The Cream of the Crop: Negro Leagues 100 Best Players (#50-41)
Now we are entering into who I believe are the top 50 players in black baseball/Negro League history. Have I left out some players so far? Of course, I probably have. Should some of the players I have picked or will pick be ranked higher? Maybe so, however that is the beauty of a discussion like this, everybody has an opinion and if one looks hard enough usually data and or statistics can be found to lend facts as to why one says what they have. That is what is so great about giving an opinion on something. Lists like these are not set in stone so while we may differ on something, what we do agree on is we have a love of baseball and its history and we see the need to make everyone aware of something so important to the history of the great game of baseball.
Before getting into numbers 50-41, I thought I would give some names and data as to some stars careers who overlapped with the Negro Leagues and then the period after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
The first name to put on this list is obviously Jackie Robinson. We all know Robinson went on to a Hall of Fame career in the major leagues for all of his accomplishments, but for a short time Robinson did play in the Negro Leagues before he made history in the major leagues. In 1945 Robinson was a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. With data available Robinson had 58 at bats. He had 24 hits including four doubles, one triple and one home run to go with 12 runs scored, 16 runs batted in and a .414 batting average. Then in 1946 he began in the minor leagues with the Montreal Royals of the International League. He would appear in 124 games for the Royals getting 155 hits in 444 at bats. He had 25 doubles, eight triples and three home runs. He scored 113 runs with 66 runs batted in and 40 stolen bases. He also had a .349 batting average, before he moved on to the Brooklyn Dodgers and became a star.
The next name on the list is the great slugger Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron. In 1952 the future home run slugger Hank Aaron began his career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He only stayed with the Clowns for three months before moving on to the minor leagues. Aaron played the 1952 season with the Eau Claire Bears of the Northern League. His next season in the minor leagues was 1953 and that was spent with the Jacksonville Braves of the South Atlantic League. He then went on to spend all but 1975 and 1976 with the Braves organization, first with Milwaukee (1954-1965) and the Atlanta
(1966-1974). His final two years in the majors were 1975-1976 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Of course, Aaron’s career cannot be adequately described in such a short space but suffice to say, Aaron became a superstar.
Next, we have one of the Chicago Cubs all-time great Ernie Banks. Banks was a member of the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950 and 1953 as he was in the military service in 1951-1952. He signed with the Chicago Cubs and went on to play his entire career in Chicago hitting 512 home runs, making numerous All-Star teams, winning Gold Glove and finally being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977. He is another of those players that had the Negro Leagues stayed around he undoubtedly would have become a star there as well.
Next on this list is former Dodger great Roy Campanella. As a 15-year-old young man Campanella began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Washington Elite Giants in 1937. Then from 1938 to 1945 he was a member of the Baltimore Elite Giants where he would receive tutelage from one of the Negro League catching greats, Biz Mackey. Campanella, in 1946 was a member of the Nashua Dodgers in the New England League and in 1947 a member of the Montreal Royals in 1947. He played briefly for the St Paul Saints of the American Association after playing with the parent squad, the Brooklyn Dodgers in 83 games in 1948. Campanella spent the rest of his career in the Dodger organization winning MVPs, making All Star teams and being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969. Campanella’s major league numbers would have been more except for a tragic motor vehicle accident in January 1958 that left him paralyzed and in a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
Larry Doby was the first African-American to play in the American League when he took the field for the Cleveland Indians in 1947. He would play in the major leagues from 1947 until 1959 with the Cleveland Indians (1947-1955,1958), the Chicago White Sox (1956-1957) and the Detroit Tigers (1959). Doby was also selected for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Prior to his major league career, he was with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League from 1942-1944,1946-1947).
There will be others on this exclusive list included in the next group of players. For now though lets continue with getting further and further down the list.
