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The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (#40-31)

As with part six of this list there are other players who were stars in the major leagues after having careers briefly in the Negro Leagues. So lets see who else played in both the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues.

Elston Howard played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1948 to 1950 before going on to a major league career where he starred for the New York Yankees. While Howard did not make the Hall of Fame he was a nine time All Star and the winner of the Most Valuable Player Award in the American League in 1963 while a member of the New York Yankees.

Next is Don Newcombe, Newcombe played for the Newark Eagles from 1944-1945 before going on to play in the minor leagues and then the major legues> Necombe’s major league career began in 1949 and he was chosen as Rookie of the Year and also made the first of his four All-Star teams. Then in 1956 he would be selected as both Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable player. Newcombe won 20 or more games in his career three time including 1956 when he had a record of 27 wins and seven losses.

Monte Irvin had a 10 year career in the Negro Leagues playing with the Newark Eagles from 1937-1942 and then 1945-1948 (he was in the military in 1943 and 1944). Irvin played in the major leagues from 1949 to 1956 with the New York Giants and the Cubs and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 by the Negro League Committee although he probably could have been elected based on his major league career had that lasted a bit longer.

Joe Black career in the Negro Leagues lasted from 1943-1950 with the Baltimore Elite Giants. Black then pitched in the major leagues from 1952 until 1957 with the Dodgers, Reds and Washington Senators. He was selected as Rookie of the Year in 1952 with the Dodgers after going 15-4 with a 2.15 ERA.

James “Jim” Gilliam was a member of the Nashville Black Vols in 1945 and then the Baltimore Elite Giants from 1946 until 1951 before going on to a 14 year major league career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers where in 1953 he was selected as Rookie of the Year. Gilliam was a mainstay of the Dodgers team through the 1950’s and early 1960’s and also made two All Star teams.

Saturnino “Minnie” Minoso played with the New York Cubans from 1945 until 1948 and then went on to a major league career that stretched over five decades lasting a total of 17 years. Minoso also made seven All Star teams and was almost always in consideration for the Most Valuable Player Award. In the majors he played with the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, St Louis Cardinals and Washington Senators.

What more can be said about Willie Mays. He was an All Star, a Gold Glove Award winner, Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and one of the greatest major league ballplayers of all-time. Mays hit 660 home runs in his career and was the leader in all kinds of offensive categories like hits, triples, stolen bases, runs scored and batting average. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 and as for his career in the Negro Leagues he played with the Birmingham Black Barons from 1948 to 1950. He rates in the top five of anybody’s all time best players list without any doubt at all.

40-Bruce Petway
Born: 1883 Nashville, Tennessee
Died: July 4, 1941 Chicago, Illinois
Catcher/First Base/Outfield
Bats Both/Throws Right
Cuban X Giants 1906, Philadelphia Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1908-1910, Fe 1908, Cuban General League, Leland Giants 1906-1910, Habana 1909-1911, Chicago American Giants 1911-1918, Detroit Stars 1919-1925

Bruce Petway played first base and the outfield but was perhaps best known as a catcher in black baseball/Negro Leagues from 1906 until 1925. Simply put Petway was one of the outstanding catchers black or white of the era and there few baserunners that dared to challenge his arm by trying to steal a base. He was intimidating  and runners for the most part would stay very close to the bases when he was behind the plate. He caught on his knees and threw out runners without coming out of his couch. He was surprisingly quick in fielding bunts as well. Old timers tell of the story when Petway threw out the great Ty Cobb on three straight steal attempts in an exhibition game in Cuba in 1910.

Petway himself was a good baserunner as well and better known for his base stealing than his hitting. In 1912 Petway led the Cuban Winter League with 20 stolen bases. When he played for the great Rube Foster he often batted in the leadoff spot, quite the rarity for a catcher. He was the premier catcher of that era and the first in the line of great colored catchers. He always wanted to be on the best teams and was one of the reasons that Rube Foster’s teams always were in the pennant race hunt.

He was a student of the game learning much from Rube Foster and he also played with some of the greats like Pop Lloyd, Harry Buckner, Bill Gatewood, Pete Hill, Grant Johnson, Jap Payne, Jose mendez, John Donaldson, Jelly Gardner and Oscar Charleston.

