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Legends On Deck

The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (70-61)

This next list contains what some say are the best 100 Black Athletes of the 20th Century. You will see there are some impressive athletes on this list and the players who starred in black baseball and the Negro Leagues are in capital letters. This list differs a bit as the names are in alphabetical order.

Hank Aaron, Kareem Abdul Jabber (basketball), Marcus Allen (football), Muhammed Ali, Henry Armstrong (boxing), Arthur Ashe, Ernie Banks, Elgin Baylor (basketball), COOL PAPA BELL,  Barry Bonds, Lou Brock, Jim Brown (football), Earl Campbell (football), Roy Campanella, Rod Carew, Wilt Chamberlain, OSCAR CHARLESTON, Alice Coachman (first African American woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal), Eric Dickerson (football), Larry Doby, Tony Dorsett (football), Julius Erving, Lee Elders (golf), Curt Flood, Joe Frazier, George Gervin (basketball), Althea Gibson (tennis), Bob Gibson, JOSH GIBSON, Maurice Green (track and field), Joe Greene (football), Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Marvin Hagler (boxing), Connie Hawkins (basketball), Thomas Hearns (boxing), Rickey Henderson, Elston Howard, William Hubbard (first African American male to win an Olympic Gold Medal), Monte Irvin, Bo Jackson, Reggie Jackson, , Magic Johnson, Jack Johnson (boxing), Michael Johnson (track and field), Rafer Johnson (track and field), JUDY JOHNSON, Marion Jones (track and field), Michael Jordan, Florence Griffith Joyner (track and field), Jackie Joyner Kersee (track and field), Willie Lanier (football), BUCK LEONARD, POP LLOYD, Sugar Ray Leonard (boxing), Carl Lewis (track and field), Joe Louis (boxing), Karl Malone (basketball), Moses Malone (basketball), Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Ralph Metcalfe (track and field), Earl Monroe (basketball), Joe Morgan, Edwin Moses (track and field), Eddie Murray, Curly Neal (basketball), Jesse Owens (track and field), SATCHEL PAIGE, Walter Payton (football), Fritz Pollard (football), Jerry Rice (football), Paul Robeson (football), Oscar Robertson (basketball), Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson (boxing), Dennis Rodman (basketball), Wilma Rudolph (track and field), Bill Russell (basketball), Barry Sanders (football), Deion Sanders (football), Gale Sayers (football), Charlie Sifford (golf), O J Simpson, Ozzie Smith, Willie Stargell, Lynn Swann (football), Lawrence Taylor (football), Wyomia Tyus (track and field), Paul Warfield (football), WILLIE WELLS, Reggie White (football), Willyie White (track and field), Doug Williams (football), Billy Williams, Maury Wills, Jimmy Winkfield (horse racing) and Tiger Woods.

Now on to the list as we are now at number 70 and will end with number 61.

70-Andrew H “Jap” Payne
Born: December 6, 1879 Washington DC
Died: August 22, 1942 New York New York
Right Field/Center Field/Left Field/Third Base/Second Base/Shortstop
Philadelphia Giants (1902-1904), Cuban X Giants (1903), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1906,1914), Leland Giants, Chicago American Giants (191-1913), Chicago Giants (1913), NY Lincoln Stars (1914), Chicago Union Giants (1917), Grand Central Terminal Red Caps (1918-1919), Pennsylvania Red Caps of New York (1919), Philadelphia Giants of New York (1920-1922).

Payne played several positions during a career that lasted from 1902 until 1919. At one time or another, he played each outfield position and except for first base all the infield positions. He spent most of his time in center field and during the first two decades of the 20th century was thought to be one of the smarter players and best outfielders in black baseball.

He was a consistent hitter with better than average power. His base stealing abilities were great, and he was highly recommended as an outfielder with a strong throwing arm. Some of the media that provided the little coverage there was on black baseball thought there was no better outfielder at cutting a runner down at the plate than Andrew “Jap” Payne.