50-Grant “Home Run” or ”Dad” Johnson
Born: 1874 Findlay, Ohio
Died: 1964 Buffalo, New York
Bats Right/Throws Right
Minor Leagues 1894, Page Fence Giants 1895-1898, Chicago Columbia Giants 1899, Chicago Unions 1900, Cuban X Giants 1903-1904, Philadelphia Giants 1905-1906, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1906-190, 1912, Leland Giants 1910, Chicago Giants 1911, New York Lincoln Giants 1911-1913, Mohawk Giants 1913, New York Lincoln Stars 1916, Buffalo Giants 1923, Pittsburgh Colored Stars of Buffalo 1916-1917, 1919-1921.
Grant Johnson was called “Home Run” or “Dad” and played in black baseball from 1895 until 1916. He began his career with the Findley Ohio Sluggers in 1894 and in that 1894 season he was credited with 60 home runs which is how he acquired the nickname of “Home Run”.
In 1895 he joined up with the Page Fence Giants along with John “Bud” Fowler. Johnson played shortstop and was the team’s captain. That team that year finished with a record of 118 wins and 36 losses with Johnson contributing a .471 batting average. After the Page Fence team shut down operations Johnson went to the Chicago Columbia Giants, Chicago Unions and the Cuban X Giants.
In 1905 Johnson was with the Philadelphia Giants and the team won titles in each of the two seasons Johnson was with the team. Johnson then went to the Brooklyn Royal Giants where he again captained the team and that team was a title winner as well. Around 1910 Johnson was an established veteran who was very high-class and not showing his age one bit. He then was called “Dad” by the younger players who looked at him as a father figure.
Johnson captained the Havana Reds to a winter league title and in the process became the first ever American born player to win a batting title in Cuba. He could hit all kinds of pitches and was very cool under pressure. He would hit line drives placing an emphasis on contact instead of hitting home runs. Like major leaguer Frank “Home Run” Baker he would just end up hitting a clutch home run to give his team the win.
Finally in 1932 at the age of 58 he retired as a player after playing with the following players at some point during his illustrious career: Pete Hill, Pop Lloyd, Jap Payne, Bruce Petway, Bill Monroe, Rube Foster, Frank Wickwire, Walter Ball, Spotswood Poles, Louis Santop and Smokey Joe Williams.
49-David Julius “Gentleman Dave” Malarcher
Born: October 18, 1894 Whitehall, Louisiana,
Died: May 11, 1982 Chicago, Illinois
Third Base/Second Base/Shortstop/Right Field/Catcher/Pitcher
Bats Both/Throws Right
Indianapolis ABCs 1916-1918, Detroit Stars 1919, Chicago American Giants 1920-1928, Chicago Columbia Giants 19301-1931, Cole’s American Giants 1932-1934
Malarcher was forced to overcome many obstacles in his career in order to become a star player in the Negro Leagues as a third baseman. His father was a farm laborer and his mother a farm slave. All of his family remained positive throughout Malarcher’s upbringing and he himself had a very positive attitude all the way through his baseball career.
He attended both Dillard University and Xavier University and during that time he was converted from a cross-handed hitter into a switch hitter. After two years in college he signed with the Philadelphia ABCs and began his professional baseball career. He was a smooth fielding third baseman and always seemed to hit well in the clutch. In his first season with the great C.I. Taylor as his manager, Malarcher hit .309. After returning from World War I he learned even more about the game from the knowledgable Andrew “Rube” Foster. After Foster’s mental breakdown it was Dave Malarcher who took over the managerial reigns.
1920 was the first year Malarcher played with the Chicago American Giants and he hit .344 and was hailed as the best third baseman in all of black baseball. The Giants won the Negro National League championship with Malarcher’s steady, intelligent play one of the most important reasons.
Malarcher’s list of great teammates included: Ben Taylor, Bingo DeMoss, Oscar Charleston, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, Jose Mendez, John Donaldson, Jelly Gardner, John Beckwith, Cristobal Torriente, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, Alex Radcliffe and Willie Foster.
