All About Baseball
The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (#30-21)
As the title of this series of columns says we are entering the “Cream of the Crop”, the Top 30 black baseball/Negro League players of all-time. Beginning with the next column we will only be talking about five of the greats at a time until we finally reach the top of the mountain, the #1 best player in my opinion of all-time. I have said it before and will say it again, without a doubt I have had a lot of fun doing this series and while I am fine with some of the disagreements this may have caused, the purpose of this was to get some of these names out there for discussion and to let people know that black baseball and the Negro Leagues had some really great players, who certainly in my mind would have succeeded at the major league level had they been afforded the chance.
That being said here we go with numbers 30-21, so grab yourself something to drink, wrap yourself in a blanket to stay warm on theses cold winter nights and enjoy this piece. Thank you all for reading these; it has been a dream of mind and I guess as Walt Disney said “Dreams do come true.”
30-Richard Benjamin “King Richard” or “Dick” Lundy
Born: July 10, 1898 Jacksonville, Florida
Died: January 5, 1965 Jacksonville, Florida
Shortstop/Third Base/Second Base/Catcher
Bats Both/Throws Right
Duval Giants 1915, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1916-1918, 1920-1928, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1916, Havana Red Sox 1917, Hilldale Daisies 1917-1919, New York Bacharach Giants 1927, Baltimore Black Sox 1929-1932, Philadelphia Stars 1933, Newark Dodgers 1934-1935, New York Cubans 1935, Newark Eagles 1936-1939, Atlanta Black Crackers 1938, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Jacksonville Eagles
Lundy was another of the players who could play a variety of positions on he ball field. He was however most well-known for his play at shortstop. During the “Roaring 20’s” Lundy was probably the best shortstop in black baseball/Negro Leagues. The top three shortstops in a chronological order may be John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, Dick Lundy and then Willie Wells.
Simply put Lundy was a great fielder who had wide range and a very strong throwing arm. He was a quiet professional who thrived in pressure situations. It appears Lundy played his best before large crowds. In his heyday, Lundy was a big gate attraction and it was not just for his fielding. He could hit for power from both sides of the plate. He was also a very smart baserunner and a threat to steal a base at any time.
His professional career began in 1915 with the Duvall Giants of Jacksonville Florida. Then after some time with the Bacharach Giants he was with the Hilldale Daisies hitting in the third spot in the batting order. From 1921 until 1929 Lundy’s batting averages were as follows: .484-1921, .335-1922, .310-1923, .363-1924, .273-1925, .347-1926, .341-1927, .409-1928 and .336-1929. Because of his superb play he was given the nickname “King Richard” and he was just a perfect fielder and a purely natural hitter. The great New York Giants manager John McGraw said that Honus Wagner was the greatest shortstop he had ever seen, but that Dick Lundy was a very close second. His lifetime batting average was .330 in Negro League play.
Lundy’s list of teammates throughout the years included Judy Johnson, Bill Pettus, Louis Santop, Scrip Lee, Oliver Marcelle, Mule Suttles, Rap Dixon, Frank Warfield, Jud “Boojum” Wilson, John Beckwith and Ray Dandridge.
29-Louis “Top” Santop
Born: January 17, 1890 (1889) Tyler (Fort Worth), Texas
Died: January 6, 1942 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Catcher/Left Field/Right Field/First Base/Third Base
Bats Left/Throws Right
Fort Worth Wonders 1909, Oklahoma Monarchs 1909, Philadelphia Giants 1909-1910, New York Lincoln Giants 1911-1914, 1918 Brooklyn Royal Giants 1914-1919, Chicago American Giants 1915, New York Lincoln Stars 1915-1916, Hilldale Daisies 1917-1926, Santop Bronchos 1927-1931
Although Louis Santop played many positions throughout his career, he is must well-known as a catcher in black baseball and the Negro Leagues between 1909 and 1931. He was one of the game’s early superstars and a real crowd favorite. He was big, solid and had a very strong-arm. He was excellent a well at blocking the plate and was a feared power hitter as well. He had such a strong throwing arm it was said that he could stand at home plate and throw a baseball over the centerfield fence and he could hit a ball farther than he could throw it. He used a super heavy bat to hit his tape measure home runs. He had a great number of nicknames and was also given the nickname of “Big Bertha” so named for the German long-range artillery gun that was used during World War I.
