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Legends On Deck

The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (80-71)

This time it is ESPN who picked the list of the 100 greatest players of all-time. What will follow is my choices for numbers 80-71 of the 100 greatest black baseball/Negro League players. As you will see in this and the following columns almost all of the players were good and certainly deserving of more recognition than what has been given to them. The ESPN list was chosen in 2013….ENJOY

ESPN’S Hall of 100 (2013)

Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Roger Clemens, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Rickey Henderson, Rogers Hornsby, Mike Schmidt, Cy Young, Joe Morgan, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, Alex Rodriguez, Tris Speaker, Steve Carlton, Johnny Bench, Jimmie Foxx, Christy Mathewson, Albert Pujols, George Brett, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr, Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey Jr, Nolan Ryan, Mel Ott, Pete Rose, Eddie Mathews, Carl Yastrzemski, Pedro Martinez, Eddie Collins, Brooks Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Al Kaline, Miguel Cabrera, Lefty Grove, Nap Lajoie, Chipper Jones, Grover Alexander, Mariano Rivera, Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Willie McCovey, Robin Yount, Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn, Fergie Jenkins, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Murray, Gaylord Perry, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Juan Marichal, Ivan Rodriguez, Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, John Smoltz, Carlton Fisk, Paul Molitor, Mike Piazza, Robin Roberts, Charlie Gehringer, Duke Snider, Kid Nichols, Mark McGwire, Willie Stargell, Manny Ramirez, Gary Carter, Frankie Frisch, Cap Anson, Jim Palmer, Craig Biggio, Paul Waner, Tom Glavine, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Tim Raines, Ron Santo, Joe Cronin, Al Simmons, Phil Niekro.

Certainly there are some great ballplayers here on this list and they have obviously worked hard to get this. But why at the very least is there no Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson. It would seem that there should be don’t you think? Anyways here are my choices for numbers 80 through 71.

80-Francis Xavier “The Weasel” Warfield
Born: 1895 Indianapolis Indiana
Died: July 24, 1932 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Shortstop/Second base/Third base/Outfield
Bats Right/Throws Right
St Louis Giants (1914-1916), Indianapolis ABCs (1915, 1917-1918), Bowser’s ABCs (1916), Dayton Marcos (1919), Detroit Stars (1919-1922), Kansas City Monarchs (1921), Hilldale Daisies (1923-1928), Baltimore Black Sox (1929-1931), Washington Pilots (1932)

In every aspect of the game, Warfield was an outstanding player. His range was great and he had a great arm that he used to make underhanded snap throws which really helped when making a double pay. Warfield was a good contact hitter and very skilled with the hit and run. He was able to leg out a number of hits because of his speed running the bases. For four seasons of winter baseball in Cuba, Warfield had a .304 batting average.

Some people thought that Warfield was quiet and unassuming, but in reality he was an intense competitor with a short temper. As an example, once during some off time during the seasons in Cuba, he was involved in a dice game with other players. He asked a teammate, Oliver “the Ghost” Marcelle, if he could borrow five dollars. Marcelle refused and an argument ensued and Warfield ended up biting off part of Marcelle’s nose.

He was a smart ballplayer and an intelligent player which helped later on in his career when he managed. It was Warfield who managed the Hilldale team to pennants in 1924 and 1925 and a World Series title in 1925.

Some of his teammates included, Candy Jim Taylor, Ben Taylor, Steel Arm Johnny Taylor, C I Taylor, Bill Gatewood, String Bean Williams, Bruce Petway, Preston “Pete” Hill, Andy Cooper, Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey and Louis Santop

79-Jesse “Nip” Winters
Born: 1899 Washington DC
Died: December of 1971 Hockessin Delaware
Pitcher/First Base/Outfield
Bats Left/Throws Left
Norfolk Stars (1919-1921), Baltimore Black Sox (1920,1929), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1921-1922,1931-1933), Washington Braves (1921), Hilldale Daisies (1922-1928, 1931), NY Lincoln Giants (1928-1929), Homestead Grays (1928), Newark Browns (1931), Washington Pilots (1932), Philadelphia Stars (1933), Harrisburg Giants

Simply put, Jesse “Nip” Winters was the best pitcher in the Eastern Colored League. He had a great fastball that complimented an outstanding curve ball. However, early on in his career he was a bit on the wild side. The first three years of the Eastern Colored League, he was a great help with the Hilldale Daisies who won three straight pennants (1923-1925) as well as the World Series title in 1925.

