The Lucky 39
Mark your own Negro Leagues
Hall of Fame ballot
By John B Holway
For fans who want to fill in their own ballots for Cooperstowns big Negro League election coming up in February, here are some tools that may be helpful.
The numbers are based on a 20-year project, which Dick Clark and I conducted for the Macmillan Encyclopedia and which formed a basis for my book, The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues.
Data continues to pile up un-entered in desk drawers, but my attention was on other books, including TED, the Kid and Blackball Tales, both due out this year.
With the announcement of the Hall of Fame elections, I finally started sifting through the accumulated data and began the time-consuming job of updating. It proved to be too much to finish in the short time before the elections, so I did as much as I could before leaving it incomplete, to be worked on when the press of other priorities permits.
Negro League research is very much a work in progress, but one has to stop somewhere and publish what one has.
Meanwhile, Clark, Larry Lester, and others have finished their own three-year statistical project for the Hall of Fame. Except for Hall of Famers, their data haven't been made public, but they will inevitably differ from those that Clark and I did. This is to be expected; a third study would undoubtedly produce a third set of numbers. Negro Leagues research may never be marked finished.
In general, the Clark-Lester study should reinforce the earlier Clark-Holway work, though there will surely be differences, some major, others minor, some the result of human error, others of human interpretation. Box scores are often ambiguous, even contradictory. Stolen bases, pitchers of record, strikeouts, and even at bats and extra base hits, were not always given and had to be estimated if possible When did spring training end and the regular season begin? Was an inter-league series a playoff or not?
In the final analysis, the research comes down to dedicated but fallible human beings, all good at their jobs, all striving to do perfect work, all men and women of good will.
And all still disagreeing.
Other studies of selected seasons have been made by Phil Dixon and Jim Riley.
It is hoped that eventually all these will be reconciled, so that Josh Gibson will receive credit for every home run that can be found, and Satchel Paige for every game he won etc. (It will be impossible to find them all, because some box scores, alas, will probably never be found.)
Some of the following numbers have been updated since my first three posts on the subject. Some of my figures, still unsorted, cover the later years of the league, which may benefit Gibson at the expense of older players, such as Jud Wilson, who were at the ends of their careers.
Because the Negro Leagues played about 1/2 to 2/3 of the games the white major leagues played, a change of a few hits or at bats can cause big changes in a batting average. Alejandro Oms and Hank Thompson took tumbles since I first posted my thoughts in December. Rap Dixon and Candy Jim Taylor received boosts.
The following are offered to provide a guide to the black half of baseball history, a world that is still being unpealed, like layers of an onionskin. I hope the data will help bring to life these giants of North American baseball before you could say Jackie Robinson.
Herewith are data on pitchers.
NEGRO LEAGUE PITCHING LEADERS
Red are Hall of Famers
Bold are nominated
W L Pct TRA@ Combined# Hall of Fame study
Satchel Paige 160 91 .635 3.03 212 135 103 - 61
Bullet Rogan 155 65 .705 3.35 180 - 76 116 - 50
William Bell 151 63 .706 3.39 155 - 65 .721
Ray Brown 148 53 .736* 3.38 199 - 71 105 - 44
Bill Foster 134 63 .647 3.01 160 - 76 143 - 63
Bill Byrd 133 94 .586 3.37 138 - 96
Andy Cooper 131 63 .676 4.19 148 - 81 116 - 57
Nip Winters 131 73 .642 4.02 143 - 87
Bill Holland 119 104 .537 3.76 146 - 134
Joe Williams 106 51 .675 4.38 130 - 76 30 - 33
Ted Trent 105 60 .636 3.62 116 - 71
Phil Cockrell 101 87 .537 3.64 147 - 91
Roosevelt Davis 96 - 62 .608 - 98 - 65
Bill Drake 95 - 69 .579 95 - 74
Webster McDonald 94 76 .553 3.42 111 - 82
Rube Currie 93 - 50 .650 - 98 - 53
Sam Streeter 90 - 70 .563 4.26 92 - 77
Slap Hensley 82 42 .661 - 82 - 43
Rats Henderson 81 - 59 .579 91 - 66
Dick Redding 80 65 .552 3.92 109 104
Leroy Matlock 79 33 .705 2.62 110 - 54
Harry Salmon 75 - 61 .551 3.84 79 - 68
Hilton Smith 74 30 .712 2.82 98 - 45 71 - 31
Chet Brewer 72 44 .621 3.98 76 - 52 .597
Laymon Yokely 73 - 84 .465 80 - 88
Max Manning 70 - 39 .642 72 - 42
Henry McHenry 69 - 50 .580 76 - 59
Leon Day 65 41 .613 3.75 80 - 40 37 - 19
Jose Mendez 22 - 8 .733 108 - 45
Martin Dihigo 26 - 30 .464 162- 111 26- 19
© 2006 John B Holway, all rights reserved. May not be used or quoted without permission from the copyright holder.