His lifetime batting average was .406, as he starred with teams like the Lincoln Giants, Lincoln Stars and Brooklyn Royal Giants. Between 1911 and 1914 he hit .470-.422-.429 an .455 all the while catching some of the greats of the era like Smokey Joe Williams and Cannonball Dick Redding, two of the hardest throwers in the leagues.
When playing in games against the major league stars in exhibition games Santop stayed in a crouch and consistently make deadly accurate throws to the bases with coming out of his catching crouch.
In 1917 he was recruited by the Hilldale team for a three-game exhibition against Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics. With Santop in tow the Daisies defeated Mack’s team with Santop getting numerous hits off two of the A’s best pitchers, Chief Bender and Bullet Joe Bush, in those games Santop had a very respectable .316 batting average. A partial list of Santop’s teammates over the years includes, Pop Lloyd, Spotswood Poles, Ben Taylor, Bill Pettus, Dick Redding, Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey and Nip Winters.
Santop was selected for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fam in 2006.
28 Andy “Lefty” Cooper
Born: March 4, 1896 April 24, 1898 Waco, Texas
Died: June 10, 1941 (June 3, 1941) Waco, Texas
Bats Right/Throws Left
Detroit Stars 1920-1927, Chicago American Giants, St Louis Stars, Kansas City Monarchs 1928-1941
Andy Cooper was a left hander who pitched in the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1941. He was a staff ace and a very smart pitcher who changed both speeds and pitches with ease, with the best pitchers of the era. His control was superb, and he possessed a great curveball, change-up, slider and screwball. His pick-off move to first base was one of the best and in the clutch his team chose him to start the ballgame.
After a five-win 11 loss season in his first two years, his pitching line from 1922 to 1927 reads as follows: 14-5, 15-8, 12-5, 12-1, 12-8 and 7-3. In 1928 and 1929, his first two years with the Kansas City Monarchs his record was 13-7 and then 13-3. He played in Cuba and the Orient as well as the Philippines before rejoining the Monarchs where in 1936 he had a record of 27 wins, 8 losses.
He pitched in the East West All Star game at the age of 40 and he had a who’s who list of teammates like Pete Hill, Turkey Stearnes, Chet Brewer, John Donaldson, Bill Foster, Bullet Joe Rogan and Hilton Smith. He was selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
27-Raymond “Ray” Brown
Born: February 23, 1908 Ashland, Ohio
Died: February 8, 1965 Dayton, Ohio
Bats Both/Throws Right
Dayton Marcos 1930, Indianapolis ABCs 1931, Detroit Wolves 1932, Homestead Grays 1932-1945,1947-1948, Mexican League, Canadian League
Ray Brown was a pitcher and part-time outfielder who had a career in Negro League baseball from 1930 until 1948. The bulk of his career was spent with the Homestead Grays where he was considered one of their best pitchers. He had an array of pitches including a sinker, slider and fastball as well as his curveball which was his best pitch. He did not have a problem throwing his curveball even if he was behind in the count.
He played baseball in high school in Indian Lakes Ohio and then he attended Wilberforce University. He left college to begin his pro career but later he went back to college and graduated. He was always ready to play, and it was though he had a steel arm. The thing with Brown was besides being an outstanding pitcher, he was a switch-hitter who could hit equally well from both the left and right side of the plate.
Brown was a member of the Negro National League All Star team that absolutely destroyed all competition in the Denver Post tournaments in the 1930’s. As a pitcher he had long winning streaks and in a streak that began in 1936 and ended in 1937 he won 28 games in a row. His winning percentage in the Negro Leagues, ranks him near the top of the list. His record in the Cuban Leagues in 1937 was 21 wins three losses.
He played with the likes of Cool Papa Bell, Willie Wells, Mule Suttles, Buck Leonard, George Scales, John Beckwith, Edsall Walker and Josh Gibson. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 for his Negro League career.
