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Legends On Deck

The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (100-91)

It is always hard to pick the best of all-time. This is especially true when it comes to sports. Baseball, while always being 90 feet between the bases and for the most part, 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate has gone through some changes throughout its existence. There was the deadball era where the teams played for a run whether it be a walk, stolen base, sacrifice or whatever. Then with the advent of Babe Ruth teams were putting more of an emphasis on hitting the home. There was then the post integration era after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. After Robinson, there was a time after expansion that again changed the game of baseball for the better. In 1995 the “wildcard” era began where a team would not have to win the division to get into the playoff.

However, during the “deadball era” teams did not travel any further south than Washington D.C. and any further west than St. Louis Missouri. The teams also only played day games and they did not play against the black male who was denied access to the “American Pastime” because of bigotry and hate. In the later part of the era just before integration teams began to play night baseball which added some more excitement to the game. The leagues began to expand west with the Dodgers and Giants and in the early 1960’s more forays into California as well as Texas.

The “Modern Era” of baseball which is the game we see now has become something we can love and behold, and it just seems to get better each day.

The focus though here now will be on black baseball players and the Negro Leagues, specifically the 100 best players of all-time. This was a fascinating thing to look into as with the lack of stories, information and data, the numbers were lacking, unlike Babe Ruth who hit 714 home runs. Did Josh Gibson hit more?, or did he actually hit a fair ball out of the old Yankee Stadium? How many games did Satchel Paige win? How fast was James “Cool Papa” Bell? We may never know the answers but to learn about these men who really played for the love of the game was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Could the following list be changed? Of course, but that is the good thing about the game, everybody has an opinion and a person can for the most part make a statement and be able to back it up to some extent.

Before getting into who I think are the Top 100 Negro League baseball players, I have included a few lists by some of the better-known people in the know and I think you will see after looking over these lists as well as my own list that the lack of coverage and commendations to the players in the Negro Leagues is a crying shame.

I should also say before going further that yes players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson did play in the Negro Leagues, they played for such a short time there that it is not fair to include them in the Negro Leagues list. Would they have been stars, probably yes as all made the Hall of Fame based on their major league careers. But I think you will see that they would have some stiff competition as to how good they really are.

In 1998 the Sporting News put out this list of the greatest players in the history of baseball. The players who starred in the Negro Leagues are all in caps as the other players on the other lists included:

These are in order from number 1 to number 100:

Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Grover C Alexander, Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle, JOSH GIBSON, SATCHEL PAIGE, Roberto Clemente, Warren Spahn, Frank Robison, Lefty Grove, Eddie Collins, Pete Rose, Sandy Koufax, Tris Speaker, Mike Schmidt, Nap Lajoie, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, George Sisler, Barry Bonds, Joe Jackson, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Ernie Banks, Greg Maddux, Yogi Berra, Nolan Ryan, Mel Ott, Al Simmons, Jackie Robinson, Carl Hubbell, Charlie Gehringer, BUCK LEONARD, Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Roy Campanella, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Ford, Roger Clemens, Harry Heilmann, George Brett, Willie McCovey, Bill Dickey, Lou Brock, Bill Terry, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Paul Waner, Eddie Mathews, Jim Palmer, Mickey Cochrane, COOL PAPA BELL,OSCAR CHARLESTON, Eddie Plank, Harmon Killebrew, Pie Traynor, Juan Marichal, Carl Yastrzemski, Lefty Gomez, Robin Roberts, Willie Keeler, Al Kaline, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr, Joe Medwick, Brooks Robinson, Willie Stargell, Ed Walsh, Duke Snider, Sam Crawford, Dizzy Dean, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Frankie Frisch, Goose Goslin, Ralph Kiner, Mark McGwire, Chuck Klein, Ken Griffey Jr, Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs, Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry, Dennis Eckersly, Paul Molitor, Early Wynn.

