In the wake of the recent announcement about MLB’s recognition of the Negro leagues, we prepared the following brief introduction to our work here.
The Seamheads Negro Leagues Database is an in-progress statistical encyclopedia covering Black professional baseball players, teams, and leagues during the era of segregation. Our work was specifically commended by Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred when he announced that the Negro leagues would be recognized as major leagues. Bryant Gumbel of HBO’s Real Sports pronounced our database to be “the most authoritative record of Negro league statistics ever assembled.”
In addition to games between Black major league teams (including postseason series and All-Star games), we also offer statistics for exhibition games between Black teams and white major and minor league teams. And, as Black American players often played in Latin American leagues, and Black players from Latin America played in the Negro leagues in the U.S., we cover Cuban and Mexican baseball of the era, and plan to cover Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela in the future.
Currently we have at least some data for every season in the United States from 1886 through 1948, as well as more than 20 Cuban seasons from 1899/1900 through 1927/28 and several Mexican seasons in the 1940s. We are always uncovering and adding new seasons, leagues, games, and other information to our database, so it is worth checking back frequently to see what’s new.
Our database (with the exception of the Mexican League statistics) is built from the game level up, using box scores, newspaper articles, and scoresheets. Currently we do not make use of published year-end statistics or standings—everything is verified from contemporary accounts of individual games.
Another core principle of the database is that both sides of every game are represented. Consequently many white major and minor leaguers are present in the database, so it’s possible to see how Babe Ruth or Christy Mathewson fared against Black or Cuban competition. (White major and minor leaguers might also appear because they played in the Cuban or Mexican leagues.)
For a number of leagues and seasons, we still need to add fielding and complete pitching statistics (e.g. home runs allowed by pitchers), as well as hit by pitch for batters. These seasons include: 1924 ECL, 1925 NNL & ECL, 1927 NNL & ECL, 1929 NNL, 1930 NNL, 1932 NSL, 1939-42 NNL & NAL, 1944-46 NNL & NAL. We also need to add fielding statistics for 5 of 6 ECL teams in 1923.
SOME HINTS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE DATABASE
Postseason series and All-Star games are presented as separate “leagues,” as are exhibition games against white major and minor leaguers.
A blank space does not indicate a zero; it means insufficient or missing data. In general, we do not have enough data for batters’ strikeouts and caught stealing in Negro league games; there are exceptions for some postseason series and All-Star games. However, both categories are available for many Cuban League seasons, and batters’ strikeouts were recorded in Mexican League statistics.
The default display for player pages shows all stints combined for any given year; that is, it shows one line for each season of a player’s career. If a player appeared for more than one team, or his team appeared in the playoffs or World Series, the default display adds his statistics together. (This means, incidentally, that zeros will sometimes appear for columns that are actually blank.) If you click the “Show Individual Stints” button it will separate out a player’s stints within a given season.
The per-162-game figures given after career totals on every player page adjust for missing and incomplete statistics. We use 162 games to enable cross-era comparisons to major league players.
UPDATE 1/18/2021 Also keep in mind that at its core the database covers games between teams we’ve defined as Black major league teams—that is, teams roughly comparable in quality to the teams in organized Negro leagues, 1920-1948. It does not (yet) cover games against white semipro and amateur teams, lower-level white minor league teams, college teams, and teams we’ve defined as Black minor league teams. Especially prior to 1920 and the advent of organized Negro leagues such games took up large parts of Black teams’ schedules—so the games counted here generally represent only a small part of each team’s season.
We’ve added newly audited and expanded statistics for the 1926 Negro National League, including fielding statistics, complete pitching statistics, batters’ hit by pitch, and a handful of new games and corrections to the record.
While I don’t think that counting stats are, by themselves, a particularly good measure of the quality of Negro league ballplayers, it’s worth noting that this audit has produced a new single-season record for home runs by a player in games against Negro league opponents: 32 by Mule Suttles of the St. Louis Stars.
The Stars played in Stars Park, which was built up against a trolley car barn that cut into left field, making it a great park for right-handed power hitters. Here’s a photo of Stars catcher Henry “Flick” Williams, with a good view of the park:
And in fact, Suttles hit 26 home runs in Stars Park (one of them inside the park) and only 6 on the road. Those numbers are a bit deceiving, though, as the Stars’ schedule was extremely lopsided, with most of their NNL games played at home. Of Suttles’s 89 games, 65 were in Stars Park:At these rates a balanced home/road schedule would give Suttles 18 homers at home, 11 on the road.