26-Ulysses F “Frank” Grant
Born: August 1, 1865 Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Died: May 27, 1937 New York, New York
Second Base/Shortstop/Pitcher/Outfielder/Third Base/Catcher
Bats Right/Throws Right
Minor Leagues 1886-1888, Meriden Silvermen 1886, Trenton Cuban Giants 1889, Harrisburg Ponies 1890, Ansonia Cuban Giants 1891, Cuban Giants 1889,1891,1897-1899, NY Gorhams 1891, Colored Capital All Americans, NY Big Gorhams 1891, Page Fence Giants 1891, Cuban X Giants 1899, Philadelphia Giants 1902-1903, Genuine Cuban Giants
Frank Grant had a professional career that lasted from at least 1886 until 1905 playing at any position on the baseball diamond. He was most well-known as a second baseman who had the nickname “the Colored Dunlap” because Grant was thought to be as good if not better than Fred Dunlap who was one of the best second baseman of that era in baseball. Many thought Grant to be the better of the two and if Grant had been given the chance he could have been one of the best second baseman in all of baseball.
He consistently hit with power and was easily able to hit over .300 for his career. Grant was fast on the bases in addition, he was an outstanding fielder. He was popular with the fans and was also very well-liked by his teammates.
His baseball career began in Plattsburg, New York with a semi-pro team called the Nameless. Soon after he turned professional with a team in Meriden, Connecticut. He was hitting .316 with the team in 1886 but then the team folded, and he joined a team in Buffalo, New York called the Bisons, playing with them for three years. In his first year in Buffalo, he was third in the International League batting race, hitting .344 for the season.
He encountered racial prejudice in Buffalo and despite that he hit .346 for the year placing him fifth in the league. In 1889 because of injuries sustained by runners sliding into him at second base, he began to wear wooden shin guards to protect himself before he was moved to the outfield.
Over the years Grant played with some of the great in the early years of black baseball like Steve Dunn, Jock Fields, Pete Wood, Cliff Carroll, Charlie Hamburg, Mike Lehane, Bill Egan, Charlie Householder, Jerry McCormick, Sol White, George Stovey, Harry Buckner, Bill Monroe, Grant Johnson and Chippie Johnson.
Grant passed away in New York, New York in 1937 and 70 years late was accorded the highest honor in baseball when he was selected for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
25-Benjamin H “Ben” Taylor
Born: July 1, 1888 Anderson, South Carolina
Died: January 24, 1953 Baltimore, Maryland
Bats Left/Throws Left
Birmingham Giants 1908-1909, West Baden Sprudels 1910,1913 St Louis Giants 1911-1912, NY Lincoln Giants 1912, Chicago American Giants 1913-1914, Indianapolis ABCs 1914-1918,1920-1922 Hilldale Daisies 1919, NY Bacharach Giants 1919, Washington Potomacs 1923-1924, Harrisburg Giants 1925, Baltimore Black Sox 1926-1928, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1929 California Stars 1930, Silver Moons 1931, Washington Pilots 1932, Baltimore Stars 1933, Brooklyn Eagles 1935, Winston-Salem Eagles 1932, Washington Black Senators 1938, Washington Royals 1939, New York Cuban Giants 1940, Edgewater Giants
Ben Taylor was a member of the famous Taylor brothers in black baseball (Charles Isham C.I., Steel Arm Johnny and “Candy” Jim Taylor. Ben Taylor began his career in 1910 and ended it in 1940. Before Buck Leonard came along, Ben Taylor set the standard of how a first baseman should play and it was Taylor who at one time held the title of the best first baseman in black baseball. He could field ground balls, make any play at first base and made all of the other infielders look like better players because of his ability to dig throws out of the dirt, thus preventing an error. He was a scientific hitter, who cold hit line drives to all fields. He was by all accounts an ideal man to have on a ball club.
