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Negro Leagues DB Update: 1932 East-West League

The 1932 East-West League, plus four independent east coast teams from that year, forms the latest addition to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database.

This was the year when Pittsburgh numbers operator Gus Greenlee really got serious about baseball. He hired the architect Louis A. S. Bellinger to construct a lavish new ballpark in the Hill District, and opened up his wallet to sign some of the best players in black baseball. From the crosstown rival Homestead Grays he grabbed player-manager Oscar Charleston, young slugging star Josh Gibson, and catcher/pitcher Doubly Duty Radcliffe. Greenlee also retained Satchel Paige, whom he had briefly employed at the end of the 1931 season, and snapped up outfielder Rap Dixon.

How did Cumberland Posey react to the loss of these stars? He went looking for new ones. And the black baseball world of 1932 had plenty to offer, since Rube Foster’s Negro National League had finally dissolved. After this, and two straight seasons with no black professional league on the east coast, it fell to the fiercely independent operator of the Homestead Grays (a team that had spent a grand total of one season in a Negro league, back in 1929), to try to reorganize black baseball.

His ambitious plan, in the midst of a worldwide depression, was to establish one league spanning the whole northeastern quadrant of the country, the same territory covered by the white big leagues. Big-time black baseball had been traditionally split into two regions, the northeast and the Midwest. To signify his determination to bring them together, Posey called his new organization the East-West Colored League. He also intended to play league baseball every day. Even the Negro National League in its 1920s heyday couldn’t quite manage that.

Plenty of critics predicted doom. Unfortunately they were right.

The difficulties might have started with Posey’s decision to include only three established clubs, the Baltimore Black Sox, the Hilldale Club, and his own Homestead Grays. Of the major NNL teams, the Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs had disbanded (the latter temporarily), and the Chicago American Giants elected to join the Negro Southern League. The St. Louis Stars, the dominant team of the NNL for the past few seasons, had folded along with the league. Posey transferred the core of the Stars—Willie Wells, Mule Suttles, Ted Trent, Cool Papa Bell, Dewey Creacy, Quincy Trouppe—to a new club, the Detroit Wolves, which became the westernmost team of the new circuit.

Syd Pollock’s Cuban House of David, a gimmick team not actually connected to the religious sect or any of its baseball teams, were required to shave their beards before entering the league as the new Cuban Stars. Posey rounded out the East-West League with three new teams, the Newark Browns, the Cleveland Stars (another in a long line of ill-fated Negro league entries from the shores of Lake Erie), and the Washington Pilots.

Although it’s difficult to trace the behind-the-scenes realities of Negro league baseball from a distance of more than 80 years, the rumor at the time was that Posey was financially involved in the new Cleveland and Detroit franchises. In fact, it was claimed that he was really running the Detroit Wolves, leaving the Grays to his brother See Posey. It certainly makes sense, given the quality of the players he had placed in Detroit. And the Wolves, in the first few weeks, dominated the league just as the St. Louis Stars had dominated the NNL. In games so far recovered, they were 23-4 against EWL opponents (published standings at the time indicated a 20-6 record).

The Wolves, however, did not draw enough fans to justify their high payroll, and by the first week in June Posey took the drastic step of merging the league’s first-place team with its third-place club, the Homestead Grays. The combined team continued to play weekend games at Hamtramck Stadium for a while, where the local press persisted in calling them the “Wolves” for a few weeks. (In this compilation we consider the Detroit Wolves to have ceased to exist at the point of the merger, with the combined team afterward being folded into the history of the Homestead Grays.)

Several of the Wolves moved to the Grays, three of them—Wells, Bell, and Tom Young—along with first baseman George Giles, cooked up a mutiny against Posey, absconding between games of a doubleheader to join the newly revived Kansas City Monarchs. Overall, this was one of the strangest and most unstable seasons in the Grays’ long history. Even though the team only carried a maximum of 16 players at a time, at least 35 players suited up for the Grays in 1932—and that’s only counting the 41 games we have against top black opposition. Of these, perhaps the most valuable was Joe Strong, who hit .426 while compiling a 2.06 ERA in 43 innings on the mound. Still, excluding the Wolves, the Grays compiled the best record among league teams against EWL opponents over the whole season.

Their main rivals were the Baltimore Black Sox. Led by player-manager Dick Lundy (.389), third baseman Tom Finley (.338/.397/.574), and young converted outfielder Terris McDuffie (4-1, 1.93), the Black Sox actually occupied first place with a 20-9 record in the final published EWL standings in June.

Those Wolves stars who didn’t go to the Grays—Suttles, Trent, Creacy—were transferred to the Washington Pilots. The Pilots, along with the Wolves, were evidently intended as one of the league’s flagship franchises. They rented out the Senators’ Griffith Stadium, hired one of the best player-managers of the past decade in Frank Warfield, and even arranged for the Vice President of the United States, Charles Curtis, to throw out the first pitch on opening day. Despite the efforts of Suttles (.337/.447/.640), catcher Eppie Hamilton (.364), and young second baseman Sammy Hughes (.345), the Pilots languished in the second division.

Oddly, the league survived the loss of its best team, the Detroit Wolves. It was the collapse of John Beckwith’s Newark Browns in late June that precipitated the unraveling of the entire East-West League. The wreck of the 1932 season that ensued claimed a few more victims.

The Washington Pilots managed to survive both the extinction of the league and the death of Frank Warfield, who passed away suddenly in Pittsburgh in late July; but they did not last past the close of the 1932 season.

The venerable Hilldale Club, having spent some money in 1931 under new owner Johnny Drew, cut back on expenditures this year, and suffered for it. Longtime stalwart Biz Mackey elected to stay on the west coast, and the team failed to re-sign Martín Dihigo, Rap Dixon, and Walter Cannady. When player-manager Judy Johnson, Hilldale lynchpin for more than a decade, abruptly jumped the team for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the writing was on the wall. On July 18 it was made official: after 15 years at the top of black professional baseball, the Hilldale Club was no more.

Notes on statistics: This version of the 1932 season only includes games involving the EWL and eastern independent clubs; games involving western or Negro Southern League teams are not yet counted. In the case of some EWL teams, there is still much research left to do; in particular, we’ve got the Newark Browns’ record as only 0-3, but the latest published league standings showed them at 3-14. As we’ve done in other years, even when a league has formally ceased to exist early in the season, we present won-loss records for all games against league opponents through the whole year. Also, we’ve revamped the 1924 World Series statistics, which now include fielding numbers, and added the 1925 World Series. The full 1925 season, both the NNL and ECL, slated to arrive in a future update.

From the St. Louis Stars to the Detroit Wolves: Cool Papa Bell, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells

From the St. Louis Stars to the Detroit Wolves: Cool Papa Bell, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells

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

 
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

Stolen Bases
Career Leaders
# Player
Pos
Years
SB
1
CF
1915-1936
283
2
CF
1913-1928
216
3
SS
1906-1932
194
4
LF
1904-1928
190
5
LF
1911-1924
174
6
CF
1903-1916
170
7
LF
1903-1916
170
8
CF
1904-1924
169
9
3B
1903-1916
164
10
2B
1914-1932
155

ERA+
Career Leaders
# Player Pos Years
ERA+
1
SP
1928-1936
204
2
SP
1913-1921
164
3
SP
1919-1924
156
4
SP
1907-1932
150
5
SP
1923-1928
148
6
SP
1909-1914
148
7
SP
1908-1925
145
8
SP
1923-1936
141
9
SP
1923-1928
141
10
SP
1920-1936
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