As you will see by what has been written there are certainly players from the ensuing lists that could or should take the place of some of these players. That is not to say that these players were not good they certainly were. But the question arises as to whether they would be on these and other lists if the Black male had been allowed to play in the majors earlier.

100-Thomas “Pee Wee” Butts

Image Source: CNLBR.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: August 27, 1919 Sparta Georgia
Died: 1972 Athens Georgia
Second Base/Shortstop
Bats Right/Throws Right
Atlanta Black Crackers (1938), Baltimore Elite Giants (1939-1950), Indianapolis ABCs (1939), Monterrey Industrials (1943), Philadelphia Stars (1944), Homestead Grays (1945)

Thomas Butts was an infielder in the Negro Leagues from 1938 to 1950. The Sparta Georgia native played both football and baseball at Washington High School and was thought to be one of the better high school quarterbacks in the area. When he was 17 years old he quit high school to go play baseball in the Negro American League with the Atlanta Black Crackers. Because of his small size, runners would try to intimidate the diminutive Butts and he responded by learning to throw the ball sidearm to better protect himself. Butts hit around .280 for his career and only had three home runs. He could hang around the Negro Leagues because of timely hitting and good fielding. He also played in Puerto Rico in the off-season and played in Canada for the Winnipeg Buffaloes for Willie Wells. During his career because of his value to a team he was compared to Phil Rizzuto, the New York Yankees great shortstop in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. In his career in the Negro Leagues he had the good fortune to play with some of the greats like Chippy Britt, Roy Campanella, Crush Holloway, Sammy Hughes, Biz Mackey, Joe Black, Henry Kimbro, George Scales, Sam Bankhead, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Vic Harris, Buck Leonard and Jim Gilliam

99-Thomas Sampson

Born: August 31, 1912, Calhoun Alabama
Died: January 24, 2002, Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Second Base/First Base/Outfield
Bats Right/Throws Right
Birmingham Black Barons (1940-1947) Chicago American Giants, New York Cubans 1949.

Thomas “Toots” Sampson quit school at the age of 17 to go work in the coal mines while playing semi-pro baseball on the weekends. Sampson would play on the weekends in Raleigh and then go to Portsmouth Virginia, so he could play baseball every day. He was discovered by the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940 and signed to a contract. Candy Jim Taylor was the manager of the Black Barons and it was he who talked to Sampson and taught him the finer points of the game. In the early part of his career he had been a third baseman, but he hurt his arm and that caused him to switch to second base. It took hard work, but Sampson learned the second base position and after his arm healed he made all the throws to first base underhanded. Sampson hit the ball well to the opposite field and was a good man to have up if the situation called for a hit and run play. His career batting average was around .300. He had gotten injured severely in an automobile accident and then later became the player/manager of the Black Barons. In 1948 he discovered Willie Mays and signed the future Hall of Famer to a Black Barons contract. Some of the players Sampson played with during his career included Sug Cornelius, Frank Duncan, Turkey Stearnes, Dan Bankhead, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Dave Barnhhill and Minnie Minoso.

98-Felix “Chin” Evans

Image Source: Ebay/The Baseball Hobbyist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: October 3, 1911 Atlanta Georgia
Died: August 21, 1993 Pompano Beach, Florida
Pitcher/Outfielder/Third Base/ First Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Atlanta Athletics (1934), Atlanta Black Crackers (1935, 1938-1939), Memphis Red Sox (1940-1948), Jacksonville Red Caps (1938), Indianapolis ABCs (1939), Baltimore Elite Giants (1939), Newark Eagles (1939), Ethiopian Clowns (1939-1940), Birmingham Black Barons (1949).

