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Legends On Deck

The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (90-81)

Here is part two of our Top 100 Negro League Ball Players series, and as with Part 1 (100-91), there will be a list to compare the choices with. This list was put out by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). So, without any further ado here is SABR’s list of the Top 100 baseball players that were chosen in 1999. As with the first list it starts with number one and goes to number 100.

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Mickey Mantle, Christy Mathewson, Jimmie Foxx, Warren Spahn, Mike Schmidt, Bob Gibson, Cy Young, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Tris Speaker, Frank Robinson, Grover Alexander, Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Steve Carlton, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Lefty Grove, Roger Clemens, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, Nap Lajoie, Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux, Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott, Cal Ripken Jr, Nolan Ryan, Carl Yastrzemski, Charlie Gehringer, Roy Campanella, Pete Rose, Eddie Collins, Mickey Cochrane, Rod Carew, Joe Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr, Whitey Ford, George Sisler, Ozie Smith, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Al Kaline, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Willie McCovey, Bill Dickey, Dennis Eckersley, Barry Bonds, Al Simmons, Reggie Jackson, Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew, Pie Traynor, Paul Waner, Frankie Frisch, Lou Brock, Dizzy Dean, Mordecai Brown, Rollie Fingers, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bill Terry, Robin Yount, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Robin Roberts, Joe Cronin, Ed Walsh, Luke Appling, Johnny Mize, Luis Aparicio, Ralph Kiner, Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann, Carlton Fisk, Willie Stargell, Eddie Plank, Kirby Puckett, Fergie Jenkins, Rube Waddell, Ryne Sandberg, Addie Joss and Joe Medwick.

Now here is the all-time list of the Top 100 Negro League ball players beginning with number 90 and ending with number 81.

90-Chester Brooks
Born: May 14, 1900, Nassau Bahamas
Died: July 21, 1969, Oneonta, New York
Center field/Right field/Second Base/Pitcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Brooklyn Royal Giants

Chester Brooks played with the Brooklyn Royal Giants from 1918 to 1933 as an outfielder, second baseman and if necessary as a pitcher. He was a much under publicized player who was one of the best players of his era. He was a strong hitter and very consistent at the plate. Brooks was discovered by Rube Foster and signed as a pitcher. He ended up hurting his arm and was then converted to the outfield. During his career he played with Louis Santop, Dick Lundy, Joe Williams, Pop Lloyd, Oliver Marcelle, John Donaldson, Dick Redding, Bunny Downs, Chino Smith and Dick Seay.

89-Charlie “Chief Tokahoma” Grant
Born: August 31, 1874, Cincinnati Ohio
Died: July 9, 1932, Cincinnati Ohio
Second Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Page Fence Giants (1896), Columbia Giants (1899-1901), Cuban X Giants (1903, 1906), Philadelphia Giants (1904-1906,1913), New York Black Sox (1910), NY Lincoln Stars Quaker Giants (1909), Cincinnati Stars (1914-1916)

Grant was one of black baseballs early greats playing from 1896 until 1916. He was a light skinned black man with straight hair working as a bellboy in Hot Springs Arkansas when he was noticed by legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw. McGraw tried passing Grant off as Charlie Tokahoma, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. That plan fell through when Charles Comiskey, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, identified Grant as a second baseman in the black baseball leagues. Grant was a great fielder and a good hitter and an asset to any team he was on and would have been just as great an asset to any major league team he could have played on. Grant retired from baseball and moved back to Cincinnati finding work as a janitor in an apartment building. He passed away in 1932 after being struck by a car.

