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The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (#10-6)

It is now time to enter into the top ten in my mind, the best of the best, the elite of the elite players in black baseball/Negro Leagues. My main purpose in getting this list together was to make sure that these great baseball players were never to be forgotten. We all should do what we can to keep the memories of their deeds on the baseball field alive.

One thing is that after the list has been completely open to you all, is that, I took the list that was in the Pittsburgh Courier and compared it to my list. You will have all of the biographies on my list, and what I am doing is getting the bios together of the players who were on the Pittsburgh Courier list, compare it to my list and then let you know about some more of the ballplayers who were on the Courier’s list but not mine.

Again this was done to let people know there are some deserving ballplayers out there who deserve recognition. Are they worthy of the Hall of Fame? Some yes of course. The important thing to remember about any Hall of Fame is that the people in it are the greatest, they are not just good. This holds true for any sport and in the case of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, it is the most elite organization of players going. Not counting the men who played in black baseball, the Negro Leagues and the Cuban Leagues there has been over 17,000 major league players and out of that only 317 of them have been elected to the Hall as of January of 2017. Quite an elite group indeed. That being said let us know move into the top ten and see who the players are numbered 10-6, who were some of the games greats.

10-J Preston “Pete” Hil
Born: October 12, 1880 (1882) – Culpeper, Texas
Died: November 26 (19), 1951 – Buffalo New York
Center Field/Right Field/Left Field/First base/Second base
Bats Left/Throws Right
Pittsburgh Keystones 1899-1900, Cuban X Giants 1901-1902, Philadelphia Giants 1903-1907, Leland Giants 1907-1910, Chicago American Giants 1911-1918, Detroit Stars 1919-1921, Milwaukee Bears 1923, Baltimore Black Sox 1924-1925, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1908-1909, Club Fe 1906-1907

Pete Hill’s career in black baseball and the Negro Leagues lasted from 1899 until 1926. His storied career began in 1899 when Hill was with the Pittsburgh Keystones where he stayed for a couple of years. After those two years Hill moved to the Cuban X Giants, who were one of the more dominant teams of the era in black baseball. Perhaps his greatest success in baseball was when he was with Rube Foster and the Philadelphia Giants between 1903 and 1907.

Hill hit from the left side of the plate, hitting for both power and for average. He was consistent when it came to hitting spraying line drives to all fields. Hill had an almost perfect batting eye for the strike zone and he just did not strike out a lot either. During the 1991 season Hill hit safely in 115 out of 116 games he played in. Experts of the era of baseball think that the all-time deadball outfield would consist of Ty Cobb in left field, Tris Speaker in centerfield and Pete Hill in right field, surely one of the greatest if not the greatest assembly of outfielders ever.

If someone wanted to think of a complete ballplayer from the deadball era of baseball, the name Pete Hill would have to be mentioned in the discussion. He could run, he could field and he could hit. As a centerfielder he was one of the fastest in the game. He fielded his position very well and he did not make a lot of errors. Hill had a strong throwing arm and it was deadly accurate. If the discussion switches to running the bases Hill was a pain in the mode of Jackie Robinson. He danced around the bases making himself a pain for pitchers, catchers and infielders just like Robinson did 40 years later.

Rube Foster and Frank Leland split their successful partnership in 1910 and Hill then signed up to play for Foster. In the 1911 season Foster’s team finished the year with a record of 106 wins and just SEVEN losses with Pete Hill as the team’s captain. He was the team leader with a .428 batting average finishing just ahead of John Henry “Pop” Lloyd He then hit .400 and .357 proving himself a very valuable commodity.

As Hill neared the end of his playing career baseball was beginning a switch from the deadball era of manufacturing a run via walk, hit, sacrifice to the era of the livelier ball and the home run made famous by Babe Ruth. The livelier ball era did not seem to affect Hill as he scorched the league and its pitchers for a .391 batting average in his last season with the Detroit Stars. In 1925 after 27 years of baseball he was still a force on the ball field. He would hit lefthanders and righthanders and was the glue holding the Chicago American Giants together for almost 20 years. He was named to Cumberland Posey’s All-Time team with Posey saying Hill was the most consistent hitter he had ever seen.

In 2006 he was selected for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown after a career that saw him play with some of the greats like Rube Foster, Grant Johnson, Pop Lloyd, Bingo DeMoss, Jose Mendez, Frank Wickwire, John Beckwith and Jud “Boojum” Wilson.