A few other statistical highlights from this update, all from the St. Louis Stars:
–Suttles also sets single-season Negro league records for triples (19) and extra base hits (79), as well as for slugging percentage with 200 plate appearances or more (.877).
–The NNL leader in HBP was Stars catcher Mitchell Murray with 15, which also sets a single-season Negro league record.
—Cool Papa Bell stole 36 bases, which is the second-highest single-season Negro league total we’ve recorded (the highest is Bell’s 49 in 1929).
–St. Louis pitcher Slap Hensley set a less enviable record by allowing 20 home runs, the most allowed by a Negro league pitcher in a single season (so far). To be fair, he was a workhorse in an extreme hitters’ park who led the league in most counting stats for pitchers, including wins, games pitched, games started, innings pitched, hits allowed, runs & earned runs allowed, walks, and strikeouts.
Turning to fielding, here are the NNL fielders with the most Runs Saved Above Average for each position (excluding pitchers):
C: Mitchell Murray, St. Louis
1B: Lemuel Hawkins, Kansas City
2B: Bingo DeMoss, Indianapolis
SS: Newt Allen, Kansas City
3B: Dave Malarcher, Chicago
LF: Johnny Jones, Indianapolis/Detroit
CF: Cando López, Cuban Stars
RF: Jelly Gardner, Chicago
The best defensive team, by Runs Saved Per 1000 Innings, was the Kansas City Monarchs; the worst was (surprisingly) the St. Louis Stars, though the last-place Dayton Marcos were close. The Stars did give up a ton of hits (their opponents batted .309 for the season) but I’m actually wondering if the metric is not fully accounting for park effects here.
Next up: the 1945 Mexican League, 1924 ECL with fielding stats, 1939 NNL & NAL with fielding stats, further Cuban League seasons, and more.
First and foremost, special thanks to John Russell and Steve Peissig, who provided rare Mexican League guides that enabled us to have FIELDING stats for the 1944 Mexican League and, for the first time, split out playing records for players who played for more than one team.
For the 1944 Mexican League season, the league again featured only 6 teams. The Union Laguna team based in Torreon, which had finished only ½ game out of first place in 1943, was replaced by a new La Junta club in Nuevo Laredo. This was a different “franchise” from the 1940 La Junta de Nuevo Laredo. Out of the 138 league players, 34 were “Negro Leaguers” in at least one other season. The World War seems to have impacted the number of Negro League imports. Martin Dihigo, Willie Wells, Chet Brewer, Quincy Trouppe, Wild Bill Wright and Silvio Garcia were some of the biggest names who went south of the border.
But the biggest news may have been who Azules de Veracruz hired as their manager – Rogers Hornsby. The 48-year-old Hornsby only lasted a couple of weeks before he quit, but during that time he put himself at bat in two games, resulting in a double, a walk, and 3 RBI’s. This is the last known professional hit for the Hall of Famer.
The pennant race was close in 1944, with Azules de Veracruz, even without Hornsby, able to finish on top, 2 games ahead of Industriales de Monterrey, and 2 ½ ahead of Pericos de Puebla. Veracruz was led by Cuban Baseball Hall of Famer Ramon Bragana, who in addition to taking over managerial duties from Hornsby, went 30-8 on the mound, pitching an incredible 325 innings in a 90-game schedule. Cuban Baseball Hall of Famer Lazaro Salazar of Monterrey had a great two-way season, going 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and hitting .379/.495/.498 as a 1st baseman. And like Bragana, he also managed the team. Cuban outfielder Alberto Hernandez of Pueblo lead the league with a .395 batting average. Cuban born catcher Salvador ‘Chico’ Hernandez, fresh off 2 years as a backup for the Chicago Cubs, caught all 91 games for Veracruz while hitting .305/.398/.501. Also of note, 20 year old Roberto ‘Bobby’ Avila, after struggling as a 19 year old rookie in 1943, had a breakout year, finishing 6th in batting average and leading the league in triples.
Database Notes: Additional games have also been added to the database for the 1947 Negro Leagues season. Coming up will be the 1945 Mexican League season, 1924 ECL fielding & complete pitching stats, 1939 NNL & NAL fielding & complete pitching stats, more games between Negro league teams and white majors & minors, and more Cuban League seasons.