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd who was thought to be one of the greatest black ballplayers thought enough of Payne to pick him as one of his starting outfielders on Lloyd’s all-time best team.

Payne’s list of great teammates includes Charlie Grant, Grant Johnson, Rube Foster, Bill Monroe, Chappie Johnson, Pete Hill, Walter Ball, Bruce Petway, Frank Wickwire, Bill Pettus and “Smokey” Joe Williams.

69-Frank Duncan
Born: February 14, 1901 Kansas City Missouri
Died: December 4, 1973 Kansas City Missouri
Catcher/First Base/Outfielder
Bats Right/Throws Right
Peters’ Union Giants 1920, Chicago Giants (1920-1921), Kansas City Monarchs (1921-1934,1937, 1941-1947), NY Black Yankees (1931), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932), Homestead Grays (1932), New York Cubans (1935-1937), Chicago American Giants (1938,1940), Palmer House Stars (1939).

He was regarded as the top catcher in black baseball and the Negro Leagues during his playing time. He had one of the best throwing arms around and would routinely throw runners out that were trying to steal a base. His name was Frank Duncan and his career lasted from 1920 until 1937.

A good portion of that career was spent with the Kansas City Monarchs teams as he played with and caught some of the great pitchers like Satchel Paige, “Bullet” Joe Rogan, Chet Brewer, John Donaldson and Jose Mendez. That was a superb staff that need someone like Duncan behind the plate. Old timers tell of the time that the great Dizzy Dean personally went into a poolroom to get Duncan to catch for him in an exhibition game.

Duncan was no “Cool Papa” Bell when it came to running the bases but he ran with reckless abandon like Ty Cobb. He would hit line drives with a great consistency and was a great clutch hitter as well.

He was playing for the Swift Packing House team when he signed with the Union Giants in 1920. He was with the great Kansas City Monarch teams during the period from 1923 until 1925 when Kansas City won three consecutive pennants as well as the 1924 Negro World Series. He would leave Kansas City from time to time but always find his way back to the team.

Besides those great Monarch pitchers, he also played with John Beckwith, Walter Ball, Hurley McNair, Newt Allen, Eddie Dwight, Andy Cooper, Martin Dihigo, Alex Radcliff and Judy Johnson.

68-Harry “Green River” Buckner
Born: October 22, 1872(1876) Hopkinsville Kentucky
Died: March 26, 1938
Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Chicago Union Giants 1896-1898, Columbia Giants 1899-1900, Philadelphia Giants 1903, Cuban X Giants 1904-1905, Quaker Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1909-1910, NY Lincoln Giants 1911-1912, Smart Set 1912, Mohawk Giants 1913, Chicago Giants 1914-1918

One of black baseball’s early stars was Harry “Green River” Buckner. His career in baseball lasted from 1898 until 1918. He began his career in 1896 with the Chicago Unions where he stayed for three years and then he was with the Columbia Giants for two years. Frank Leland ended up combining he Union team and the Columbia Giants with Buckner opting to stay on the east coast.

Buckner was called a speed marvel ad was a very smart pitcher when he played. In fact, people of that era but Buckner in a select group of pitches with Dan McClellan, Walter Ball and Rube Foster. He also caught for awhile and played the infield when he was not pitching. In the statistic available he had a record of 41 wins and 33 losses. He had eight shutouts and struck out 255 batters. His career ERA was 2.92 in the games he pitched. Buckner was a pretty good judge of talent as he along with Rube Foster and Sol White discovered one of black baseball’s greats, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd.