39-John Beckwith
Born: 1902 Louisville, Kentucky
Died: 1956 New York, New York
Bats Right/Throws Right
Montgomery Grey Sox 1916, Chicago Union Giants 1916, Chicago Giants 1916-1923, Havana Stars 1917, Chicago American Giants 1922-1923, Baltimore Black Sox 1924-1926,1930-1931, Harrisburg Giants 1926-1927, Homestead Grays 1924,1928-1929,1935, NY Lincoln Giants 1929-1930, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Newark Browns 1931-1932, NY Black Yankees 1933-1934, Newark Dodgers 1934, Palmer House Indians 1936, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1938

John Beckwith was a versatile players who could and did  play everywhere during a career in black baseball/Negro Leagues that began in 1916 and ended in 1938. He was a very powerful hitter and in Cincinnati Ohio at Redland Field (home of the Cincinnati Reds) became the first player black or white to hit a ball completely out of the ballpark. When he was not swinging his big bat he played anywhere on the diamond. He had amazing power and was the type of hitter who tried to pull everything to left field. It led to his share of strikeouts but when he did connect with the ball it was well worth the wait.

He began playing baseball in the Sunday school leagues around Chicago and he turned pro in 1916 as a catcher with the Montgomery Gey Sox. He then played with the Union Giants and the Chicago Giants staying through the 192 season when he had a .419 batting average good enough for second place in the league. In 1924 while with the Homestead Grays and Baltimore Black Sox he had an amazing .452 batting average (,409 in league play) and 40 home runs. Then with the Black Sox in 1925 he hit for a .402 average.

Beckwith jumped around a lot from team to team but always managed to keep his hitting consistent (.335-1927 72 home runs-1928 Homestead Grays 54 home runs-1929 .443 which again placed him second). Then in 1930 in 50 games he had a .480 average with 19 home runs. He ended his career with a .366 average in Negro League competition. He had really no set position or one that he was any better at. It was just such a benefit to have him on the team for his play in the field and at the plate.

Beckwith has a long and distinguished list of teammates that includes Walter Ball, Frank Duncan, Steel Arm Johnny Taylor, Bingo DeMoss, Bill Foster, Dave Malarcher, Cristobal Torriente, Walter Cannady, Martin Dihigo, Smokey Joe Williams, Ray Brown, Vic Harris and Buck Leonard.

38-Frank “Rawhide”, “the Red Ant”, “Smokey” Wickware
Born: Coffeyville Kansas, 1888
Died: Schenectady New York, 1967
Bats/Right/Throws Right
Dallas Giants 1909, Leland Giants 1909-1910, Chicago American Giants 1911-1912,1914-1918,1920-1921, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1912-1914, Mohawk Giants 1913-1914, Louisville White Sox 1914, NY Lincoln Stars, Indianapolis ABCs 1916, Jewel ABCs 1917, Chicago Giants 1917, Detroit Stars 1919, Norfolk Stars 1920, NY Lincoln Giants 1920,1925, Canadian League 1921, St Louis Giants, Philadelphia Giants

Frank Wickware was one of two pitchers from Coffeyville Kansas to make a name for himself in baseball, the other was Walter “the Big Train” Johnson. Like Johnson, Wickware had a blazing fastball and was a tough pitcher during the early part of the 20th century. He arrived in the “Windy City” of Chicago and 1909 and finished with a record  of 18 win and one loss in his first year for Rube Foster and the Leland Giants. Wickware was so good as a pitcher he knocked both Foster and Pat Dougherty another great pitcher down a few pegs in the pitching pecking order.

At 22 years of age people began to notice the velocity of his pitches, his presence on the mound and how nothing seemed to bother him as well as for his velvet smooth delivery. He was a big gate attraction and remained so through the first decade of his career. The Chicago Cubs barnstormed to Rutland Vermont and Rutland hired Wickware to pitch against the big league team in an exhibition. The Cubs remembered Wickware from his time in Chicago and refused to play Rutland if Wickware pitched.

Wickware was referred to as the “black Walter Johnson” a fitting moniker both for his greatness and for the fact they both hailed from the same hometown.

Pete Hill, Grant Johnson, Pop Lloyd, Rube Foster, Harry Buckner, Chappie Johnson, Walter Ball, Bingo DeMoss, Dick Redding, Bruce Petway, John Beckwith and Frank Duncan were just a few of Wickware’s teammates over the years.