Against competition in 1923, he had a record of 32 wins and six losses. Then in league play in 1924 he was 19-5 and in 1925 he finished 21-10. In the 1924 World Series he pitched four complete games including a shutout and recorded three wins along with a 1.16 ERA. He had a record of 15 wins five losses (1926) and 14 wins eight losses in 1927.

He was a good hitter as well and would sometimes either pinch hit or play first base. For a number of years he hit over .300 and was a mainstay in exhibition games against major league competition where he would more than hold his own.

Winters played with the likes of Bill Pettus, Olive Marcelle, Dick Lundy, “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Pop Lloyd, “Fats” Jenkins, Frank Warfield, Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, Rap Dixon, Walter Cannady, Martin Dihigo, Sammy Hughes, Mule Suttles and Webster McDonald.

78-Elvis William “Bill” Holland
Born: February 2, 1901 Indianapolis Indiana
Died New York New York
Pitcher
Bats Both/Throws Right
Detroit Stars (1920-1922), Chicago American Giants (1921), NY Lincoln Giants (1923-1924, 1927-1930), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1925-1927), Hilldale Daisies (1927), Harlem Stars (1931), New York Black Yankees (1932-1941), Philadelphia Stars (1941)

Bill Holland was a pitcher in black baseball/Negro Leagues from 1920-1941. He was a right hander whose specialty pitch was the fastball. However he could also throw a curveball, a drop, a changeup and an emery ball. On June 10, 1930 he became the first black man to pitch in Yankee Stadium. His first year in black baseball was 1920 and he finished the year with a record of 17 wins and only two losses. He went through a couple of mediocre seasons and after a season in Cuba he would work himself into great pitching form.

During the course of two years in the Cuban Leagues and 17 seasons in the Negro Leagues, he totaled 95 wins and 85 losses for a .528 winning percentage (this figure is probably more but remember there was a lack of accurate statistical data kept). He appeared in 223 games completing 137 of them with four shutouts. He also had 883 strikeouts and a 3.50 career ERA.

He was considered the staff ace of the NY Black Yankees and was selected for the 1939 East/West All Star game. He also played with the following men who would go on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York. There was Ben Taylor, “Pete” Hill, Andy Cooper, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

77-Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
Born: 1896 Atchison Kansas
Died: 1966 Cleveland Ohio
Outfield/Catcher/Second Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Kansas City Monarchs (1922-1924), Baltimore Black Sox (1925-1926), Harrisburg Giants (1929), Cleveland Tigers (1928), Memphis Red Sox (1928-1933)

Oscar “Heavy” Johnson played in the Negro Leagues from 122 to 1933 as an outfielder, catcher and second baseman. He carried 250 pounds on his six foot frame and swung a very heavy bat that he used together with his weight to generate power at the plate when he batted. Jocko Conlan who later went on to a Hall of Fame career as an umpire said Oscar Johnson was a threat to hit it out of any ballpark he played in.

He was with the 25th Infantry Battalion team while in the service and was a catcher until the Kansas City Monarchs signed Dobie Moore and Joe Rogan and then Johnson converted to the outfield. In one season in Cuba Johnson played in just 15 games and had a .370 batting average. The records show that in seven Negro League seasons Johnson played in 366 games and had 502 hits including 93 doubles, 40 triples and 44 home runs. He drove in 336 runs, scored 254 runs and had a .379 batting average for the seasons recorded. That included both 1922 and 1923 when Johnson batted .406 during both campaigns.

His slugging power is what kept him in the lineup. In fact there is a story that Johnson was asleep on the bench and was roused from his sleep to pinch hit which he did, stroking a home run. For his entire Negro League career he compiled a .337 batting average.

76-Hurley Allen “Bugger” McNair
Born: October 28, 1888 Marshall Texas
Died: December 2, 1948 Kansas City Missouri
Right Field/Center Field/Left Field/Pitcher
Bats Both/Throws Right
Chicago Giants (1911-1912), Chicago Union Giants (1914,1916), Chicago American Giants (1915-1916), All Nations (1917), Detroit Stars (1919), Kansas City Monarchs (1920-1927, 1934), Gilkerson Union Giants (1930-1931), Cincinnati Tigers (1937)

Hurley McNair’s career in black baseball/Negro Leagues lasted from 1911 until 1937. He played mostly on independent teams early on his career before he became a star in the 1920’s with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League.

He was a solid hitter consistently batting right around the .300 mark for the eight seasons he played with the Monarchs. He had a good batting eye and was very confident in his batting. Nothing bothered him and he would calmly and routinely take two strikes and then get a hit. The pressure of the game did not bother him and he was also a good baserunner.