9-Raymond Emmitt Dandridge aka “Squatty”, “Talua” or “Mamerto”
Born: August 31, 1913 – Richmond, Virginia
Died: February 12, 1994 – Palm Bay, Florida
Third Base/Second Base/Shortstop/Outfield
Bats Right/Throws Right
Detroit Stars 1933, Nashville Elite Giants 1933, Newark Dodgers 1933-1935, Newark Eagles 1936-1939, 1942, 1944 Venezuelan League 1939, Mexican League 1940-1943,1945-1948, New York Cubans 1949, Minor Leagues 1949-1953

Ray Dandridge played in the Negro Leagues from 1933 until 1949 and then the minor leagues of major league baseball until 1953 with stops along the way in the Venezuelan League as well as the Mexican League. He was primarily a third baseman but also played second base, shortstop as well as in the outfield.

His professional career began in 1933 with the Detroit Stars where he hit for a .333 average. In 1934 and 1935 with the Newark Dodgers he hit .436 in 1934 and .368 in 1935. Then when the Newark Dodgers merged with the Eagles Dandridge continued his hitting going .354 and .305 in his first two seasons under the watchful eye of owners Abe and Effa Manley.

In league play in the Negro National League Dandridge had a .355 batting average playing well enough to make the roster of the first three East West All Star games. He was voted into two other games but missed them as he was in Latin America playing in their various leagues. Dandridge was also selected for the 1938 game on the East squad but the Eagles would not release him to play in the game.

Dandridge spent a total of 11 seasons in Cuba and played in Perto Rico and the Dominican Republic but spent a great deal of time in Mexico. In 1940 the team Dandridge was on in Veracruz had Josh Gibson, Willie Wells and Leon Day and the team won the pennant rather handily.

In 1949 at the age of 35 Dandridge was assigned to the New York Giants AAA franchise in Minneapolis. For whatever reasons the Giants would neither sell his contract to another club, nor promote him to the major leagues. In his time in Minneapolis he hit .363-.311-.324 winning the MVP award of the league in 1950 as he led Minneapolis to the league title.

Old times say there was not anyone more masterful at the third base position than Ray Dandridge. He played relaxed, he was smooth as silk with soft hands and a velvety touch and he had no problem making any type of play. During the later part of the 1930’s it was Dandridge along with Willie Wells, Dick Seay and Mule Suttles who were a part of the Newark Eagles so-called “Million Dollar Infield”

He was very bowlegged so much people said that while a train could travel through Dandridge’s legs there was not a ground ball that could ever get through his legs, that is how good a fielder Dandridge was. He was a spray hitter who went with the pitch and seldom struck out.

Dandridge was accorded the honor of selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987 and was alive to revel in that honor. His list of great teammates included John Beckwith, Dick Lundy, Leon Day, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Biz Mackey along with the previously mentioned Willie Wells, Dick Seay and Mule Suttles.

8-Raleigh “Biz” Mackey
Born: July 27, 1897  – Eagle Pass, Texas
Died: September 22, 1965 – Los Angeles, California
Catcher/First Base/Second Base/Third Base/Shortstop/Center Field/Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
San Antonio Black Aces 1918, Indianapolis ABCs 1920-1922, New York Lincoln Giants 1920, Colored All Stars 1921, Hilldale Daisies 1923-1931, Philadelphia Giants 1925, Washington Elite Giants 1936-1937, Baltimore Elite Giants 1938-1939, Philadelphia Stars 1933-1935, Newark Dodgers 1935, Newark Eagles 1939-1941, 1945-1947,1950

Raleigh “Biz” Mackey had a career in black baseball as one of the best ever catchers in a career that lasted from 1920 and ended in 1947. He learned the game of baseball and when he was 18 years old he played the game with his brothers in the Prairie League. After a couple of years he then signed with the San Antonio Black Aces in 1918. The team ended up folding and in 1920 several of the players including Mackey were sold to the Indianapolis ABCs for the start of the 1920 season which was also the inaugural season of the Negro National League. His mentor on the Indianapolis team was C. I.Taylor one of the famous Taylor brothers of black baseball fame. In three seasons in Indianapolis Mackey hit .306-.296 and then .361 before signing on with the Hilldale team for the 1923 season.