48-Oliver H. “The Ghost” Marcelle
Born: June 24, 1897 Thibedeaux, Louisiana
Died: June 12, 1949 Denver, Colorado
Bats Right/Throws Right
Brooklyn Royal Giants 1918-1919,1930, Detroit Stars 1919, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1920-1922, 1925-1928, New York Lincoln Giants 1923-1925, Baltimore Black Sox1929, Miami Giants 1934, Hilldale Club 1919, Santa Clara 1922-1924, Eastern League All Stars 1928
Oliver Marcelle was a student at the Tommy Lafon Elementary School for eight years and then went to high school at New Orleans University. His baseball career began with the New Orleans Black Eagles who were a local semi-pro team. Marcelle began his professional career with the Brooklyn Royal Giants.
He was a defensive stalwart at third base so much so he was selected over future Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson as the greatest third baseman in a 1952 poll by the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. He could do everything in the field. He was fast, covered a lot of ground and had a great throwing arm. There was no one who was his equal when it came to knocking down a hard hit ground ball and getting the batter at first base. He was idolized by the fans and respected by his peers and the media.
As a fielder he was once paired with Dick Lundy on the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants and they formed a virtual wall on the left side of the infield that balls had a hard time getting through. The pair then moved to the Baltimore Black Sox and Marcelle would hit the following: .305-1921, the .364 in 1922, .295-1923, .343-1924, .308-1925, .255-1926, .306-1927 and .296-1928. While not spectacular numbers, they were steady making Marcelle an asset with the bat.
He was a good baserunner as well and just a fiery competitor, although temperamental. He had confrontations with opponents, fans, umpires and teammates. One time he hit Oscar Charleston over the head with a bat and in 1930 he got into a fight with teammate Frank Warfield which led to Warfield biting off a piece of Marcelle’s nose which ultimately led to Marcelle’s retirement as a player. Marcelle was vain and the injury with Warfield led to constant bench jockeying from fans and from opponent.
He managed after and in 1934 was at the helm of the Kansas City Monarchs when they became the first ever black team to win the annual Denver Post tournament. One of Marcelle’s sons, Everett, played in the Negro Leagues as well as then in organized baseball after the colored line was erased.
Marcelle’s list of players could just about fill anyone’s list of all-time greats as he played with Dick Lundy, Dick Redding, String Bean Williams, Spotswood Poles, George Scales, Smokey Joe Williams, Pop Lloyd, Adolfo Luque, Dick Seay and Ted Page.
47-Elander Victor “Vic” Harris
Born: June 10, 1905 Pensacola, Florida
Died: February 23, 1978 San Fernando, California
Left Field/Right Field/Center Field/First Base
Bats Left/Throws Right
Cleveland Tate Stars 1923, Toledo Tigers 1923, Cleveland Browns 1924, Chicago American Giants 1924-1925, Homestead Grays 1925-1933, 1935-1948, Detroit Wolves 1932, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1934, Baltimore Elite Giants 1949, Birmingham Black Barons 1950
Most of Vic Harris’ career was spent with the Homestead Grays and he began playing in 1923 and ended his playing career in 1950. He was a native of Florida and got his start in baseball with the local YMCA around 1914 after he and his family moved to the “Steel City” of Pittsburgh. He professional career began with the Cleveland Tate Stars as an infielder. Later on he would sign up with Negro League legend Andrew “Rube” Foster and the Chicago American Giants. After a couple of years he jumped to the independent (At the time) Homestead Grays playing for Cumberland “Cum” Posey until he was lured away by Gus Greenlee and the rival Pittsburgh Crawfords. He batted .360 in his only year with the Crawfords and then hit .370 with the Grays. It was in 1937 that Homestead began its incredible run of nine consecutive pennants with Harris as a valued member of the team.
He was a left-handed batter with a short compact swing, able to hit the ball to any field. He was very underrated but was also considered to be one of the best to play the game. He appeared in six East West All-Star games and was selected as the starting leftfielder in the first ever game in 1933.