Taylor began his career as a pitcher and in 1909 had a record of 22 wins and three losses with the Birmingham Giants. Two years later with the St Louis Giants he had a record of 30 wins and just one loss against all competition. He pitched for a few more years and then concentrated on the first base position. He was hitting well over .300 when Rube Foster became interested in him and he then joined his brothers Candy Jim and Steel Arm Johnny as a member of the 1913 Chicago American Giants.
He was a first baseman who achieved his greatest success between 1914 and 1927, when he played with his brother C.I. as a member of the Indianapolis ABCs. His brother slotted him in the fourth spot in the batting order and Ben responded by hitting .333 for the year. In his second season with Indianapolis, he hit .308 and was a steady presence both at the plate and in the field. In 15 of his first 16 seasons in baseball he hit .300 or better.
He was a modest man, very soft-spoken and easy-going. He was an excellent teacher and it was Ben Taylor who taught Buck Leonard the finer points of playing first base and that instruction ended up putting Leonard on the path to greatness.
Taylor’s list of great teammates included Chappie Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Dizzy Dismukes, Crush Holloway, Biz Mackey, Jud Wilson, John Beckwith and Dick Seay. Taylor was selected in 2006 for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
24-Ernest Judson “Boojum” Wilson
Born: February 28, 1899 (February 28, 1896) Remington, Virginia
Died: June 26, 1963 (June 24, 1963) Washington, DC
Third Base/Shortstop/Second Base/First Base/Outfield
Bats Left/Throws Right
Baltimore Black Sox 1922-1930, Homestead Grays 1931-1932, 1940-1945, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1932, Philadelphia Stars 1933-1939
Ernest “Boojum” Wilson played in the Negro Leagues between 1922 and 1945 and was able to play the infield especially first or third base. He had a big upper body and a tiny waist and just a bit bow-legged. He may have been a bit awkward looking but he was extremely quick and sure handed and able to keep ground balls in front of him. He may have been crude on the field but he was a very effective fielder.
Plain and simply put he was a savage hitter with a tremendous amount of power. If he was playing in today’s game the perfect position for him would be designated hitter. Cumberland Posey named him to his all-time All Star team calling him one of the best hitters he had ever seen. He almost dared pitchers to throw at him and then make them pay afterword. The great Satchel Paige thought Wilson along with Josh Gibson were two of the toughest hitters he had to face.
He was a fierce competitor who hated to lose. He was fearless and known almost as well for his fighting as for his ability on the ball field. His disposition when playing earned him a place in black baseball as one of the “Big Four of the Big Bad Men” along with Chippy Britt, Vic Harris and Oscar Charleston. He was a tough man and hated sitting on the bench almost as much as he hated umpires. If he was tossed out of a game he would often refuse to leave the playing field. As for his flat-out physical toughness he once played with a cracked elbow and three broken ribs.
Wilson had a tryout with the Baltimore Black Sox and that was where he acquired his unusual nickname of “Boojum”. He was given that name for the resounding noise the ball made when it hit the wall after Wilson hit. In the later part of his Negro League career he was thought to be one of the toughest men to get out.
Starting in 1923 and through the 1937 Wilson put up some amazing numbers at the plate when it came to batting averages. Those numbers were as follows: 1923 .373-1924 .377-1925 .395-1926 .246-1927 .469-1928 .376-1929 .350-1930 .372-1931 .323-1932 .356-1933 .354-1934 .342-1935 .324-1936 .315 and 1937 .386, some very good numbers indeed. He ended his career with a .345 batting average against all competition. In his six years in winter ball in Cuba he had .372 average and against major league pitching in exhibition games, Wilson had a .442 batting average.
His intensity on the diamond was unmatched and he was of great value on whichever team he played on. He teamed with some of the greats like John Beckwith, Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Willie Foster, Joe Williams, Satchel Paige, Webster McDonald and Biz Mackey.
Deservedly so Wilson was a part of the 2006 induction class at Cooperstown.
