The Negro Leagues.
I’m currently reading Dennis ‘Oil Can’ Boyd‘s autobiography. In the book, more than once he discusses the Negro Leagues (his father played in them) and his feelings towards that era of Baseball. In addition, I recently discovered Louis Santop; the legendary superstar catcher of the early Negro Leagues. Surprisingly, somehow I never knew anything about Santop and his career. I mention these things because they both recently sparked a big Negro League kick for me. This means putting dents in some related books I own, re-watching some documentaries, and doing some exploratory research online. I feel that every time I get in this mode, I venture further down the rabbit hole that is the history of the Negro Leagues. With all this said, it inspired me to whip up an all Negro Leagues photo post. Enjoy!
As I mentioned in the intro of this post, up until recently I had no idea who Louis Santop was. Somehow I had overlooked his career in the Negro Leagues which resulted in his 2006 Hall of Fame induction. Santop spent most of his career with the Hilldale Club and is widely recognized as one of the best catchers in Negro League history and the top catcher from the Negro League deadball era.
With everything that Santop accomplished during his long career in Baseball, his legacy is often associated with an error that in turn cost his team a loss during the 9th inning of Game 8 of the 1924 Colored World Series. Legend has it that Santop was never the same after the error due to a public verbal assault from Hilldale’s player-manager, Frank Warfield which left Santop in tears. The following season, he lost his job as Hilldale’s starting catcher and the the season after that was released; never to play again. Sad stuff, if you ask me.
A great photo of the of the man who was known as “The Black Babe Ruth.” I had never seen this photo of Josh Gibson before and was delighted to discover it due it’s quality. I can almost imagine a Satchel Paige fastball thrown high and inside zip by his head and the photographer snapping this gem of Gibson leaning out of harm’s ways.
Buck O’Neil is without a doubt, one of my favorite people in Baseball history. Like everyone else, I know more about his post-playing career as a Manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, a scout for both the Cubs and Royals, coach for the Cubs, and his many years late in his life as an ambassador of the game. With all that said, I’m very aware that he was a pretty darn good player as well. Some even say he was a Hall of Fame caliber first basemen. Whether that is true or not is up for debate but what can’t be debated are these facts (taken from his wiki page):
“O’Neil had a career batting average of .288 between 1937 and 1950, including five .300-plus seasons at the plate, as well as five seasons in which he did not top .260. In 1946, the first baseman led the NAL with a .350 batting average and followed that in 1947 with a .305 mark in 16 games. He also posted averages of .344 in 1940 and .330 in 1949. He played in four East-West All-Star Games in three different seasons and two Negro World Series.”
Now if you ask me, that’s a playing career worth celebrating and this is what I’m doing by posting this photo of O’Neil preparing to round 3rd base. Not many photos exist of of Buck from his playing days, but you can bet that anytime I find one, I will always share it here on 90 Feet of Perfection.
1944 Homestead Grays
This very well may be one of, if not my favorite Negro League team photos. What we have here is what I assume is a starting lineup for the 1944 Homestead Grays, featuring (L to R): Jelly Jackson, Ray Battle, Edward Robinson, Sam Bankhead, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Dave Hoskins, Jerry Benjamin, and Cool Papa Bell.
While researching the players in this photo that I’m not already familiar with, it caught my eye that Dave Hoskins is the only member of the ’44 Grays that ever made it to the big leagues. It’s quite heartbreaking to know that the majority of these players were one generation or so behind the desegregation of Major League Baseball. As far as Hoskins goes, he played parts of 2 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, however he also spent time in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and played one season with the PCL San Diego Padres.
Something else caught my eye regarding Hoskins are his stats batting stats for the ’44 season. See, Hoskins was a pitcher and his batting line for the ’44 season were quite impressive (.324/.328/.493) in 136 at-bats in 138 games. It seems as if Hoskins put in some time in the field as well, or at least as a pinch hitter. I’m aware that many of the Negro League stats at Baseball-Reference are incomplete and always will be, but I think it’s apparent that Hoskins could handle himself behind the plate.
Elston Howard is well known in the Baseball world for many reasons: He was the first African-American to play for the Yankees, he eventually took over catching duties from Yogi Berra, and he invented the batting donut. Something I recently learned about Howard is that he was supposedly the first player to use both his pinky and pointer finger to signal to teammates that there are 2 outs in an inning (opposed to using the pointer and middle finger). For some reason this blew my mind.
However prior to all this, Howard made his mark in the Negro Leagues as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, where he played under Manger Buck O’Neil and at one point was the roommate of teammate, Ernie Banks. Howard carved out quite an interesting and impressive career for himself. It’s a shame that in this day and age, more people are not aware of him.