* record @TRA is Total Run Average (earned runs not given in box scores).
* Combined includes regular season, plus playoffs, World Series, all-star games, games against white big leaguers, Cuba, 1937 Dominican Republic, and 1940-41 Mexican League. These are considered equivalent to Negro Leagues calibre.
Black players moved to Latin America every winter and continued their rivalries there.
Negro Leaguers played white stars every autumn Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, Mathewson, Johnson, Wagner, Dean, Feller, Foxx etc. The blacks won slightly more than they lost. Hence, Negro League games and the combined games are considered roughly equal in calibre to the major leagues.
Combined also includes Satchel Paiges American League totals.
Manning lost three seasons and perhaps 30 wins, in World War II. (Day lost 2.5 years and about 25-30 wins.)
Brewer lost 12 years four in the Depression, and eight in Latin America. If he had known 50-60 years ago that he'd be nominated for Cooperstown, he might have made different career choices.
Brown and Bell are dueling for the number-three spot in lifetime wins. Bell has inched ahead of Brown, but missing data may favor the younger Brown.
In my own opinion, the nominating committee did a very good job. But Winters, Matlock, and Manning deserve spots on the ballot ahead of some other, less-deserving, men.
Winters holds the single season W-L record, 28-5 in 1924, when he was also 3-1 in the World Series.
Matlock reeled off 21 straight league victories.
By contrast, Cannonball Dick Reddings record does not justify his reputation. Although he spent many years toiling for the lowly Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, still, it seems to me that he has pushed off better qualified men. Hensley, Currie, and Henderson also deserve his slot.
And this is their only shot. If they don't make it this time, the Hall says, there won't be a next time.
Mendez is a question-mark. He pitched only four years in the Negro Leagues at the end of his career; however, he had a great career in Cuba. Was the nominating committee told to stick to Negro League records only? What were the guidelines?
The Negro Leagues usually played five months a year, six games a week in the 1920s, about three or four a week in the 1930s and 40s (at least that's how many can be found). Thank you seasons totaled 40-100 games a year.
I haven't included strikeouts in the above data. Except for Paige, who had twice as many as his closest rival, Foster, they were not a factor among black pitchers.
Cooper is the Negro League leader in Saves with 22.
Day was nominated by teammate Monte Irvin, Smith by teammate Buck O'Neil.
I fear that the Hall is wasting a golden public relations opportunity. It plans to announce all the winners at once and induct them en masse this summer. Far better to space them out one or two per year. If they all go in as one class, the huge majority of fans will simply be confused by all the names they've never heard and will never be able to remember. After the election, the winners will remain as unknown and obscure as they had been all their lives.
These men were giants of North American baseball. If they were white, they would have been elected decades ago, alongside the white giants whom they played and usually beat. They should have fanfare and a roll of drums. White baseball didn't give them any when they were playing. They deserve it now.