37-Spotswood “Spot” Poles
Born: November 7, 1889 Winchester, Virginia
Died: September 12, 1962 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Center field
Bats Both/Throws Right
Harrisburg Colored Giants 1906-1908, Philadelphia Giants 1909-1910, NY Lincoln Giants 1911-1914,1917,1919-1923, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1912, NY Lincoln Stars 1914-1916, Hilldale Daisies 1917,1920, NY Bacharach Giants 1919, Richmond Giants 1923, Club Fe 1910-1915, Breaker’s Hotel 1915-1916, Philadelphia All Stars 1917

Spotswood Poles began playing baseball when he was just six years old using a broomstick for a bat. In 1897 he was with the Hello Bill Club and later on the Springdale Athletic Club in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. His professional career then began in  1906 with the Harrisburg Colored Giants before moving on to the Philadelphia Giants in 1909. Poles stole 41 bases in just 60 games in his first season with Sol White’s NY Lincoln Giants in 1911. He also showed he was able to handle a bat pretty well as he hit .440-.398-.414 and .487 in games against all competition when playing with the Lincoln Giants. In 1913 with future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander on the mound, Poles got three consecutive hits off the great Alexander.

Because of his speed Poles usually batted in the leadoff spot in the batting order. Old timers say Poles speed was comparable to that of  the great speedster James “Cool Papa” Bell who was acknowledged as the fastest man in baseball. Poles was a switch hitter but when he batted left handed he was able to watch the ball hit the bat and then get a hit out of it. He was  great bunter with moderate power. As an outfielder his range was excellent, he had great hands and a good arm. He was intense and confident but not cocky and was called the “black Ty Cobb”.

People who witnessed his talent claimed he was a great player  and John McGraw said if  not for the “colored line” in baseball there were four players he would sign from black baseball, Pop Lloyd, Cannonball Dick Redding, Smokey Joe Williams and Poles.

Like a lot of other men Poles had his playing time interrupted by World War I and while with the Army Infantry with the 364th Infantry, Poles won five Battle Stars and a Purple Heart as a sergeant. Pop Lloyd, Bruce Petway, Frank Duncan, Grant Johnson, Louis Santop, Joe Williams, Jap Payne, Dick Redding, Bill Pettus, Jimmie Lyons, String Bean Williams and Fats Jenkins were just some of the greats that Poles played with throughout his career.

36-Richard “Cannonball Dick” Redding
Born: 1881 Atlanta, Georgia
Died: 1948 Islip, New York
Pitcher/Outfielder/First Baseman
Bats Right/Throws Right
Philadelphia Giants 1911, NY Lincoln Giants 1911-1916, NY Lincoln Stars 1915, Indianapolis ABCs 1915, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1916,1918, 1923-1932, 1938, Chicago American Giants 1917-1918, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1919-1921, NY Bacharachs 1922, Fe Cuba 1912-1913, 1914-1915, Havana Cuba 1922-1923

Richard “Cannonball Dick” Redding was one of the early greats when it came to pitching in black baseball. He had and overpowering fastball that earned him the nickname Cannonball. He used a no windup delivery and threw a hesitation pitch long before Satchel Paige ever did. In a career that began in 1911 and ended in 1938 Redding was credited with pitching 30 no hitters in his career.

His career in baseball began with a semipro team in the Atlanta area. Then during the prime of his career he became a very hard worker with great stamina. Often times he pitche both games of a double header two or three days in a row. He usually finished what he started and did not need much help from an relief pitchers.

After joining up with Rube Foster and the Chicago American Giants, the people in the press began calling Redding another Walter Johnson which is quite the compliment for any pitcher to receive. There was a time in his career when he was embroiled in a feud with Smokey Joe Williams and the two would not be photographed together. They smoothed over their differences and in 1929 were teammates on the Royal Giants with Redding occupying the number two spot in the rotation behind Williams the number one pitcher. Redding relied totally on his fastball to dominate batters and did not hesitate to knock a batter down to show who was boss.

Redding played with some of the greats in black baseball’s early days like Jimmy Lyons, Spotswood Poles, Louis Santop, Rube Foster, Bingo DeMoss, Ben Taylor, Oscar Charleston, Oliver Marcelle, Dick Lundy and of course Smokey Joe Williams.

Time to take a break from the list and talk about a man who while if was ranked would rank in the bottom half (51-100) of the playing order but was one of the better managers in black baseball, James Allen “Candy Jim Taylor. Taylor did play ball in the infield and also pitched but was known for managing more games than any other manager and also amassing more wins than any manager in blackball. He was one of the Taylor brothers along with C.I. Taylor, Ben Taylor and Steel Arm Johnny Taylor. As a player  he hit around .300 and was a member of the 1922 Chicago American Giants  team that Rube Foster thought was one of the best of all-time.

