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Legends On Deck

Lou and Joe Against Biz and Judy: 1936 New York Yankees vs. 1925 Hilldale Club

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Many consider the 1927 Yankees to be one of the greatest teams of all-time, and a case certainly can be made for them. But as we saw in this fantasy series they were beaten in a one game playoff in the first round of the Pre-Integration series by the 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords. Others also consider the 1936 Yankees to be another of the all-time great teams, and in this round the 1936 Yankees will be taking on the 1925 Hilldale Club, considered to be one of the greatest teams in black baseball/Negro Leagues history.

Managing the 1936 Yankees was their Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy, who during his managerial tenure that lasted 24 years won 9 pennants and 7 World Series titles with the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox. His starting lineup for this series would include catcher Bill Dickey, 1st baseman Lou Gehrig, 2nd baseman Tony Lazzeri, shortstop Frank Crosetti and 3rd baseman Red Rolfe rounding out the infield. In the outfield for New York would be George Selkirk, Jake Powell and Joe DiMaggio. McCarthy would have to choose from Red Ruffing, Monte Pearson, Johnny Broaca, Lefty Gomes and Bump Hadley.

The 1925 Hilldale Club, known as the Daisies would have Frank Warfield as player/manager and they would send up catcher Biz Mackey, 1st baseman George Carr, player/manager Warfield at 2nd base, Jake Stephens at shortstop and “Judy” Johnson rounding out the infield at 3rd base. The Hilldale’s outfield would consist of Clint Thomas, George Johnson and Otto Briggs. Warfield would be able to pick from Nip Winters, Reuben Curry, Phil Cockrell, Scrip Lee and Red Ryan to face a real tough Yankee lineup.

The first matchup of the day pits Bill Dickey versus Raleigh “Biz” Mackey. Dickey during the 1936 season hit 22 home runs, had 107 RBIs and hit for a .362 average. While manning the tools of ignorance behind the plate he had 14 errors in 574 chances for a .976 fielding percentage. He was later elected to the Hall of Fame and was pivotal in molding the great Yogi Berra into one of the best catchers the game ever had. “Raleigh “Biz” Mackey may have been as good if not better than Josh Gibson in the ranks of all-time great black baseball catchers. Mackey was an incredibly talented catcher with fantastic defensive skills. He was renowned for his deadly accurate throwing arm. He was barely literate but possessed a wealth of baseball knowledge. It was said the ballpark was his classroom. He was a switch hitter and a dangerous batter to face. Records unearthed show him hitting over .400 twice between 1924 and 1931. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006. In a real tough opening matchup, both teams have great catchers and teachers. This one is a tie no team holds a distinct advantage.

Biz Mackey – Image Source: Philadelphiabaseballreview.com

First base for the Yankees in 1936 was the great “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig. It is well known how good Gehrig was throughout his career and in 1936 Gehrig hit 49 home runs, with 152 RBIs and a .354 batting average. He was nearly perfect in the field making only 9 errors in 1,468 chances for a .994 fielding percentage. The switch-hitting George Carr was the Hilldale’s 1st baseman in 1925 and he could hit for both average and for power. He was an under rated player who could blend speed and power together. His one issue was a severe drinking problem which in turn led to disciplinary issues with management. This one is not close. As good as Carr was, he simply cannot beat out Lou Gehrig at first base, advantage Yankees.

California native Tony Lazzeri who was nicknamed “Poosh em up Tony” for his ability to drive in runs is the 1936 Yankee 2nd baseman. During the 1936 for New York Lazzeri hit .287 with 14 home runs and 109 RBIs. In the field Lazzeri made 25 errors in 791 chances for a .968 fielding percentage. He would play his entire major league career with the Yankees and would go on to be selected for induction into the Hall of Fame in 1991. Frank Warfield was the Hilldale 2nd baseman in addition to managing the club. Warfield was an outstanding fielder with wide range, good hands and a good ar. He was also a good contact hitter and was an intense competitor. Warfield passed away in 1932 and in 1952 he received many votes in the 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll with regards to the best black ballplayers of all-time. This one is very, very close and in fact so close that the players come out even with no advantage to either side.

Yankee shortstop in 1936 was Frank Crosetti who had 15 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .288 batting average. In the field, Crosetti made 43 errors in 826 chances for a .948 fielding percentage. Shortstop for the Hilldale squad was Jake Stephens. Stephens was small, fast and aggressive, but he was also argumentative, temperamental and controversial. He had cat like quickness with wide range and a good arm and was a master at decoying the runners on base. He played a major part in 4 championship ball clubs infields and could utilize his speed and quickness on the bases. Advantage here goes to Crosetti and the Yankees.