Mackey was very competitive, and he helped to lead the Hilldale club to three pennants in a row including the 1925 season when Hilldale became the Negro League World Series champions by defeating the Kansas City Monarchs. Besides showcasing all his defensive talents, Mackey also led the Hilldale club with a .375 batting average when the club won the World Series.

The inaugural East West All Star game was held in 1933 and Mackey with all of his skills in every facet of the game was voted the starting catcher even though he was supposedly past his prime at 36 years of age. By the way the man he beat out for the starting job was a pretty good catcher as well, Josh Gibson who at the time was one of the most feared sluggers in the game. That is just one example of how good a catcher Mackey was. In 1937 Mackey was the player manager of the Baltimore Elite Giants and his catching protégé at the time was Roy Campanella who never failed to credit Mackey when he talked about the important people who helped “Campy” become a Hall of Fame catcher. People who were fortunate enough to see both Campanella and Mackey play said that watching Campanella was just like watching Mackey. Mackey also mentored Monte Irvin a future Hall of Fame outfielder for the New York Giants and he also mentored Don Newcombe of the Dodgers.

Mackey was a talented catcher and remained cool under pressure and there was not a catcher around who possessed his defensive skills. He had a deadly accurate throwing arm and could make a snap throw from his knees as well as most catchers made a throw when standing up out of his catching crouch.

Even though Mackey could barely read or write he had  great baseball mind and was a keen student of the game. He was a talker behind the plate always trying his best to distract the batter. His quickness and skill sometimes allowed him to play shortstop or sometimes the outfield.

Mackey’s numbers for Hilldale between 1924 and 1931 showed how dangerous a hitter he was as well. Starting in 1924 and through the 1931 season Mackey hit for the following averages: .337-.350-.327-.315-.327-.337 and finally he hit for a .400 average.

Mackey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2006 after a playing career that saw him play with the likes of Dizzy Dismukes, Judy Johnson, Louis Santop, Martin Dihigo and Webster McDonald.

7-Joseph “Cyclone” or “Smokey Joe” Williams
Born: April 6, 1885 – Seguin, Texas
Died: March 12, 1946 (February 25, 1951) –  New York, New York
Pitcher/Outfield/First Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
San Antonio Black Bronchos 1907-1909, Chicago Giants 1910-1911, Habana 1911, New York Lincoln Giants 1912,1914-1923, 1925 Fe 1912, Homestead Grays 1925-1932, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1932 Mohawk Giants 1913, Chicago American Giants 1914, Breaker’s Hotel 1915-1916,1916-1917,1917-1918, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1916, Hilldale Daisies 1917, Brooklyn Royal Giants1924, Detroit Wolves 1932

“Smokey Joe” Williams was a pitcher for most of his career in black baseball and the Negro Leagues although from time to time he played some outfield and some first base. His blazing fastball earned him the nicknames of “Cyclone” or “Smokey Joe” and he was to black baseball in the early years of the game what Satchel Paige was to the Negro Leagues in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The people who were fortunate enough to see Williams and Paige play said Williams was the equal if not better than Paige. Williams had blinding speed on his fastball and also had exceptional control. As he got older and more experienced he began to lose speed off his fastball but was still able to reside near the top of the pitching mountain with his baseball knowledge and the slyness with which he pitched.

Williams began his baseball career on the playing fields of Texas and it was then people began to notice how good this tall Texan really was. He went 28-4, 15-9, 20-8 and 32-8. It was said Williams was a faster pitcher than Bob Feller as he once struck out 25 batters in a game and pitched a no-hitter, although he lost the game on walks and errors. Another time in 1930 Williams was in a pitching duel with Chet Brewer of the Kansas City Monarchs and over the course of 12 innings struck out 27 batters and allowed just one hit.

He was able to bring some dignity to the game and in the 1952 poll conducted by the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, a leading newspaper in the black community, Williams  outpolled Satchel Paige 20-19 as to who was the greatest pitcher in black baseball/ the Negro Leagues. Ty Cobb thought that Joe Williams was a sure bet to consistently win 30 games in the major leagues if he had been allowed the chance. As if to support this way of thinking Williams had a record of 20 wins 7 losses in exhibition games against major league squads. In 1912 Williams shut out the New York Giants who were one of the best teams in baseball by the score of 6-0. In 1915 while pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies and pitching against the great Grover Cleveland Alexander, Williams struck out 10 Phillies in a thrilling 1-0 victory for Williams’ team. The third game talked about was a loss but still an amazing pitching performance as Williams struck out 20 Giants hitters in a 1-0 victory for New York despite the fact that Williams threw a no-hitter, losing the game on an error.