88-Cowan “Bubba” Hyde
Born: April 10, 1908, Pontotoc Mississippi
Died: November 20, 2003, St Louis Missouri
Second base/Left field/Center Field/Right field
Bats right/Throws Right
Memphis Red Sox (1924,1927, 1938-1950), Birmingham Black Barons (1930), Indianapolis Athletics (1937), Cincinnati Tigers (1937), Mexican League (1940), Palmer House All-Stars (1940), minor leagues (1949-1954), Chicago American Giants (1950-1951), Canadian League (1951)

Hyde was a second baseman as well as someone who could play either of the three outfield positions. He had great speed, was a good base stealer and could run as fast as anyone in baseball. Because he was such a good hitter and a fast base runner, he would usually bat in the number one spot in the batting order. He did not walk a lot and if he was not hitting in the leadoff spot, he would hit in the number two or the number three spot in the order. He sometimes raced and beat horses in races around the base paths. He played for a few years in the minor leagues but made his mark in the Negro Leagues where he played for 15 seasons. His good baseball skills made him someone the younger players could look up to.

87-Edward Joseph “Eddie” Dwight
Born: February 25, 1905, Dalton Georgia
Died: November 27, 1975 Kansas City Kansas
Center field/Infield/Second Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Kansas City Monarchs (1925-1929,1933-1937), Indianapolis ABCs (1932)

Eddie “Pee Wee” or “Flash” Dwight played in the Negro Leagues from 1925 until 1937, playing both second base and center field. He was exceptionally speedy as an outfielder and his ability to steal bases ranks him right up there with the legendary James “Cool Papa” Bell. Dwight did not have a lot of power, but was a contact hitter who bunted well and was a good man to have up to put on the hit and run play. He was also a pretty good fielder but had only an average arm. He did appear in the 1936 Negro League All Star Game. Statistics available show him with 610 at bats and 181 hits. He only had a .248 batting average but was a good man to have in the leadoff spot in the batting order. On a personal note in 1962 Dwight’s son became the first black American selected for astronaut training by NASA. Dwight’s son was also a sculptor and was the artist who designed and made the statue of Hank Aaron located outside of Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.

86-William Bell Sr
Born: August 31, 1897, Galveston, Texas
Died: March 16, 1969, El Campo Texas
Pitcher/Outfielder
Bats Right/Throws Right
Kansas City Monarchs (1923-1930), Harlem Stars (1931), Detroit Wolves (1932), Homestead Grays (1932), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-1935), Newark Dodgers (1935), Newark Eagles (1936-1937)

Bell played in the Negro Leagues from 1923 until 1937, primarily as a pitcher and an outfielder. He had a good fastball that would move around as well as a good curveball and slider. He had excellent control and was good in the clutch as well as being the workhorse of the staff during the 1924 and 1925 championship years of the Kansas City Monarchs. During the winter of 1928-1929 he played with Havana of the Cuban League and was tied for the league lead in wins with Dolf Luque, both with nine victories. The Negro National League met its demise in 1932 and Bell joined the Detroit Wolves who were absorbed by the Homestead Grays. Later in 1932, Bell signed with the Grays rivals, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, finishing the year with 16 wins and only four losses. Because he mastered the fastball, curveball and changeup he was a good teacher for younger pitchers. For a pitcher he was also a pretty decent hitter. Bell played with some of the greats of the Negro Leagues like “Bullet” Joe Rogan, Jose Mendez, Newt Allen, Andy Cooper, Chet Brewer, James “Cool Papa” Bell, William “Judy” Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Jimmie Crutchfield and Satchel Paige.

85-William “El Maestro” Byrd
Born: July 15, 1907, Canton Georgia
Died: January 4, 1991, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Pitcher/First Base/Center Field
Bats Both/Throws Right
Columbus Turfs (1932), Columbus Blue Birds (1933), Cleveland Red Sox (1934), Homestead Grays (1934), Columbus Elite Giants (1935), Washington Elite Giants (1936-1937), Baltimore Elite Giants (1938-1939, 1941-1950), Venezuelan League (1940)