I know that there are many men who maybe should be ranked higher on this list of greats, but I put this list together to let people know there are some great men who played baseball and are now hardly recognized for their contribution to “America’s Past Time” I am certainly not an expert in black baseball and the Negro Leagues as there are many more men out there who know a lot more about the sport. I have and will always tell people I am no expert when it comes to baseball and I am just a fan who enjoys reading and learning about the game. I felt when putting this list together that I did the best job I could and as stated earlier, I just wanted to start a discussion about the sport and let people know more about the games. One thing that I found was hard about research of this nature is that lack of statistics and data when it comes to black baseball and the Negro Leagues. So when I did this I tried to focus a bit more on what I did find was written and add a little more on what other people thought of these gentlemen.

That being said thank you for taking time to read this and if anybody else has any others thoughts on this subject I would be more than happy to read about and discuss it with them. Again thanks for all your thoughts on this, now its time to get back to work.

35-Chester Arthur “Chet”Brewer
Born: January 14, 1907 Leavenworth, Kansas
Died: March 26, 2000 Whittier, California
Bats Both/Throws Right
Gilkerson Union Giants 1924, Kansas City Monarchs 1925-1935,1940-1941, 1946, Crookston Minnesota 1931, Washington Pilots 1932, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1935, Bismarck North Dakota 1935-1936, New York Cubans 1936, Philadelphia Stars 1941, Cleveland Buckeyes 1942-1943, 1946-1948, Chicago American Giants 1946, Tampico Alijandores 1938-1939, California League/Porterville Comets 1952, minors Southwest League 1952

Chet Brewer was a pitcher in the Negro Leagues between 1925 and 1948 for a wide assortment of teams in China, the Phillipines, Japan and teams in 44 of the 48 continental United States. He was regarded as an outstanding pitcher with a great deal of finesse and control. He could spot the ball and mix up a batter with a wide variety of pitches including a fastball, sweeping curve ball, overhand drop, a sinker and a screwball. He was also  pitcher who was not bothered hitting a batter or throwing in close to gain control of the plate.

His first outstanding season was 1926 which was his second year with the Kansas City Monarchs when he teamed with “Bullet” Joe Rogan to help the Monarchs to the first half pennant. Brewer was credited with 20 wins against all competition that year. In 1929 he finished with a record of 17 wins, three losses and a .850 winning percentage with a streak of 31 consecutive scoreless innings. During the 1930 season Brewer hooked up with Smokey Joe Williams in a pitching duel that saw Brewer strike out 19 batters including 10 in a row. He was unfortunately the loser in that game as Williams struck out 27 batters and allowed just one hit.

Three times during his career he was credited with winning 30 or more game in a season (30-1930, 34-1933 and 33-1934). Brewer won 16 games in a row in 1934 on his way to the 33 wins and also earned a well deserved spot in the 1934 East West All Star game. Given the lack of statistical data there is not a complete record of Brewer’s career (like a lot of the others in black baseball/Negro Leagues), but what is available his record in the Negro Leagues shows him with at least 130 wins. After retiring from baseball Brewer scouted for the Pittsburgh Pirates for almost 30 years.

Newt Allen, Frank Duncan, Jose Mendez, Bullet Joe Rogan, Newt Joseph, Ben Taylor, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Rap Dixon, Willard Brown, Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith were some of the great stars that Brewer pitched with during his career.

34-John William “Jimmie” Crutchfield
Born: May 15, 1910 Ardmore, Missouri
Died: March 31, 1993 Chicago, Illinois
Bats Left/Throws Right
Birmingham Black Barons 1930, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1931-1936, Indianapolis ABCs 1931, Newark Eagles 1937-1938, Toledo Crawfords 1939, Chicago American Giants 1941-1942,1944-1945, Cleveland Buckeyes 1944

Jimmie Crutchfield was not a big man at five foot seven inches tall but he was able to make up for his lack of stature with a natural talent for the game as well as his speed and great work ethic to make himself into one of the better players of the era. He did not have a lot of power but had great bat control with the ability to place bunts and or hits in the right place at the right time for a pretty good batting average over the years.

In 1930 he was with the Birmingham Black Barons before moving to the Indianapolis ABCs and then the Pittsburgh Crawfords where he teamed with Cool Papa Bell and Ted Page to form one of the best ever and fastest outfields in the Negro Leagues. He was selected for the East West All Star game three times and made one of the more spectacular catches ever made when he chased down a long line drive and made a leaping catch with his bare hand.

If one had to describe what kind of player Crutchfield was they could say he was a stable influence both on the field and in the clubhouse. He was a team player who was very good and very popular with both the fans and his teammates. Crutchfield finished his career with a batting average of .296 based on statistical data available.