23-Will Jackman aka “Bill”, “Earl”, “Cannonball”
Born: October 7, 1897 Carter, Texas (October 7, 1895 Kyle, Texas)
Died: September 9, 1972 Marion, Massachusetts
Bats Right/Throws Right
Houston Black Buffalos 1922, NY Lincoln Giants 1925, Philadelphia Giants 1925, 1927 Quaker City Giants 1928, Philadelphia Tigers 1928, Brooklyn Eagles 1935, Newark Eagles 1936, Boston Royal Giants 1942, Colored All Stars 1928-also played on the all-white East Douglas Massachusetts team in the Blackstone Valley League that also had an 18-year-old Hank Greenberg on the roster.
This one was an eye opener. I must confess of never having heard of Jackman when I thought to start this list. However, during the research, I kept coming across his name. There is no question he belongs on this list and if more information had been available at the time he may have been ranked even higher in my mind and in others as well. Now on to tell you a bit about a pitcher and a man who should not be forgotten.
Jackman had a submarine motion and he also had very good control. He was tall and husky and could really hum the ball in towards the batter. He had a career that lasted at least 18 years and during the course of his career he had to change from an overhanded pitching motion to the submarine type delivery as he recovered from an arm injury he had when he was a member of the Philadelphia Giants. His prime years on the mound were between the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s. During that time, one season with the Philadelphia Giants he posted a record of 52 wins and 2 losses and he also beat Satchel Paige during that memorable season. If one was to describe Jackan’s fastball it was supposedly faster than either Paige’s or Bob Feller of the major league Cleveland Indians. His large hands enabled him to hide the ball well and the ball appeared to explode out of nowhere as it left his hand.
He had an easy-going temperament and a sort of gap toothed boyish smile about him. He spent most of his career with teams that played independently hence the lack of knowledge about him. He appeared briefly with the well-known Newark Eagles and then finished out his career with some lesser known teams like the Boston Royal Giants.
During the prime time of his career he earned $175 a game with a $10 bonus for each strikeout. He continued to pitch in the semipro ranks until he was in his 50’s.
Before playing in the Negro Leagues he barnstormed around the country with teams in Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
One of his career highlights was May 25, 1949 in his reputed 1,200th pro pitching performance. He was 52 years old at the time and he was the winning pitcher. The Boston Globe, in an article, called him the equal of Satchel Paige. During his career he won over 200 games, with 22 of those games occurring against major league type competition. In 78 games he struck out 10 or more batters and had 48 shutouts.
He joins a long line of long forgotten superstars that can only make a fan wonder what they would have done had then been allowed to play with and against the major league superstars of the era.
22-Jose “The Black Diamond” Mendez
Born: Cardenas Matanzas, Cuba March 19, 1887 (January 2, 1885)
Died: Havana, Cuba (La Habana Cuba) October 31, 1928
Pitcher/Shortstop/Third Base/Second Base/Outfield
Bats Right/Throws Right
Brooklyn Royal Giants 1908, Cuban Stars 1909-1912, Stars of Cuba 1910, All Nations 1912-1917, Chicago American Giants 1918, Detroit Stars 1919, Kansas City Monachs 19201-1926
Jose Mendez was known as “El Negra Diamonde”, “the Black Diamond” during his career in black baseball and later the Negro Leagues in a career that lasted from 1908 until 1925. He, like a lot of other players was very versatile and could play the infield as well as the outfield. Mendez made his mark as a pitcher though, making his debut in baseball when he was a 16-year-old in 1903. In 1908 he was pitching for the top team in Havana Cuba before debuting with the Brooklyn Royal Giants. In 1909 with the Cuban Stars Mendez had a record of 44 wins and two losses including a 10 inning perfect game on July 24, 1909. In 1910 in Cuba, Mendez had a record of 18 wins two losses.
Once in 1911 while pitching with the Almendares team he faced the NY Lincoln Giants and Smokey Joe Williams for the colored baseball title. Williams had a no-hitter for nine innings while Mendez was almost as good allowing only two hits in regulation. Mendez and his team ended up winning the game in the 10th inning when his Cuban team put three hits together against Williams. In 1912 Mendez pitched against the major league New York Giants lineup that also included members of the Brooklyn Dodgers team in an exhibition gam Mendez ended up the winner over the team led by Christy Mathewson by the score of 4-3 in 10 innings. Two days later, again Mendez took the mound and beat Nap Rucker of the Giants which prompted legendary Giants manager John McGraw to say Mendez was a combination of Walter Johnson and “Pete” Alexander and if not for the color of his skin he was worth upwards of $30,000 to the Giants club.