Byrd was one of the last pitchers in the Negro Leagues to legally throw the spitball. While he was on the mound he was a picture of steady dominance. He had a lot of stamina and was regarded as a workhorse. But it was not just the spitball that made Byrd a tough pitcher. He had excellent control of a variety of pitches that included a knuckleball, slider, curveball and of course a fastball. He was so well known for his spitball that he would often fake as though he was going to throw it and then throw something else to take the batter completely out of his game. He became sort of a surrogate parent to the younger pitchers on the club and acquired the nickname of “Daddy”. In league play between 1932 and 1949 Byrd had a winning percentage of over .600 and was a perennial member of the East team in the East West All-Star game. In fact, the only two pitchers who appeared in the game more than Byrd were Leon Day and Hilton Smith. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Scrip Lee, Sammy Hughes, Biz Mackey, Henry Kimbro and Roy Campanella were some of the stars that were Byrd’s teammates.

84-George Stovey
Born: 1866, Williamsport Pennsylvania
Died: March 22, 1936 Williamsport Pennsylvania
Pitcher/Outfielder
Bats Left/Throws Left
Cuban Giants (1886,1888-1891,1893), minor leagues (1886-1887), NY Gorhams (1891), Cuban X Giants Brooklyn Colored Giants (1896)

George Stovey had a short but spectacular career in black baseball from 1886 to 1896. Many thought this native of Pennsylvania was the best African American pitcher of the 19th century. He moved around the minor leagues and because of the actions of men like Hall of Famer Cap Anson, he lost all oppurtunities to play in the minors. Anson just flat out refused to play on the same field as a black man and was not shy about saying so. In the minor leagues he played with the 1886 Eastern League Jersey City Jackals, the 1887 Newark Little Giants of the International League and the 1888 Worcester Grays of the New England League. Stovey then played with the Middle States League’s Trenton Cuban Giants and the New York Gorhams in the 1889 season before moving to the Troy Trojans of the New York State League in 1890. He played with the Ansonia team of the Connecticut State League and in 1897 with the Williamsport Demorest Bicycle Boys Club of the Central Pennsylvania League. He was effective with his delivery and at holding runners close to the base because of his great pick off move. He was the first black player to play in New Jersey and in that season, he won 30 games while holding his opponents to a .167 batting average. He also played with many of the greats in his career like Sol White, Cannonball Miller, Bud Fowler and Hall of Famer Frank Grant.

83-Charles “Chino” Smith
Born: September 24, 1901, Greenwood South Carolina
Died: January 15, 1932
Outfield/Second Base
Bats Left/Throws Right
Philadelphia Giants (1924), Pennsylvania Red Caps (1925), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1925-1927, 1931), NY York Lincoln Giants (1929-1930)

Charles “Chino” Smith had a short but spectacular career (6 years) in the Negro Leagues. In those six years he played both the outfield and second base. He passed away before he was 30 years old and he was not a scary figure in terms of size, but he was one of the most feared hitters in the Negro Leagues. Satchel Paige he was one of the best hitters he had ever faced. He had a career batting average of .434 putting him in first place by more than 50 points over Larry Doby. Smith started in the outfield with the Brooklyn Royal Giants and then was moved to second base. In 1927 he hit .435 placing him first in the Eastern Colored League. He hit .464 for the NY Lincoln Giants in the American Negro League and also led that league in doubles (27) and home runs (23) with the second place men being Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston and Martin Dihigo. He was another of the players who played with a virtual who’s who in the Negro Leagues. He played with Martin Dihigo, Jud Wilson, Alejandro Oms, Walter Cannady, Pop Lloyd, Fats Jenkins, “Turkey” Stearnes, John Beckwith and Dick Seay. He acquired the nickname “Chino” because the slant of his eyes gave Smith the look of an Oriental. It makes one wonder who good he would have played if he had had a full career