Frank Leland who owned the Chicago Giants team Williams played on described Williams’ fastball by saying, “If you ever witnessed the seed of a pebble in a windstorm that does not even come close to the speed of a Joe Williams fastball.” In 1919 Williams threw an Opening Day no-hitter against another fastball ace of the era “Cannonball” Dick Redding and the two soon became embroiled in a feud that led to the two not speaking to each other for the longest period. Early in his career when not on the pitching mound Williams played the outfield or first base and maintained a steady .300 batting average.

Given the length and the number of teams Williams played on he played with some of the games greats. Men like Bill Pettus, Spotswood Poles, Dick Redding, Oliver Marcelle, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson, Willie Foster and Satchel Paige. Williams was accorded the honor of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

6-John Henry Lloyd aka “Pop” or “El Cuchara” (the Tablespoon)
Born: April 25, 1884 – Palatka, Florida
Died: March 19, 1965 (1964) – Atlantic City, New Jersey
Shortstop/Second Base/First Base/Catcher
Bats Left/Throws Right
Macon Acmes 1905, Cuban X Giants 1906, Philadelphia Giants 1907-1909, Habana 1908-1911, Leland Giants 1910, New York Lincoln Giants 1915, 1926-1930 Fe 1912, Chicago American Giants 1914-1917, New York Lincoln Stars 1915, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1918-1920, New York Bacharach Giants 1919, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1922, 1924-1925, 1931-1932, Hilldale Club 1923, Columbus Buckeyes 1921, Hilldale Daisies 1923, Harlem Stars 1931, New York Black Yankees 1931

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd spent from 1905 to 1932 primarily as a shortstop in black baseball and the Negro Leagues although he also put time in at other infield positions as well as catcher. He grew up without a father and ended up leaving school early to help out his family financially. He slowly gravitated towards baseball and began to play with a team called the “Old Receivers” where he had the nickname “Just in time” because he is throws got to the base just in time to get the baserunner out. Rube Foster, Harry Buckner and Sol White discovered Lloyd when they were all with the Cuban X Giants.

Lloyd was playing second base with the Macon Acmes and he then began his pro career with the Cuban X Giants in 1906 before moving to the Philadelphia Giants, the Leland Giants and then the New York Lincoln Giants which was a Hall of Fame roll call of teams. After Lloyd finished the 1910 season with a .417 batting average he spent the next years with the New York Lincoln Giants where he batted .475-.373-.363 in succession.

John Henry Lloyd was essential to a team’s success during the deadball era of black baseball. Simply put he was the best player in black baseball during the first two decades of the 20th century. He was the best shortstop black or white in the era and no one but Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner could even come close to being as good as Pop Lloyd. Wagner himself said it was an honor and a privilege to be compared to Lloyd. Lloyd could hit, he could run, he could field, he could throw and he could also hit with power. Whatever a team leaded Lloyd could get it done. He was dangerous as a runner on the bases and he was a smart player. There were any number of ways that Lloyd could help his team generate runs.

As a fielder he would study batters and position himself so as to get a better jump on the ball when it was hit. He used his sure hands to scoop up ground balls out of the dirt which is how he acquired the nickname “El Cuchara” or the Tablespoon. Lloyd fit in perfectly with the Rube Foster style of play which was to play for and manufacture runs. With all of the talent Foster had on his teams it was John Henry Lloyd who batted in the number four spot in the batting order. He was a left-handed hitter who hit with a slightly closed stance. He had a smooth powerful swing that gave him a lifetime batting average for his 27 year career in baseball.

Hall of Fame manager John McGrw said of Lloyd” If he was white there would be a new star in the National League;” Lloyd was one of the best players ever in black baseball. Babe Ruth said he would choose Pop Lloyd as his greatest player of all-time a ringing endorsement of Lloyd’s talent from two of the greatest in the game.

Lloyd played with some of the greats in the game like Pete Hill, Grant Johnson, Frank Wickwire, Bingo DeMoss, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, George Scales and Fats Jenkins. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1977.

 

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.