During his 15 seasons in black baseball/Negro Leagues he had 990 hits that included 129 doubles, 69 triples and 45 home runs. He scored 488 runs and had 243 runs batted in to go with a .318 batting average. McNair was the first player ever in Monarchs history to get five hits in a game. For his career he hit .321 which is 15th best all-time. Twice he was the league leader in triples, doubles and walks and also led the league in total bases, hits and on base percentage.

He began his pro career with the Chicago Giants in 1911 before moving to the Brooklyn Royal Giants. He was on a number of teams before at the age of 31 when he became a star with the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1920 he led the Negro Leagues in doubles (20) and triples (8). The 1921 season saw him as the hits leader (131) while tying three others with 20 doubles. He played steady for the Monarchs as they defeated the Hilldale Daisies in the first Negro Leagues World Series in 1924. During the 1925 season he hit .365 and tied for the league lead in triple with 13 in what turned out to be his last big year in baseball.

He retired as a player and then became an umpire in the Negro American League. It was McNair who taught Willie “El Diablo” Wells how to hit the curveball which made Wells all that better of a player.

75-McKinley “Bunny” Downs
Born: March 7, 1894 Chattanooga Tennessee
Died: June 30, 1993 Winston Salem North Carolina
Second Base/Shortstop/Third Base/First Base/Outfield
Bats Right/Throws Right
West Baden Sprudels (1915), Louisville Sox (1915), St Louis Giants (1916), Indianapolis ABCs (1916), Hilldale Daisies (1917-1922), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1918, 1923), Lincoln Giants (1920), Richmond Giants (1923), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1923, 1925), Harrisburg Giants (1925), Philadelphia Tigers (1926, 1928), Chappie Johnson All-Stars (1927) Brooklyn Cuban Giants, Ethiopian Clowns (1942), Cincinnati Clowns (1943), Indianapolis Clowns manager (1952-1955)

Downs career in baseball lasted from 1916 until 1928 and then later on he managed a number of teams. He was a hustler on the field, who got the most out of the talent he had. He was a good bunter and excelled at the hit and run play. Because of his skills he usually batted in the number two spot in the batting order to better utilize his skills.

He was light complexioned, and it has been alleged but never proven that he also had played in the major leagues.  He was a pretty good double play combination when paired with Dick Lundy when the men were teammates on the Bacharach Giants. Downs was an excellent fielder and an average baserunner, but was a valued member of any team he was on because of the skills he possessed.

Downs was recognized as one of the best second baseman around in the game right up until he retired in 1928. After retiring as a player he scouted and developed talent including Hank Aaron, who became a pretty good ballplayer himself.

76-Wabishaw “Doc” Wiley
Born: February 1, 1892 Muskogee Oklahoma
Died: Essex County Virginia
Catcher/First Base/Outfield/Pitcher
Bats Right, Throws Right
West Baden Sprudels (1910), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1911-1912, 1918), Mohawk Giants (1913), NY Lincoln Giants (1913-1924), Philadelphia Giants (1918)

Wiley was one of the best catchers of his era between 1910 and 1924. One of his early career highlights was when he hit for a .380 average with the NY Lincoln Giants, a team loaded with such talent as Pop Lloyd, Spotswood Poles, Louis Santop, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Joe Williams and “Cannonball” Dick Redding. The owner of the team Jesse McMahon felt his team could beat any team in either the American or National Major Leagues.

Wiley’s career began under the watchful eye of C I Taylor and the West Baden Sprudels. The biggest part of the rest of Wiley’s career was spent with the New York Lincoln Giants. During the 1914 season he hit over .400 and was shifted to the number three spot in the batting order. He was a smart catcher and very skilled at handling pitchers. He also was a good clutch hitter, who had power in the heart of the lineup.

Besides that West Baden Sprudels team he played with some other of the superstars of the era like Frank Wickwire, Chappie Johnson, Bill Pettus and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins.

73-George “Chappie” Johnson
Born: 1876 Bellaire Ohio
Died: August 17, 1949 Clemson South Carolina
Catcher/First Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Page Fence Giants (1896-1898), Chicago Columbia Giants (1899-1900), Chicago Union Giants (1901-1902), Cuban X Giants (1903), Algona Iowa Browns (1903), Philadelphia Giants (1904,1906), Renville Minnesota (1905), St Paul Gophers (1907-1909), Leland Giants (1909), Chicago Giants (1910), St Louis Giants (1911-1912), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1912), Mohawk Giants (1913-1914), Dayton Chappies (1917), Custer’s Baseball Club of Columbus, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1919), Philadelphia Royal Stars, Norfolk Stars (1919-1921), Pennsylvania Red Caps of New York, Chappie Johnson All-Stars (1925-1927).

