the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Chicago American Giants, and Nashville Elite Giants were retained from 1933, while the Philadelphia Stars, Newark Dodgers and Cleveland Red Sox were added to the fold. The Homestead Grays, Baltimore Black Sox, and Philadelphia Bacharach Giants withdrew from the league, although the Grays were associate members. The Kansas City Monarchs and New York Black Yankees also opted to stay out.
The American Giants, led by Turkey Stearnes (.356/.407/.601) and Mule Suttles (.315/.378/.450), were the first-half champions.* In the second half the league added the Black Sox and Bacharachs. The Philadelphia Stars rode the young arm of 21-year-old lefty Slim Jones (20-6, 1.31, 170 Ks in 212 innings) and the veteran bat of 38-year-old Jud Wilson (.360/.436/.500) to the second half title, setting up a playoff matchup against the American Giants for the league championship. In a thrilling series, the Stars fell behind three game to one, but rallied to tie the series at three apiece. Then in the final game on October 2 Jones secured the NNL pennant with a five-hit shutout.
The Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1933 champions, were left out in the cold, having failed to win either half despite great performances from Satchel Paige (13-2, 1.45, 141 Ks in 136 innings), Josh Gibson (.318/.385/.607, 12 home runs), and player-manager Oscar Charleston (.324/.403/.505).
This was perhaps Satchel Paige’s greatest year, which is saying a lot. On the Fourth of July he no-hit the Homestead Grays while striking out 17. He was the winning pitcher in the East’s 1 to 0 victory in the East-West All-Star Game. In August Gus Greenlee loaned him out to the bearded (and otherwise all-white) House of David team for a tournament of independent and semipro teams sponsored by the Denver Post. He won three games in five days to pitch the Davids to the championship, including a crucial 2 to 1 win (with 12 strikeouts) over a Kansas City Monarchs team that had been reinforced by Willie Foster, Turkey Stearnes, and Sam Bankhead. To top the season off, Paige beat 30-game-winner and World Series champion Dizzy Dean (fronting a semipro team) in late October.
Satchel Paige and his young counterpart, Slim Jones, were so dominant that in September two special showdowns were scheduled in Yankee Stadium. The first, on September 9, ended in a 1 to 1 deadlock. In the rematch (which forced a delay in the NNL playoffs) Satchel prevailed, 3 to 1. He fanned seven, walked nobody, and allowed the eventual league champs only five hits. Jones pitched well, but three unearned runs gave the Crawfords the win.
This would be the high water mark for Stuart Jones. Alcoholism ruined his career and within four years he would be dead. Satchel Paige, of course, kept on going, and going, and going, all the way to the major leagues and the Hall of Fame.
*-Note that the historical record really does the American Giants a major injustice in 1934. In games with box scores the team went 18-21-3, but in games without box scores the Giants were 19-5. Individual Giants’ players surely take a statistical hit because of this. It’s hard not to think that Willie Wells, who hit only .204 in games we’re able to include, probably did a lot better in those 24 missing games.
Slim Jones and Satchel Paige
We’re making a small but important addition to the DB today—the 1922/23 Cuban winter league, plus a few additional games for 1916, 1919, and 1922.
After a few seasons of turbulence in the Cuban game, the 1922/23 season marked a new beginning. The league added two new teams, Santa Clara and Marianao, to the Habana-Almendares duopoly. Santa Clara was run by Tinti Molina, who put together the most famous outfield in Cuban baseball history: Alejandro Oms (.411) in left, Oscar Charleston (.418) in center, and Pablo Mesa (.286) in right. Molina also added lefty Dave Brown (5-4, 2.47) and a few other stateside stars, and the Leopardos sprinted to the league lead—but after a victory over Marianao was thrown out by league authorities, Santa Clara angrily withdrew. They would be vindicated the following winter, when the 1923-24 Santa Clara Leopardos emerged as the most legendary team in Cuban history, the island’s equivalent of the 1927 Yankees.
Of the three remaining teams, Almendares could boast of outfielders Bernardo Baró (.403/.452/.544) and Valentín Dreke (.324), manager-shortstop Joseíto Rodríguez (.316), and minor league southpaw Eddie LePard (7-5, 2.17), but Habana would probably have been considered the favorite. Los Leones featured both the best everyday player in Cuban baseball at the time, Cristóbal Torriente (.344/.435/.515) and the best Cuban pitcher (and perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, period), Dolf Luque. In 1923, Luque would go 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds. In the 1922/23 Cuban League, he went 11-7, 1.53.
Yet both of these traditional powers fell short in the end. It was the brand new Marianao club, led by player-manager Merito Acosta, that claimed a surprise championship. Acosta himself contributed a .282 average and a league-leading 32 walks. Right-hander Lucas Boada was acclaimed as “el nuevo diamante negro” (“the new black diamond”; that is, the new José Méndez) as he tied Luque with 11 victories. Veterans José María Fernández (.304), Manuel Cueto (.288), and Pelayo Chacón (.307) also played important roles in what was a true team effort for Marianao.
The Marianao club, champions of the 1922-23 Cuban League.
A couple of important notes:
1) We are still missing box scores for six games, all of them Santa Clara home games. Since the Leopardos won four of those six games, the Santa Clara players are probably slightly disadvantaged in the stats we’re able to present.
2) You may notice that other sources have Santa Clara going 14-13, rather than 15-12, as we’ve got it here. We’ve checked this very carefully, and 15-12 is the correct W/L record for games actually played. I’ll write this up in more detail at my blog in the next couple of days.
In the works for the DB: 1925 & 1934 Negro leagues, East-West All-Star Games, Mexican League 1937-1954, Cuban League 1918-19, 1919-20, 1920-21, and 1927-28, and much more.