67-William Thomas “Bill” Pettus
Born: August 13, 1884 Goliah County Texas
Died: August 25, 1929 New York, New York
First Base/Second Base/Third Base/Shortstop/Outfield
Bats Left/Throws Right
Kansas City Giants 1909, Chicago Giants 1910-1911, NY Lincoln Giants 1912, 1916-1920, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1913, NY Lincoln Stars 1914-1916, Philadelphia Giants 1916-1917, St Louis Giants 1917, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1917, 1921, Hilldale Daisies, G C T Red Caps 1918, Richmond Giants 1922, Harrisburg Giants

Pettus was a versatile player who could play every infield position as well as the outfield and catcher’s position in a career that lasted from 1909 until 1923. He played with some of the top teams of the era and always hit in the heart of the lineup, batting third or fourth. He was a left-handed power hitter and one of the best hitters in the deadball era of black baseball. He was also one of the most underrated players as well because of the way he could play any position. He also could steal bases when needed.

In 1910, Pettus hooked up with Frank Leland and the Chicago Giants taking with him one of he bet reputations as one of black baseball’s best catchers. He hit .385 for Leland and the Giants and after five seasons in Chicago he jumped ship to the Lincoln Giants of Jesse McMahon where he hit behind John “Pop” Lloyd in the batting order. The result for Pettus was a .357

He played with some of the greats of the game like Chappie Johnson, Joe Williams, Walter Ball, Pop Lloyd, Spotswood Poles, Louis Santop, Dick Redding, Oliver Marcelle, Dick Lundy and Nip Winters.

66-Hosley Scranton Scriptus “Scrip” Lee
Born: November 24, (29), 1899 (January 29, 1899) Washington DC
Died: February 13, 1974 Washington DC
Pitcher/First Base/Outfield
Bats Right/Throws Right
Norfolk Stars 1920-1921, Baltimore Black Sox 1922, 1929-1933, Hilldale Daisies 1923-1927, 1930, Richmond Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1933-1934, Philadelphia Giants 1926, Cleveland Red Sox 1934, Philadelphia Stars

“Scrip” Lee was best known as a pitcher in black baseball and the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1934. He was a submarine pitcher with a wide variety of pitches including a drop, screwball, knuckleball, fastball, changeup and his best pitch, a curveball. Because he threw submarine style or basically underhanded his curveball broke up and his fastball would break down making him a tough pitcher to hit.

As a youngster, he played baseball with broomsticks around his hometown. He went to school with a man who later went on to great fame as a musician, Duke Ellington. Lee was a pretty good football player as well and one time reportedly drop kicked a football 100 yards.

He joined up with the National Guard in 1916 and during World War I he was with the 372nd Infantry that was attached to the 157th French Brigade. While in France he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Future Hilldale Daisies pitcher Nip Winters thought Lee should tryout with the Chappie Johnson Norfolk Stars, and Lee made the club and signed a contract for $175 per month. Besides being a pretty good pitcher, he handled the bat pretty well especially when it came to bunting and the squeeze play. Lee played from 1921 until 1934 an in 1925 was a member of the Hilldale team that would win the Negro League World Series. Incomplete records show Lee with a record of 34 wins and 32 losses. When he retired from playing he umpired in the Negro National League through the 1943 season. He also drove taxi and worked for the Veteran’s Administration

65-Jonathan Boyce “Steel Arm Johnny” Taylor
Born: Anderson County, South Carolina August 12 1879
Died: March 25, 1956 Peoria Illinois
Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Birmingham Giants 1903-1909, St Paul Gophers 1909, Chicago Giants 1910, West Baden Sprudels 1910,1913, St Louis Giants 1911, NY Lincoln Giants 1912, Chicago American Giants 1913, Indianapolis ABCs 1914,1916,1920, Louisville Sox 1915, Bowser’s ABCs 1916, Hilldale Daisies 1917, Bacharach Giants 1919, Washington Potomacs 1924

“Steel Arm Johnny” Taylor was the second oldest of the Taylor brothers who had a career in black baseball and the Negro Leagues along with C.I., Ben and Candy Jim. His career as a player began in 1903 and ended in 1925. He acquired his nickname while pitching for Biddle University in Charlotte North Carolina and impressed a white sports writer who was amazed at the speed with which Talyor was throwing the ball.