George “Chappie” Johnson’s professional playing career lasted from 1896 until 1919 as a catcher and a first baseman. He was a good handler of pitchers and one of the best catchers in the game for the first two decades of the 20th century. He signed on with the Page Fence Giants in 1896 and was offered the fulltime catcher’s job in only his third season of baseball after also playing left field and first base. After the dissolution of the Page Fence Giants, a new team in Chicago, the Columbia Giants was organized with Johnson as the catcher. While on that team Johnson along with pitcher Lefty Wilson formed a battery that was second to none for that era. He and Wilson also teamed up to take the team from Renville Minnesota to the state title in 1905.

Johnson had the ability to work with young players which in turn led him to become a coach and a leader. For the 1911 season he hooked up with the St Louis Stars, playing with the famous Taylor brothers (Steel Arm Johnny and Ben) which only increased Johnson’s reputation of being a great handler of pitching staffs.

As for some of the players that Johnson played with during his career there was Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Harry Buckner, Charlie Grant, Sol White, Pete Hill, Bill Monroe, Rube Foster, Frank Grant, Bill Pettus, Joe Williams, Walter Ball, Pop Lloyd, Spotswood Poles, Frank Wickwire and Dick Redding.

72-William McKinley “Sug” Cornelius
Born: September 3, 1906 Atlanta Georgia
Died: October 10, 1989 Chicago Illinois
Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Nashville Elite Giants (1928-1929), Memphis Red Sox (1929-1931), Birmingham Black Barons (1930), Cole’s American Giants (1933-1935), Kansas City Monarchs (1937), Chicago American Giants (1936-1943,1945-1946), Cincinnati Buckeyes (1942).

This man was a crafty right handed pitcher with great control. Cornelius had a fantastic curveball and it was said he could throw around a barrel. He also had in his wide array of pitches a fastball, hard slider, screwball, drop and a changeup. He had such confidence in his curveball that it did not bother him to throw it when the count was in the favor of the batter.

He had his best season in the Negro Leagues in 1936 when he posted a record of 20 wins and four losses while pitching for the Chicago American Giants. He appeared in the East West All-Star game three times. As a sidebar for some reason in 1937 he did not make the All-Star team despite having won 22 games during the season.

71-Larry “Iron Man” Brown
Born: September 5, 1905 Pratt City Alabama
Died: April 7, 1972 Memphis Tennessee
Catcher
Bats Both/Throws Right
Birmingham Black Barons (1919), Indianapolis ABCs (1921-1923), Pittsburgh Keystones (1922), Memphis Red Sox (1923-1925,1927-1929, 1931, 1938-1948), Detroit Stars (1926), Chicago American Giants (1927,1929,1940), NY Lincoln Giants (1930), Harlem Stars (1931), NY Black Yankees (1932), Cole’s American Giants (1932-1935), Philadelphia Stars.

Larry “Iron Man” Brown had a career in black baseball and the Negro Leagues that lasted from 1919 until 1949. He was regarded as n outstanding catcher with a quick release and his throwing arm was the envy of every catcher in the league. It did not matter whether he was smothering a ball in the dirt or catching a pop fly, he was one of the best, despite the fact that when catching a pop fly, he kept his catcher’s mask on.

He was also a hit with the fans as he was conscientious and a very hard worker behind the plate. He acquired the nickname “Iron Man” in 1930 when he caught 234 games for the NY Lincoln Giants. He was a smart player and possessed some fantastic defensive skills, which led him to be a successful manager after his playing career had ended. His value to a team was immeasurable and he was selected to six All-Star teams and on three championship teams as well. He won his first title in 1927 when he put a stop to the Bacharach Giants running game when he threw out four runners in eight steal attempts during the championship series. Brown won another title in 1933 when the Chicago American Giants won the Negro National pennant. He was selected as a starter for the West squad in the first two East West All-Star games.

According to legend but not confirmed, it was said that Brown threw out Ty Cobb on five successive steal attempts by the “Georgia Peach”. This so impressed Cobb that he (Cobb) tried to pass off Brown as a light skinned Cuban so he could play in the major leagues.

Brown’s list of former teammates include Willie Foster, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Chino Smith, Walt Cannady, Pop Lloyd, Fats Jenkins, Turkey Stearnes, John Beckwith, Jud Wilson and Webster McDonald.

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.