The following players were teammates of Harris at some point during his career: Bingo DeMoss, Bill Foster, Jelly Gardner, Cristobal Torriente, Jimmie Lyons, Dave Malarcher, John Beckwith, Martin Dihigo, Nip Winters, Walter Cannady, Smokey Joe Williams, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Mule Suttles, Quincey Trouppe, Willie Wells, Ray Dandridge, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.
46-Laymon Samuel “Corner Pocket” or “the Mysterious Shadow” Yokley
Born: May 30, 1906 Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Died: January 1976 Baltimore, Maryland
Bats Right/Throws Right
Baltimore Black Sox 1926-1933, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1934, Philadelphia Stars 1934-1937, 1939, Washington Black Senators 1938, Edgewater Giants 1940-1943, Baltimore Elite Giants 1944
Yokley went to Livingston College in Salisbury North Carolina and would often hook up in pitching duels with Bun Hayes who was pitching for J. C. Smith University. Both men were signed by the Baltimore Black Sox in 1926 and Yokley would still continue his education in the off-season. In the latter part of the 1920’s and early 1930’s Yokley was Baltimore’s staff ace. He was credited with throwing six no-hitters while with Baltimore. In 1929 Yokley won 17 games to help the Black Sox to the American Negro League pennant.
Fast forwarding to 1939, Yokley was with the Philadelphia Stars and had a total of 40 wins including semi-pro contests. The great Negro League pitcher Leon Day looked up to Yokley as his hero, quite the honor.
Yokley like the others played with some of the game’s greats like Chippy Britt, John Beckwith, Crush Holloway, Heavy Johnson, Ben Taylor, Jud Wilson, Dick Lundy, Biz Mackey, Satchel Paige, Mule Suttles, Sam Street, Webster McDonald, Ted Page, Dick Seay, Joe Black, Roy Campanella and Henry Kimbro.
45-George “Chippy” or “Public Enemy Number One” Britt
Born: 1891 Kings Mountain, North Carolina
Died: February 13, 1972 Winter Park, Florida
Bats Right/Throws Right
Indianapolis ABCs 1917, Madison Stars 1920, Dayton Marcos 1920, Columbus Buckeyes 1921, Harrisburg 1922, Baltimore Black Sox 1922-1926, Philadelphia Royal Giants 1925, Washington Potomacs 1925, Homestead Grays 1926-1933, Hilldale Daisies 1929, Detroit Wolves 1932, Newark Dodgers 1934, Columbus Elite Giants 1935, Washington Black Senators 1938, Baltimore Elite Giants 1939, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1940, Jacksonville Red Caps 1942, Chicago American Giants 1942, Cincinnati Buckeyes 1942, Cleveland Buckeyes 1943-1944, New Orleans Black Pelicans 1945
There are a lot of teams that look for that one player who can be put in any position and do well in it. A lot of players in the Negro Leagues/black baseball were versatile like that and George Britt was one of the best. His ability to adapt to any position was a plus in his career. He was the ideal utility man who played well anywhere. In 1924 and 1925 he hit .315 and .345 respectively for the Baltimore Black Sox and he was also a member of the 1930-1931 Homestead Grays, one of the greatest teams of all-time.
He was given the nickname “Chippy” because that is what he called everyone. He learned how to catch from Chappie Johnson and it was said Britt was so tough that he would cut the padding out of the catcher’s mitt and just put a sponge in the pocket instead. Britt was tough and though of along with Jud Wilson, Oscar Charleston and Vic Harris as one of the “four bad big men” of black baseball. No one would dare fight Britt because it was said he could whip the whole team by himself.
Dave Malarcher, Oscar Charleston, Bill Gatewood, Jud Wilson, Ben Taylor, Judy Johnson, George Scales, Joe Williams, Ray Dandridge and Dick Lundy were just some of his teammates through the years.