His list of teammates over the years included Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, Lester Lockett and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.

33-Clarence “Fats” Jenkins
Born: January 19, 1898 New York, New York
Died: December 6, 1968 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Bats Left/Throws Left
NY Lincoln Giants 1920,1928,1930, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1922,1928-1929, Harrisburg Giants 1923-1927, Hilldale Daisies 1928, Baltimore Black Sox 1930, NY Harlem Stars 1931, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1923,1928, NY Black Yankees 1932-1934, 1936-1938, 1940 Brooklyn Eagles 1939-1940, Toledo Crawfords 1939, Philadelphia Stars 1940

Clarence “Fats”Jenkins played in the Negro League and black baseball from 1920 until 1940. Despite the nickname of “Fats” he was exceptionally quick I the outfield and when running the bases. He was an intelligent player and was a student when it came to running the bases. He was a slap hitter who could both hit for average as well as power and was a pretty good contact hitter as well. As an outfielder he had wide range and an average throwing arm. He was a hustler and a gifted athlete who in the off season was a member of the great Renaissance basketball team the won an amazing 88 games in a row during the 1934-1935 season.

His career began in 1920 with the NY Lincoln Giants and in 1923 he was the leadoff hitter on Oscar Charleston’s Harrisburg Giants team where he hit .317, .315, .298 and .398 for those years. In the next two years when he was with the Bacharach Giants he hit .379 and .365 for the Giants. Fast forwarding to the 1933 season he was selected to play in the first East West All Star game and then after a couple of more years he retired with a .334 batting average in black baseball and the Negro Leagues.

After beginning his career in 1920 he played with a number of All Star type teammates like Spotswood Poles, Bill Pettus, Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Rap Dixon, Walter Cannady, John Beckwith, George Scales, Crush Holloway, Ted Page, Leon Day and “Double Duty” Radcliffe.

32-David “Impo” or “Skinny” Barnhill
Born: October 30, 1914 Greenville, North Carolina
Died: January 8, 1983 Miami, Florida
Bats Right/Throws Right
Miami Giants 1936, Zulu Giants 1937, Ethiopian Clowns 1937-1940, NY Cubans 1941-1949, minor leagues 1949-1953

Dave Barnhill was a good pitcher in the Negro Leagues with his best years 1941-1949 when he was a member of the New York Cubans. He did later on pitch in the minor leagues but it was in the Negro Leagues where he gained his fame and fortune. While he was playing the sandlots of North Carolina he was on a team with future Hall of Famers Buck Leonard and Ray Dandridge. He was discovered by the Miami Giants in 1936 but almost became a member of the Homestead Grays except for the fact he was only five feet seven inches tall and not the type of player the Grays desired.

He became one of the top pitchers in the Negro Leagues in the 1940’s throwing pitches that looked like aspirin tablets coming in at the batter. Barnhill had a record of 18 wins and three losses in 1941, 26 wins and 10 losses in 1943 and was chosen to start the 1943 All Star game versus Satchel Paige. He and Paige had met two times previously both times at Yankee Stadium and each man had won one game.

31-Floyd “Jelly” Gardner
Born: September 27, 1895 Russelville, Arkansas
Died: 1977 Chicago, Illinois
Outfield/First Base
Bats Left/Throws Right
Detroit Stars 1919,1931 Chicago American Giants 1920-1930,1933 New York Lincoln Giants 1927 Homestead Grays 1928,1932

Floyd “Jelly” Gardner was an outfielder and a first baseman in black baseball/Negro Leagues from 1919 until 1933. Before he signed with the Detroit Stars in 1919 he was attending Arkansas Baptist College where when he played baseball he hit cross-handed until a coach corrected him and showed him the right way to hit. Before in 1916-1917 he played with the Longview Giants and then he went back to school to try and finish his studies.

He loved to run and could drag bunt with most anybody. He also had the ability to either wait out a pitcher for a base on balls or get that one pitch he could really hit with authority. He had the ability to just create a run with his speed. Cum Posey said of Gardner “ It would not surprise me if he were able to steal first base as well”. Gardner spent 11 years with the American Giants and in that time the team was able to win four pennants and one Negro League World Series. He had mediocre first three seasons, and then his batting picked up and he was an above .300 hitter. Dave Malarcher became the American Giants manager and things then really turned around and Gardner hit .376 and helped the Giants beat the Bacharach Giants to win the Negro League World Series.




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.

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