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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1940 NNL & NAL

After two years of relative stability, 1940 proved to be a difficult season for the Negro leagues, as the trickle of players defecting to Venezuela or (especially) Mexico became a flood. Many of black baseball’s biggest stars—Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Leon Day—spent most or all of 1940 south of the border.

Compounding this problem, the most famous of the Negro leaguers, Satchel Paige, spent his fourth consecutive season in exile. Injury and a refusal to play for the Newark Eagles, the team that owned his contract, had kept him off league rosters since 1936. Finally a complicated deal that awarded the Eagles two other players from the Crawfords—shortstop Bus Clarkson and pitcher Ernie Carter—resulted in Paige being allowed to suit up for league games with the Kansas City Monarchs, the club whose barnstorming B-team he had been headlining for two years. (Unfortunately we don’t yet have any box scores covering his league appearances late in 1940.)

The Homestead Grays may have lost Josh Gibson to Mexico, but they retained most of the rest of their roster, including Ray Brown (16-2, 1.88), Buck Leonard (.369, 8 homers), and Edsall Walker (11-4, 3.13). The Grays, now playing most of their home games in Washington, D. C., also added Howard Easterling (.344./.404/.511) and the 44-year-old Jud Wilson. The latter was supposed to make up for the loss of Gibson’s power but finished the year homerless and with a .260 average. Still, these players proved to be just enough to stave off the Elite Giants’ challenge and give the Grays their third pennant in four years.

Over in the Negro American League, the defending champion Kansas City Monarchs lost their two best everyday players, Willard Brown and Ted Strong. But KC compensated through the fine play of infielders Herb Souell (.340) and Jesse Williams (.368) and the pitching of Frank Bradley (4-1, 2.38), Jack Matchett (6-2, 2.58), and others, and won the pennant going away.

Once again, we owe our stats for the 1940 season to Larry Lester, Wayne Stivers, and the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group.

Up next: the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues. On deck: the 1941-43 Negro leagues and the 1937 Negro American League.

1940 NNL championship patch belonging to Wilmer Fields.

1940 NNL championship patch belonging to Wilmer Fields.

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1939 NNL & NAL

This week we’re adding further results of our collaboration with the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group (Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers) with the unveiling of the 1939 Negro league season. We’ve got both leagues, the Negro National League and Negro American League, plus the postseason series. This represents the first NAL season we’ve done for the database—we’ll be going back to fill in the NAL’s 1937 and 1938 seasons soon.

The NAL had started in 1937 with its two oldest charter members, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Chicago American Giants, facing off in the playoffs. The next season saw something of an upheaval as, for the first time in the history of the black majors, two Southern teams contested the championship, the Memphis Red Sox defeating the Atlanta Black Crackers for the pennant. For 1939, the Indianapolis ABCs moved to St. Louis to become the latest incarnation of the St. Louis Stars; the Atlanta Black Crackers, 1938’s runners up, became the Indianapolis ABCs; and the Jacksonville Red Caps played as the Cleveland Bears.

The two playoff teams from 1938 had rough times in 1939. For the Memphis Red Sox, it was a case of first to worst, as the defending champions collapsed to last in the league. Meanwhile, the ABCs/Black Crackers couldn’t even secure a home field in Indianapolis. After playing a round of league games on the road, they returned to Atlanta, where they entertained NAL teams in mid-June. The league, which had evidently counted on cutting travel expenses, was not pleased, and demoted them to associate membership. The ABCs/Black Crackers dissolved shortly thereafter, and their players were scattered all over the league.

The Monarchs, led by Hilton Smith, Willard Brown, Ted Strong, and the veteran Turkey Stearnes, dominated the first half, and ended with by far the best overall record in the league. In the playoffs they dispatched the St. Louis Stars, winners of the second half, with ease. (We are still missing a considerable number of Stars’ home games, so at this point our stats don’t reflect fairly on the Stars and their players.)

Over in the Negro National League Alex Pompez was back with his New York Cubans to replace the failed Washington Black Senators from 1938, maintaining the league at seven members. With his home park demolished, Gus Greenlee sold the Pittsburgh Crawfords to Olympic hero Jesse Owens and a financial partner, and they moved the team to Toledo. This proved to be a little too far away for the other NNL clubs, all clustered on the east coast, and in June the Crawfords switched to the Negro American League to replace the unfortunate ABCs/Black Crackers.

In the NNL pennant race it looked like the third straight year of Grays domination, accomplished by the usual suspects (Josh Gibson, Ray Brown, Buck Leonard). But at season’s end the league decided to put on a Shaughnessy-style playoff, pitting the top four teams against each other in an elimination tournament. The Baltimore Elite Giants, a .500 team in the regular season, hit their stride at exactly the right time. They upset the Newark Eagles in the first round, setting up a final series with the Grays.