Red Rolfe manned the “hot corner”, 3rd base for the Yankees in 1936 hitting for a .319 average with 10 home runs and 70 RBIs. A .957 fielding average was added to Rolfe’s resume in 1936 as he made 19 errors in 446 chances. It is hard to describe the career of William “Judy” Johnson in a few words, but suffice to say he was one of the greats. He was cool, patient and sure handed with good range and a very accurate throwing arm. He was a good instinctive base runner which made up for his lack of speed. His batting eye was excellent and he would constantly hit for a good average, without exceptional power. He was a smart player who would later manage the Homestead Grays making them into one of black baseball’s best. This Hall of Famer gives he clear cut advantage to Hilldale at 3rd base.

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The outfielders on the 1936 Yankees were George Selkirk (18 home runs, 107 RBIs and a .308 batting average), Jake Powell (7 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .302 batting average) and finally the “Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio who in 1936 hit 29 home runs with125 RBIs and a .323 average. Fielding wise Selkirk made 8 errors in 308 chances, Powell would make 5 errors in207 chances and DiMaggio made 8 errors in 369 chances. In the outfield for the 1925 Hilldale squad was the trio of Chet Thomas, George Johnson and Otto Briggs.

Thomas was a complete ballplayer who hit for average and power. Defensively he had an outstanding arm and was also a fast and skilled base runner. His nickname was “Hawk” because of his sharp eye at the plate. John Henry “Pop” Lloyd helped make Thomas into an outstanding player and Lloyd was one of the best at judging talent. George Johnson was another complete ballplayer was very fast both in the field and on the bases. He had power and hit well for Hilldale helping them to the Negro League World Series title in 1925. He was a much sought-after player who joined Hilldale in 1918. The final outfielder for the Hilldale club was Otto Briggs aka “the Mirror”. He was the leadoff hitter and was a very speedy outfielder who was one of the smartest players in the game He would later become a manger after his playing career ended. Hilldale has the advantage in speed here, but in overall ability the 1936 Yankee outfield has the advantage.

McCarthy could choose from the following pitchers to take the mound in 1936. Charles “Red” Ruffing 20 wins 12 losses, a 3.85 ERA and 102 strikeouts. He could also choose from Monte Pearson (19-7, 3.71 ERA and 118 strikeouts), Johnny Broaca (12 wins, 7 losses, a 4.24 ERA and 84 strikeouts) and either Lefty Gomez (13 wins 7 losses, 4.39 ERA, 105 strikeouts) or Bum Hadley (14 wins, 4 losses, a 4.35 ERA and 74 strikeouts). It would be hard to make a choice her but given the fact that both Ruffing and Gomez were selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame, one of them may be taking the mound.

As for the Hilldale squad Warfield could choose from the following five hurlers. Nip Winters was considered one of the best pitchers in the Eastern Colored League. He was a tall lefthander with good speed as well as an outstanding curveball. He was also a good hitter who was sometimes used in the pinch-hitting role. Warfield could also choose from Reuben “Black Snake” Curry who was one of the best pitchers of the 1920’s. He was a right-handed curveball specialist and was very effective with the money on the line. Warfield’s 3rd choice could be Phil Cockrell, a star spit baller with a good fastball and excellent control. He would later both manage and umpire in the Negro Leagues. Holsey Scranton “Scrip” Lee was another choice. Lee had a submarine style of pitching which caused his curveball to break up instead of down. Lee could also throw the knuckleball, fastball and changeup. The final choice Warfield would have would be Merven “Red” Ryan and Ryan was a pitcher who could maintain his composure on the mound. He did not get rattled if his teammates made errors or errant throws. Fielders would always play their best for him and he was also a better than average hitter who would sometimes play the outfield.

The pitching matches up good between both squads and if there is an edge as slight as it may be, the Yankees would have just a hair of an advantage over Hilldale. This one is close very close. But based on the strength of Ruffing, Grove and Monte Pearson, New York has the advantage.

These teams are pretty evenly matched except at first base with Gehrig and this one could go either way. However, one thing that I found while researching this was an amazing offensive statistic for New York in 1936. Leaving the pitchers out of the equations the 8 Yankee starters named had a batting average of .318 when added together and each of the 8 starters combined averaged 99.5 runs batted in per season. This could definitely be a matchup baseball fans would just dream about and in the end the 1936 Yankees would advance and continue on their quest to become the greatest team of the Pre-Integration Era.

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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