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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

At last –



by John B Holway

As you probably know, a special SABR committee named 39 Negro Leaguers to a ballot to be voted on in February and then inducted en masse in August.

It’s a source of great joy to me and also great disappoint.

First the joy.

At long last, Jud Wilson, the black Ty Cobb, will get the plaque he has deserved for so long. He batted over .400 four tickets, and his lifetime .370 leads his nearest competitors, Josh Gibson and John Beckwith, by 20 points. His nickname, Boojum, comes from they sound of his line drives banging against the fences. Jud should have been elected among the first four or five men 30 years ago.

(I am quoting my own 30-year study of Negro League statistics. The Hall commissioned a $250,000 study by SABR members, which has not been released yet. Presumably their study and mine should reinforce each other, though they probably have games I don't, and I believe I have games they don’t. But the results should be similar, since Dick Clark worked on both.)

Mule Suttles, the black Jimmie Foxx, ranks #3 as a home run hitter, behind Turkey Stearns and Gibson. Fans yelled “Kick, Mule!” whenever he came to bat. In Havana he walloped one drive a measured at 598 feet. His 11th-inning home run against Martin Dihigo into the upper deck of Comiskey won the 1935 East-West (all star) game, presaging Ted Williams by six years. Mule and Josh dueled each other through the ‘30s, when both probably would have broken Babe Ruth’s 60-homer mark if they'd been in the white majors. Mule topped .400 several times, even in huge Rickwood Park, Birmingham. His totals would have been much higher, except for a beaning in 1927.

Ray Brown is #3 in lifetime wins, and his won-lost percent tops both Satchel Paige and Bullet Rogan – in fact, it tops everyone in the Negro Leagues. Brown and Gibson formed the best battery in black baseball; Grove and Cochrane would be their closest rivals in white baseball. Ray went 15-0 one year. He was also a hard-hitting pinch-hitter.

Biz Mackey is considered by everyone the best receiver in black baseball – maybe in all bb. Pitchers loved to pitch to him. And he averaged .320 as a line-drive hitter from both sides of the plate. Led the league with .434 in 1924. Biz and Nip Winters on the Philadelphia Hilldales may have been as great as Gibson and Brown of the Grays.

Dick Lundy (“King Richard”) was a smooth-fielding .337-hitting shortstop, who many old-timers claimed was better than Pop Lloyd or Willie Wells. Also led the Bacharach Giants and Baltimore Black Sox to three pennants.

Cristobal Torriente was, in my opinion, the best player to come out of Cuba, better than Dihigo. A lifetime .340 hitter, “Torri” would have done even better if he hadn't played in Chicago, with its huge pitcher-friendly playing field. The only slugger on Rube Foster’s team of race horses, when he came up with men on base, he’d shake the bracelets on his wrist, and say, “Me get ’em.”

John Beckwith not only batted .352, he is among the top home run hitters in black history. A surly Albert Belle personality, he played shortstop and catcher.

Willard Brown also might have busted Babe’s mark in 1946. Had a cup of coffee with the St Louis Browns at the age of 30-plus, then tore up the Texas League. Holds the Puerto Rico record for homers; far behind in second place -- Reggie Jackson.

Alejandro Oms actually topped Beckwith in batting, though with less at bats.

Dobey Moore was another terrific hitter (.368), and old-timers say he was also a star at shortstop. His career was only seven years; he spent his early years in the Army, then was cut down in his prime when shot in the leg. But he had ample at bats to deserve his nomination. He and Rogan were the backbone of the great Monarchs teams of the ‘20s.

J.L. Wilkinson and Cum Posey were the two top owners in black baseball. They built the Kansas City Monarchs and Homestead Grays into the most renowned dynasties in the black game. Wilkie also pioneered night baseball, beating the white minors by a few days and the majors by five years. His idea saved Negro League ball -- and white minor league ball – during the Depression.

Bill Byrd and Andy Cooper ranked up with Brown and Bill Foster in lifetime wins. Coop was also the Negro League leader in saves. Byrd was a fine hitter as well. They form a close statistical group with Foster and Nip Winters in lifetime wins.

Newt Allen was the best black second base until Joe Morgan and should be the first one elected to the Hall from the Negro Leagues. A mainstay of two great Monarch teams in the 1920s and’40s, with good stolen base numbers.

George Scales was a great curve-ball hitter with fair power, who could play almost anywhere in the infield. Also a great teacher, he gave Joe Black and Jim Gilliam the tools they needed to make the Dodgers.

All these men would have been in Cooperstown decades ago if they’d been white. They'll be rich enhancements to the hallowed walls, and I applaud the committee for nominating them. Their elections in February should be unanimous.

I wish the Hall would change its mind about electing them in one fell swoop. If Jud Wilson is one of 39 names, who will even notice him, let alone remember him? Parcel them out, one a year. Get a lot of debate: Who will be next?

The Hall ought to be a great teaching tool. Cooperstown is squandering a terrific public relations opportunity.

Next: “Hit a few and miss a few.” Where the committee stumbled badly.

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