44-Walter “the Georgia Rabbit” or “the Black Diamond” Ball
Born: September 13, 1877 Detroit, Michigan
Died: December 15, 1946 Chicago, Illinois
Bats Right/Throws Right
August Georgia, Chicago Union Giants 1903,1905, Cuban X Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1905,1913, Leland Giants 1905-1909, Quaker Giants 1906, St Paul Colored Gophers 1907, Keystones 1908, Chicago Giants 1910-1911, 1917-1921, St Louis Giants 1912, Chicago American Giants 1912,1915, Mohawk Giants 1913, NY Lincoln Giants 1914, Milwaukee Giants, Young’s Cyclones 1893, Osceola Iowa 1898, Grand Forks North Dakota 1899-1900, Lakota North Dakota 1901, York North Dakota 1901, St. Cloud Minnesota, Club Fe 1908-1911
Walter Ball was a pitcher and sometimes outfielder in black baseball and the Negro Leagues in the early years of the game. He was considered one of the best pitchers in black baseball’s formative years along with Rube Foster, Dan McClellan and Harry Buckner, all of who were just a step above the rest of black baseball’s best. Ball was intelligent and had good control and he made frequent use of the spit ball. Off the field he wore tailored suits and that only added to his reputation as a sharp dresser.
His career began in 1893 for the Young Cyclones in St Paul Minnesota and in 1899 while pitching for Grand Forks of the Red River Valley League(Northern League) he would win 25 of 28 games to lead Grand Forks to the North Dakota title.
Eventually Ball signed with Frank Leland and the Chicago Union Giants and that was the first black team Ball ever played with. He jumped around playing in Cuba and it did not matter where he pitched he was the top or near the top as a pitcher for whatever team he played with. In 1912 for example Ball was with the St Louis Giants and at one point in the season won 23 consecutive ballgames.
Ball like all of these other stars played with some of the games greats like Grant Johnson, Harry Buckner, Pete Hill, Jap Payne, Chappie Johnson, Rube Foster, Bill Pettus, Frank Wickwire, John Beckwith and Frank Duncan.
43-John Wesley Donaldson
Born: February 20, 1892 Glasgow, Missouri
Died: April 14, 1970 Chicago, Illinois
Bats Left/Throws Left
Tennessee Rats 1912, All Nations 1913-1917, Gilkerson Union Giants 1917, Chicago Giants, Indianapolis ABCs 1918, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1918, Lincoln Giants 1918, Detroit Stars 1919, Kansas City Monarchs 1920-1924, 1931, 1934, Independent Semi Pro 1924-1930, John Donaldson’s All Stars 1931-1932
John Donaldson was a pitcher and an outfielder in black baseball/Negro Leagues between 1913 and 1934. On the mound he was poised with pinpoint control. His money pitch was a hard breaking curve ball. When he was with the All Nations team during the 1910’s he averaged 20 strikeouts a game and once during the 1913 season, threw three consecutive no-hitters. However the best years of his career were spent barnstorming through the Mid-West. In 1914 Donaldson pitched a 12 inning one-hitter striking out 27 batters. Then in 1915 in a 1-0 loss to Sioux Falls he fanned 35 batters in an 18 inning ballgame.
He had a great drop ball and a wide assortment of curve balls he would compliment with a fastball and or change up that made him one of black baseball’s best pitchers. At one point during the 1915 season he had 252 strikeouts in 15 games and then in 1916 he had 240 strikeouts in 12 game period. According to John Henry “Pop” Lloyd he was the toughest pitcher Lloyd had ever faced. Major league baseball’s John McGraw put a value on Donaldson of $50,000 if he had been white. Donaldson was named to the first team in 1952 by the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and recorded 14 no-hitters during his career.
He played with the likes of Jimmie Lyons, Ben Taylor, C.I. Taylor, Jose Mendez, Cristobal Torriente, Hurley McNair, Frank Warfield, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, Oscar Charleston, Bullet Joe Rogan and Walter “Dobie” Moore.