During the 1899 and 1900 seasons he pitched for his hometown team in Anderson South Carolina winning 90% of the games he pitched in. He joined the Birmingham Giants in 1903 who were managed by his older brother C.I. Taylor. Over the next six years Taylor never had more than seven losses in a season, pitching between 30 and 40 games a year. He was also a good hitter and defensive player as well. His peers thought him to be a steady and smart pitcher who could paint the corners of the plate. He did all of this with a tremendous fastball and an equally impressive array of curveballs.

In a much talked about pitching match-up with Smokey Joe Williams in 1908, Taylor went into the ninth inning with a slim 1-0 lead. The bases became loaded and there were no outs. Taylor then calmly struck out the next here batters to win the ball game. In 1909 he had a record of 37 wins and six losses for the Birmingham Giants and St Paul Gophers. Taylor also coached in college and black baseball and showed that hard work and determination could make one a success. The list of greats he played with included C I Taylor, Frank Duncan, Candy Jim Taylor, Chappie Johnson, Bingo DeMoss, Ben Taylor, String Bean Williams, Oscar Charleston, Dave Malarcher, Frank Wickwire, Dizzy Dismukes and Biz Mackey.

64-Alexander Radcliffe
Born: July 26, 1905 Mobile Alabama
Died: July 18, 1983 (1981) Chicago Illinois
Third Base/Shortstop/Outfield/Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Chicago Giants 1927, Cole American Giants 1932-1935, New York Cubans 1936, Chicago American Giants 1936-1939, 1941-1944, 1949, Palmer House All Stars 1940, Birmingham Black Barons 1942, Cincinnati Indianapolis Clowns 1944-1945. Memphis Red Sox 1946, Detroit Senators 1947

The younger brother of Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Alexander played in the Negro Leagues from 1932 until 1947. He was picked for 11 East West All Star games which is a record. He holds the All-Star record for at bats with 50 and hits. He is tied for second with Josh Gibson in RBIs with nine. Radcliff is second to Buck Leonard in games played and runs scored.

He was a hard hitting third baseman for most of his career and could hit in the clutch very well. He could really pound a curveball and had power to all parts of the outfield. He was dependable in the hit and run and was just as well known for being a great fielder. His throwing arm was very strong and was at his best in front of large crowds.

The new Negro National League was formed in 1933 and Radcliffe hit .453 for the season. He hit .309 in 1934 and in 1935 hit for a .354 average. For all his good lay though he was still Double Duty Radcliffe’s younger brother.

Alexander Radcliffe played with the likes of Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, Quincey Trouppe, Willie Foster, Dave Malarcher, Frank Duncan, Martin Dihigo, Chet Brewer, Judy Johnson and Boo Jum Wilson.

63-Bill “Big Bill” Gatewood
Born: August 22, 1881, San Antonio Texas
Died: December 8, 1962 Columbia Missouri
Pitcher/First Base/Shortstop
Bats Right/Throws Right
Leland Giants 1906-1909, Chicago Giants 1911-1912, Chicago American Giants 1912, 1915, New York Lincoln Giants 1914, Cuban X Giants 1916, Philadelphia Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, St Louis Giants 1915-117, Indianapolis ABCs 1917, Detroit Stars 1920-1921, St Louis Stars 1922-1927, Toledo Tigers 1923, Milwaukee Bears 1923, Memphis Red Sox 1925, Bacharach Giants 1926, Albany Giants 1926, Birmingham Black Barons 1927-1928

Gatewood would have a career in black baseball/Negro Leagues from 1905 until 1928 playing with at least 15 teams during his career. He was a pitcher who could handle the bat as well and later went on to success as a manager. He was a master of the two toughest pitches to master the spitball and the emery ball and he was not the least bit bothered if he had to knock a batter down at the plate.