At the start of the 1914 season Mendez had a career mark of 62 wins 15 losses, but then came down with arm trouble. He spent many years playing other positions and then signed with J L Wilkinson and the Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs were just becoming a force in the world of black baseball and the Negro Leagues and shortly began a run of three straight pennants between 1923 and 1925 and suddenly Mendez began to regain his old pitching form.
Black baseball icon John Henry “Pop” Lloyd said that never in all his years in the game had he ever seen a pitcher any better than Jose Mendez. Mendez was a rangy right hander with a smooth delivery and deceptive speed. He was a smart pitcher who changed speeds with ease. When he was in a game and had his rising fastball together with his sharp breaking curve ball he was one of the best pitchers around. He had long arms and long fingers enabling him to get a lot of spin on the ball. His deceptive pitching motion made him able to play havoc with the timing of the hitters he faced.
Mendez was another of the game’s greats and played with some of the best players around like Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, John Donaldson, Jelly Gardner and Oscar Charleston.
Jose Mendez was a member of the first group of players elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 and then in 2006 was a member of the class of players selected for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
21-Wilbur “Bullet Joe” Rogan
Born: July 28, 1889 (July 28, 1893) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Died: March 4, 1967 Kansas City, Missouri
Bats Right/Throws Right
Kansas City Colored Giants 1917, All Nations 1917, Kansas City Monarch 1920-1937
Rogan was an anomaly when it came to black baseball and the Negro Leagues as he spent most if not all his career with one team, the Kansas City Monarchs. He was born in Oklahoma but brought up in Kansas City Missouri. His career in baseball began with the Fred Palace Colts team in 1908. Then in 1909 he was with the Kansas City Giants where he was credited with winning 54 games in a row before he left to join the army in 1911. He remained in the army playing baseball in the Philippines, Arizona and Hawaii. It was while he was in the army that Casey Stengel told Monarchs owner, J. L. Wilkinson about Rogan. Wilkinson also owned the All Nations team and Rogan was signed to a deal with the Monarchs beginning in 1920.
Rogan ended up as a star with the Monarchs for almost 20 years as he remained with the team from 1920 until 1938. He was a right-handed pitcher who threw the ball using a no windup delivery with a sidearm motion, (almost like Washington Senators great, Walter Johnson). In addition to his fastball and curveball Rogan used a forkball, palm ball and spitball. He would routinely average 30 or more starts a season and usually finished most of those games. Besides being a great pitcher, Rogan fielded his position well and was a dangerous hitter with good power.
Speaking of his hitting, he had very strong wrists and would use a very heavy bat, as he normally hit in the number four spot in the batting order. Between the years 1922 and 1930 he hit as follows: 1922 .357, 1923 .416, 1924 .412, 1925 .366, 1926 .314, 1927 .330, 1928 .353, 1929 .341 and 1930 .311. That’s some pretty good batting. On the mound for the first seven of those years (1922-1928) his pitching record looked like this: 1922-13 wins 6 losses, 1923-12 wins 8 losses, 1924-16 wins 5 losses, 1925-15 wins 2 losses, 1926-12 wins 4 losses, 1927- 15 wins 6 losses and 1928-9 wins 3 losses.
In exhibition games against major league clubs he had a .329 batting average. In fact, Hall of Fame umpire Jocko Conlan who played against Rogan said the right hander was every bit as good if not better than Satchel Paige and he also had one of the smoothest deliveries when pitching, he (Conlan) had ever seen.
The Monarch’s teams that Rogan played on over the years had many great players on them and Rogan played with the best of them, like Jose Mende, Cristobal Torriente, Andy Cooper, Turkey Stearnes, Willard Brown, Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith.
Wilbur “Bullet Joe Rogan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, perhaps his greatest honor. One can only wonder what Rogan and some of his teammates could have accomplished had they had the chance to compete on an even playing field with their major league counterparts.
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