Felix “Chin” or “Halihan” Evans began his professional baseball career after attending and starring in athletics at Morehouse College. He spent most of his pitching career with the Atlanta Black Crackers and the Memphis Red Sox. He had a good overhand curveball which was called a “mountain drop”. He was also a good hitter and from time to time would pinch hit and or play the outfield. He had a 15 win one loss record at the time of the East/West All Star game in 1946 and that earned him the start in the game. He also started the North South All Star game and was the winning pitcher in both games. His best season may have been 1940 when he was with the Ethiopian Clowns and he ended up with a record of 26 wins and four losses. He was good hitting pitcher as he once had 17 home runs in a season. He credits Willie Wells with making him a better hitter by teaching him to hit the curveball. During his career he played with Thomas Butts, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Larry Brown and Verdel Mathus.

97-Paul Eugene “Jake” Stephens

Born: February 10, 1900 Pleasureville Pennsylvania,
Died: February 5, 1981 York Pennsylvania-
Shortstop/Second Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Hilldale Daisies (1921-1929), Philadelphia Giants (1924), Homestead Grays (1929-1932), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932), Philadelphia Stars (1933-1935), New York Black Yankees

Paul “Jake” Stephens had a career in black baseball/Negro Leagues from 1921 to 1937. Stephen was small, fast and aggressive. He was also argumentative, temperamental and controversial. His cat like quickness allowed him to make all of the plays. He had good range to go with his good arm and he was a very intelligent player. He was well versed in decoying runners off of the base on pick off throws as well. He broke in with the Hilldale club with a shortstop who went on to a Hall of Fame career William “Judy” Johnson. His only apparent weakness was a difficulty in hitting the curveball. Like a lot of the players in black baseball and the Negro Leagues he moved around a lot. When he was with the Philadelphia Stars he paired up with Dick Seay to form one of the better double play combinations in black baseball/Negro Leagues. He was voted in as a member of the Pittsburgh and York Halls of Fame before passing away in York.

96-Cheney “Reindeer” White

Image Source: Seamheads.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: April 14, 1899 Longview Texas
Died: 1965 Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Outfielder
Bats Right/Throws Left
Hilldale Daisies (1919-1922,1928,1930-1932), Chicago American Giants (1920, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1923-1929), Washington Potomacs (1924), Wilmington Potomacs (1925), Quaker Giants, Homestead Grays (1930), Philadelphia Stars (1933-1935), Baltimore Black Sox (1932), New York Cubans (1936)

Cheney White was an outfielder in the Negro Leagues from 1919 to 1936. He acquired the nickname “Reindeer” because of his speed on the bases and in the field. He began playing baseball in the Dallas Fort Worth area before joining up with the Hilldale club for the 1919 season. He tried a year with Rube Foster and the Chicago American Giants before returning to Hilldale for the 1921 season. After moving to the number three spot in the batting order White hit for .369 in 1921 and .349 in 1922 against all competition.

He would join up with the Bacharach Giants in 1923 moving up to the leadoff spot in the batting order for the next three seasons. White would hit .385 (1923), .352 (1924) and .358(1925). White had some injury issues for the next couple of years returning to the Bacharach Giants in 1925. He was moved to the heart of the batting order as the Bacharachs captured two Eastern Colored League pennants. His batting average dropped to .295 in 1926 and then to .274 in 1927. He slowly returned to form in 1928 when he hit for .338 and then hit for a .357 average in 1929.

White was aggressive on the bases, at the plate and in the field on defense. He was a terror on the base paths with opponents saying he was built a little like King Kong but with the speed of Jesse Owens. He was a hardnosed baserunner once spiking Larry Brown and spiking the chest protector and shin guards off Josh Gibson. He finished his 18-year career in the Negro Leagues with a .302 batting average.  Like others of the era he played with a virtual who’s who in the Negro Leagues. Some of the players he played with were, Louis Santop, Bunny Downs, Phil Cockrell, Dick Lundy, Oliver Marcelle, Rap Dixon, Walter Cannady, Judy Johnson, Martin Dihigo, Biz Mackey, Dick Seay, Jud Wilson, Lamon Yokley and Ted Page.