He had a subpar 1914 season (six wins eight losses) on the mound but a great season at the plate hitting for a .433 average. He was with the St Louis Stars n their first season in the Negro Leagues as a manager, when the Stars had a young pitching prospect who had a great deal of calmness on the mound when the pressure was on. One time the youngster faced the great Oscar Charleston in a clutch situation and the youngster responded by striking the great Charleston out. Gatewood gave the youngster the nickname “Cool” because that is what this prospect was on the mound. He later added the name “Papa” to his name and that is who the legendary James “Cool Papa” Bell got his nickname. Of course, it was Gatewood who also converted Bell from pitching prospect to a future Hall of Fame outfielder.

Gatewood’s list of great teammates included Harry Buckner, Chappie Johnson, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, Frank Duncan, Bill Monroe, Rube Foster, Jimmie Lyons, Frank Warfield, Bunny Downs, George Scales and of course “Cool Papa” Bell.

62-Christopher Columbus “Crush” Holloway
Born: September 16 (15), 1896 Hillsboro Texas
Died: June 24 1972 Baltimore Maryland
Right Field/Center Field
Bats Both/Throws Right
Indianapolis ABCs 1921-1923, Baltimore Black Sox 1924-1928,1931-1933, Hilldale Daisies 1929,1933 Detroit Stars 1930, New York Black Yankees 1932, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1934, Brooklyn Eagles 1935, Baltimore Elite Giants

Holloway was an outfielder in black baseball and the Negro Leagues from 1921 until 1939. His career began with the Indianapolis ABCs in 1921 under the watchful eye of C.I. Taylor. While on the bases he was regarded as a runner who had no qualms about slashing a base with his spikes high to scare or intimidate the infielder covering that base. He was very fast and aggressive and was very tough as he once threatened to bust a bat over the head of the equally tough Jud “BooJum” Wilson’s head if Wilson did not stop threatening an umpire. He was a consistent .300 hitter and he led the league in stolen bases a number of times.

Like the others of the time Holloway played with a very impressive list of teammates such as Ben and C.I. Taylor, Bi Mackey, Dizzy Dismukes, Jud Wilson, John Beckwith, Pete Hill, “Chippy” Britt, Dick Lundy, Scrip Lee, Martin Dihigo and Rap Dixon.

61-Herbert Albert “Rap” Dixon
Born: September 2, 1902, Kingston Georgia
Died: July 20, 1944, Detroit Michigan
Right Field/Center Field/Left Field/Third Base/Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Harrisburg Giants 1922-1928, Washington Potomacs 1924, Philadelphia Tigers 1928, Chicago American Giants 1926, 1930-1931, Baltimore Black Sox 1928-1931,1939, Hilldale Daisies 1931, Pittsburg Crawfords 1932, 1934, 1937, Washington Pilots 1932, Philadelphia Stars 1933, Brooklyn Eagles 1935, New York Cubans 1935, Homestead Grays 1936

Dixon was the type of player who had a great flair for the game of baseball. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he was one of the better power hitters in black baseball. He was not a guess hitter and was not easily intimidated at the plate if he was down in the count two strikes. He was also one of the better defensive outfielders in black baseball as he was blessed with good speed and range. He never had a problem in judging a fly ball and just did not make mistakes. His throwing arm was pretty good as well making him pretty much a five-tool player.

He was very smart when it came to hitting and would hit for both average and power. For the 1929 Baltimore Black Sox Dixon hit .432 with 16 home runs, 25 stolen bases and a .784 slugging percentage. In league play he finished with a .340 career batting average and would also hit .326 in exhibition games against the major league teams.

In 1922 he began with the Harrisburg Giants hitting right behind Oscar Charleston in the batting order. In his first year hitting behind Charleston he hit .357 and hit .358 in his second year of hitting behind Charleston.

Dixon’s list of great teammates included besides Charleston was Crush Holloway, Fats Jenkins, Ben Taylor, Jud Wilson, Biz Mackey, Dick Lundy, Webster McDonald, Cool Papa Bell, Sam Bankhead and Chet Brewer.

 

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.