42-Theodore “Ted” Double Duty” Radcliffe
Born: September 7, 1902 Mobile, Alabama
Died: August 11, 2005
Bats Right/Throws Right
Detroit Stars 1928-1929,1931, St Louis Stars 1930, Homestead Gray 1931,1933,1936,1946 Pittsburgh Crawfords 1932, Columbus Bluebirds 1933, Cleveland Giants 1933, NY Black Yankees 1933, Bismarck North Dakota 1934-1935, Chicago American Giants 1934,1941-1943,1949-1950, Brooklyn Eagles 1935, Cincinnati Tigers 1936-1937, Memphis Red Sox 1938-1939, 1941, Mexican League 1940, Birmingham Black Barons 1942-1946, Kansas City Monarchs 1945, Harlem Globetrotters 1947, Louisville Buckeyes 1949
Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe had a long career in black baseball/Negro Leagues beginning in 1928 and ending in 1950. He acquired his unique nickname because he would often pitch in the first game of a double-header and then don the catching gear a catch the second game of the day. He was a colorful character in the rough and tumble world of the Negro Leagues. He never got credit for what he did in baseball despite the fact the he played with, contributed to the success of three of the greatest teams in the history of the Negro League. Those teams were the 1930 St Louis Stars, 1931 Homestead Grays and the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords.
With the Stars Radcliffe was the regular catcher and then after the pitching staff began to wear thin he would end up a vital part of the pitching staff. Radcliffe himself selected the 1931 Homestead Grays as his all-time best team as besides Radcliffe it included future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Jud “Boojum” Wilson and “Smokey” Joe Williams.
He was always quick to go where the money was as evidenced by the large number of teams he played for. He was a dangerous hitter with the pressure on. He had knowledge of the hitters and a skill at calling a game and a great ability to handle a pitching staff which made him an extremely valuable member of the club. He appeared in six East West All-Star games, three as a pitcher and three as a catcher. He was unique as there may have been better catchers and better pitchers, but there were not any players with the versatility of Radcliffe.
Turkey Stearnes, Cristobal Torriente, John Beckwith, Walter Cannady, Fats Jenkins, George Scales, Dan Bankhead, Lester Lockett, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Leonard were some of his teammates along with the members of the 1931 Homestead Grays team.
41-Newton Henry “Newt” Allen
Born: May 19,1901 Austin, Texas
Died: June 11, 1988 Cincinnati, Ohio
Bats Right/Throws Right
All Nations 1922, Kansas City Monarchs 1922-1944, St Louis Stars 1931, Detroit Wolves 1932, Homestead Grays 1932, Indianapolis Clowns 1947
Newt Allen’s career in black baseball/Negro Leagues began in 1922 and ended in 1947. During the 1920’s and early part of the 1930’s Allen was thought to be one of the better second baseman in the sport. He was a slick fielder with good hands and he could turn a perfect pivot when making the double play. In the field he had great instincts and on the bases it was much the same. He was aggressive and used his speed to take an extra base on a hit. Allen was consistent with the bat and also a good bunter. He was perfect for the number two spot in the order with his skill with the bat.
Most of his career was spent with the Kansas City Monarchs of J.L. Wilkinson. It was Wilkinson who discovered Allen while he was playing at Lincoln High School and then with the semi-pro Omaha Federals. Allen became captain of the Monarchs and was a key member of the pennant winning squads from 1923-1925. In the 1924 Negro League World Series Allen had seven doubles and a .282 batting average as the Monarchs defeated the Hilldale Daisies in a best of nine series for the title.
Allen had Gold Glove like talent in the field and was a steady if not spectacular hitter. In 1931 he hooked up with Willie Wells to form one of the better double play combinations in baseball black or white. He was selected to play in the East West All-Star game four times and ended his career with a .296 lifetime batting average that also included a .301 average against major league teams in exhibition games.
Allen played with some of the greats of the game like John Donaldson, Frank Duncan, Jose Mendez, Joe Rogan, Chet Brewer, Andy Cooper, Eddie Dwight, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Walter Cannady, Vic Harris, Quincy Trouppe, Willie Wells, Smokey Joe Williams, Jud Wilson, Willard Brown, Hilton Smith and Turkey Stearnes.