95-George “Rabbit” Shively

Image Source: Seamheads.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: January 3, 1893 Lebanon Kentucky
Died: June 7, 1962 Bloomington Indiana-
Outfielder
Bats Left/Throws Left
Leland Giants (1911), West Baden Sprudels (1911-1913), Indianapolis ABCs (1914-1918, 1920-1921,1923) Kokomo Indiana Black Devils 1919 Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1919-1922,1924-1925), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1924), Washington Potomacs (1924)

George Shively played in the Negro Leagues from 1910 until 1924 as a left fielder. The majority of his career was spent with the Indianapolis ABCs and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. At the end of his career he had a .305 batting average. Shively passed away June 7, 1962 and was buried in an unmarked grave. That was later rectified as on April 4, 2015 Shively along with 10 Africa Americans who had been buried in unmarked graves were properly buried and marked with headstones. Some of the players he played with during his career included Candy Jim Taylor, Bingo DeMoss, Ben Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Oscar Charleston, Dick Redding, Dave Malarcher, Dizzy Dismukes, John Donaldson, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, Oliver Marcelle, Clarence “Fats” Jenkins and Dick Lundy.

94-Clinton Cyrus “Hawk” Thomas

Image Source: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: November 25, 1896 Greenup Kentucky,
Died: December 2,1990 Charleston West Virginia
Outfield/Second Base
Bats Right/Throws Right
Brooklyn Royal Giants (1920), Columbus Buckeyes (1921), Detroit Stars (1922), Philadelphia Hilldale Giants (1923-1928), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1928-1929), Homestead Grays (1924), New York Lincoln Giants (1930), New York Black Yankees (1931-1934, 1937-1938), Chicago American Giants (1934), New York Cubans (1936), Newark Eagles (1936)

Thomas played the outfield as well as second base from 1920 until 1938. He acquired the nickname “Hawk” for his keen batting eye at the plate. He was also called the “Black DiMaggio” and he once hit a home run off a young Fidel Castro in an exhibition game in Cuba. He was  member of the Philadelphia Hilldale club that was the three time Eastern Colored League champions (1923-1925). Thomas ended his career with a .333 batting average with his best year being 1929 when he hit .409 with the Hilldale club. Some of the greats he played with included Pop Lloyd, Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, Nip Winters, Chino Smith, Walt Cannady, Turkey Stearnes, John Beckwith, Fats Jenkins and Bill Holland.

93-Arvell “Bo” Riggins

Image Source: Seamheads.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: February 7, 1900
Died: March 8, 1943 New York New York
Shortstop
Bats Both/Throws Right
Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars (1920-1926), Cleveland Hornets (1927), Homestead Grays (1927), NY Lincoln Giants (1928-1930), Harlem Stars (1931), NY Black Yankees (1932), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1923-1933), Miami Giants (1934-1936)

Arvell Riggins was one of the top shortstops of the 1920’s ending his career with a .309 batting average for his time in black baseball and the Negro Leagues. For his time in the California League he had a .321 batting average. In his first year as a regular third baseman for the Detroit Stars he hit for a .292 average. For the rest of his time in Detroit he was a consistently steady batter who hit between .285 and .300 for the time he played. Riggins was a good baserunner and he finished second in the league in steals for the 1925 and 1926 seasons.
In the California League in 1930-1931 he tied for the league lead in doubles with Jack Ridley and Poindexter Williams, all three men with 10. He also finished second to the great Norman “Turkey” Stearnes in both batting average and home runs. He bounced around for a number of years before retiring having played from 1920 to 1936. During his time in baseball he played with Turkey Stearnes, Pop Lloyd, George Scales, Nip Winters, Fats Jenkins, Walt Cannady, Bill Holland and Crush Holloway.