82-Jimmie Lyons
Born: November 6, 1892, Chicago Illinois
Died: October 10, 1963, Chicago Illinois
Left Field/Center Field/Right Field/Pitcher
Bats Left/Throws Right
St Louis Giants (1910-1912,1915-1917,1919), NY Lincoln Giants (1911), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1914), Indianapolis ABCs (1915-1918), Bowser’s ABCs (1916), Jewell’s ABCs (1917), Chicago Giants (1917), Detroit Stars (1920), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1920), Chicago American Giants (1921-1925), Washington Potomacs (1924), Cleveland Browns (1924), Louisville Black Caps (1932)

Jimmie Lyons career lasted from 1910 until 1932 and people of the era he played in said he was one of the fastest men to eve wear a baseball uniform. Lyons was an expert when it came to drag bunting and he was also a pretty good hitter. If he was on base, he would take a very long lead and rarely if ever was picked off or thrown out trying to steal. He played in a church league when he was younger before signing with the St Louis Giants. H late played with the NY Lincoln Giants and he was paired with Spotswood Poles in the outfield, for one of the fastest outfield combinations in baseball, black or white. Lyons played in Cuba as well to hone his game and in 1914 when he was with the Brooklyn Royal Giants he had a .375 batting average. In 1918 he was in an outfield with George Shively and Oscar Charleston which is a tremendous amount of talent in one outfield. Lyons played baseball while in the service and one of the people he played against was Ty Cobb’s brother who reportedly said that Lyons played better than Ty Cobb himself. His list of teammates included Chappie Johnson, Walter Ball, Dizzy Dismukes, Spotswood Poles, Bill Pettus, Louis Santop, Joe Williams, Dick Redding, George Shively, Ben Taylor, Dave Malarcher, Oscar Charleston, Candy Jim Taylor, John Donaldson, Floyd “Jelly” Gardner, Bingo DeMoss, John Beckwith and Cristobal Torriente.

81-Cornelius “The Shadow” Robinson
Born: July 7, 1908, Grand Rapids Michigan
Died: July 23, 1983, Cincinnati Ohio
Center Field/Left Field/Shortstop/Third Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Homestead Grays (1934), Cincinnati Tigers (1936-1937), Memphis Red Sox (1938-1952)

Cornelius “The Shadow” Robinson played in the Negro Leagues as an outfielder and infielder between 1934 and 1952. He played in eight of the 11 East West All Star games between 1938 and 1948 while a member of the Memphis Red Sox. His batting average against the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues was .476 and he had an .810 slugging percentage. He hit two home runs in the East West games and the only man to hit more was the legendary Buck Leonard. During the 1939 season Robinson had 54 home runs against all competition and at the end of July 1940 he had 35 home runs. The rest of the data from 1940 has not been found so it is not known how many home runs he hit for that season. He consistently generated power with his free-swinging approach at the plate although he did strike out a lot. However, it was his power that kept him in a lineup. He was a good fielder with a strong throwing arm and he also had good speed on the bases. When he was with the Homestead Grays he played with the great Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson as well as Ray Brown.

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to minor league and major league baseball games since 1967. He has been to numerous major league and minor league parks and describes himself as a "baseball fan" who likes the Yankees. He enjoys researching, writing and reading about about baseball and will talk for hours on end about his favorite sport.
He is in love with the history of the game, having written three books about his beloved sport. They are "Baseball in the Bay State" a history of baseball in the state of Massachusetts. Then he wrote Gehrig:Game by Game, a history of all of the major league ballgames including All Star games and World Series games as well as regular season that the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig played in. The third book "Baseball in the Berkshires" a history of baseball in Berkshire County co written with three others, Tom Daley, Jim Overmyer and Larry Moore. As a result of this book Larkin and the other three gentlemen have put together a museum exhibit that is now permanently housed at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro Massachusetts.
Larkin also does fact checking and writing for the Society for American Baseball Research or SABR and has had numerous articles published there as well.
He lives in Great Barrington Massachusetts, in the heart of Red Sox country and is involved in a number of projects. He also is a security guard at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington after having been a police officer for 24 years in his home town