The Grays edged the first game, held in Philadelphia, 2 to 1. The Elites took the first game of a doubleheader in Baltimore’s Oriole Park, 7 to 5, with the second game ending in a 1 to 1 tie. Back in Philadelphia, the Elites’ young catcher Roy Campanella hit 4 for 5 with a double and a home run and drove in five runs to lead his team to a 10 to 5 win. The next day in Yankee Stadium, Jonas Gaines and Willie Hubert combined to hold the mighty Grays to just 3 hits in a 2 to 0 win, making the Elites the champions of the NNL. (To be fair to the Grays, they did not play a single home game during the whole playoffs.)

Although this was a third straight season of relative stability for the two leagues, no World Series was even contemplated, much less arranged.

Next up: the 1940 Negro leagues. On deck: the 1941 and 1942 Negro leagues, the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues, and the 1937 Negro American League.

Willard Brown & Ted Strong of the Kansas City Monarchs.

Willard Brown & Ted Strong of the Kansas City Monarchs.

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1918/19 Cuban League

The 1918/19 Cuban winter season was the only time Tinti Molina’s Cuban Stars, normally a summertime traveling team in the United States, competed under that name for the regular Cuban League championship. (Molina would enter teams that were essentially his Cuban Stars in the league under different names: as the “White Sox” in 1916/17, and as “América” in 1919-20.) Nicknamed “Los Osos Tropicales” (the Tropical Bears), the Cuban Stars played fairly well but suffered from both bad luck and the absence of Cristóbal Torriente, the best player in Cuban history to that point. They finished well back of Habana in the first half of the split season. One of the highlights of their season occurred in a December 21, 1918, game against Almendares, when Bienvenido Jiménez stole 8 bases, and Bartolo Portuondo another 5. Their victims were Almendares pitcher Benito Marrero and the legendary (but aging) catcher Gervasio “Strike” González.

Habana, stocked with players from the North American minor leagues, ran away with the first half. The second half was much closer. At the end of the regular schedule the three teams were deadlocked with identical 11-11 records. A further round of games was scheduled, and Habana came out on top, thus winning both halves and the pennant. Habana’s manager, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike González, was probably the best everyday player in the league (.329/.392/.452, with a league-leading 8 doubles and 32 RBI). Their ace, the right-hander José Acosta (“Acostica”), proved to be a real workhorse, despite his slight build (5’6”, 134 pounds). He threw over half of Habana’s innings and went 15-9 with a 1.55 ERA. Possibly the greatest moment of the Reds’ year, however, came on December 2, 1918, when Baldomero “Merito” Acosta (José’s brother, who had hit .298 in 52 games for the Senators and A’s the previous summer) turned an unassisted triple play from center field.

Unfortunately, a newspaper strike in February resulted in several games going completely uncovered (we lack even the scores), so our record of the season is slightly incomplete, with Habana missing two games, and the Cuban Stars and Almendares missing four each. We’ll work on getting this rectified in future updates.

Next up: the 1939 NNL & NAL. On deck: the 1940 NNL & NAL, the 1919/20 Cuban League, and the 1921/22 Cuban League.

Three Cuban League stars in 1918/19: Merito Acosta, Bienvenido Jiménez, José Acosta

Three Cuban League stars in 1918/19: Merito Acosta, Bienvenido Jiménez, José Acosta

 
All-Time
Top Players By Position
Pos Player Years
WS
C
1920 - 1940
152.1
1903 - 1919
109.8
1B
1909 - 1928
162.8
1922 - 1940
134.6
2B
1914 - 1932
99.1
1910 - 1928
90.2
3B
1903 - 1916
100.1
1918 - 1936
89.6
SS
1906 - 1932
231.8
1916 - 1937
119.5
LF
1910 - 1934
121.7
1911 - 1924
88.5
CF
1915 - 1940
301.7
1913 - 1928
279.3
RF
1903 - 1919
91.5
1920 - 1932
84.3
SP
1908 - 1925
214.8
1920 - 1936
198.7
1907 - 1926
197.1
1907 - 1932
164.3
1911 - 1931
163.4

Homeruns
Career Leaders
# Player
Pos
Years
HR
1
CF
1915-1940
165
2
CF
1923-1940
112
3
C
1930-1940
98
4
1B
1923-1940
94
5
1B
1917-1925
73
6
CF
1913-1928
70
7
3B
1919-1935
70
8
1B
1922-1940
69
9
C
1920-1940
62
10
RF
1924-1937
56

ERA+
Career Leaders
# Player Pos Years
ERA+
1
SP
1928-1937
197
2
SP
1913-1921
160
3
SP
1919-1925
157
4
SP
1920-1936
153
5
SP
1932-1940
151
6
SP
1923-1936
151
7
SP
1907-1932
150
8
SP
1909-1914
148
9
SP
1908-1925
143
10
SP
1923-1928
141
 
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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.

Win Shares are calculated using the formula in the book Win Shares by Bill James