92-Robert “Schoolboy” Griffith

Image Source: Negro League Baseball Players Assoc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: October 1, 1913 Liberty Tennessee
Died: November 8, 1977 Indianapolis Indiana
Pitcher/Outfielder
Bats Right/Throws Right
Nashville Elite Giants (1933-1934), Columbus Elite Giants (1935), Washington Elite Giants (1936-1937) Santa Domingo (1937), Baltimore Elite Giants (1938,1941), Mexican League (1940), NY Black Yankees (1942-1943),1946-1948) Kansas City Monarchs (1946), Philadelphia Stars (1949-1951), Indianapolis Clowns (1952), Canadian League (1951,1953)

Bob Griffith was a pitcher and an outfielder in the Negro Leagues from 1933 to 1949, going by the name “Schoolboy”. He was a very tall pitcher who threw a spitball, beginning his career with a local team in the Tennessee area, the Smithville Tigers. He signed with the Nashville Elite Giants out of college. In 1935 he made the East/West All Star game for the first time. It would then be 13 years before he made it back to the All-Star game, 1948. He would start the 1949 All Star game pitching three hitless innings to get the victory.During the 29 games he pitched in the California Winter League in his career he had a record of 20 wins 2 losses, striking out 228 batters in 214 innings. He was second in winning percentage behind Bill Foster and just ahead of both Satchel Paige and Walter Johnson in that winter league. He also played in both the Cuban Winter League as well as the Mexican League. He was a good hitter for a pitcher and for the most part he would hit over .300 for the games he was in. He threw a great fastball and could make his pitch break up or down or in or out. After baseball he worked as a night watchman in government buildings in the Indianapolis area. He passed away November 8, 1977 after he fell in a bath tub.

91-Alejandro Oms

Image Source: Negro League Baseball Players Assoc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born: March 13, 1895 Santa Clara Cuba
Died: November 9,1946
Center Field/Left Field/Right Field/Pitcher
Bats Left/Throws Left
Cuban Stars East (1917,1922-1932), All Cubans (1921), NY Cubans (1935)

Alejandro Oms starred in the Eastern Colored League forming one of the greatest outfield combinations with Bernardo Barn and Pablo Mesa. Oms did not have a strong throwing arm but his range and his accuracy more than made up for the weak throwing arm. If his team was ahead in the game, he would catch fly balls behind his back. He was very fast on the bases and a skilled base stealer, yet he was best known for his hitting. He had a temper but controlled it well and never argued with an umpire. However, if he chose not to hear something he pretended not to speak or understand English. That worked okay until one day after getting hit in the head by a pitch in perfect English he asked for a glass of water.

During the early part of his career playing in his hometown of Santa Clara he was nicknamed “El Caballero” or “the Knight”. Oms was good enough to be called the second greatest Cuban outfielder for the first half of the 20th century behind only the great Cristobal Torriente. His United States debut was with the Cuban Stars in 1917 when he batted an anemic .114: he was 22 years old and did not play in the United States again until he was 27 years old in 1922.

Oms played for three seasons in the Cuban League appearing in 103 games. In 358 at bats he had 128 hits, including 28 doubles, 11 triples and four home runs. He scored 67 runs and had 66 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. His batting average was .358 for his three seasons in Cuba. In 12 seasons in the Negro Leagues his database shows him appearing in 255 games. In 977 at bats he had 317 hits including 56 doubles, 19 triples and 23 home runs. He scored 185 runs and had 191 RBIs to go with a .325 batting average. In 1923 he hit for a .367 average in the Eastern Colored League finishing behind Biz Mackey, Pop Lloyd and Jud Wilson all of whom would later be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. During the 1923-1924 season he led the Cuban Winter League with a .393 average, in 1927-1928 he again was the leader this time with a .432 average and in 1929-1930 he won his third batting title in Cuba this time with a .380 average. He won his fourth and final batting title in 1931-1932 with a .389 batting average. He was compared to Paul Waner (Hall of Famer) as their playing styles and skills were similar.

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