Basically, every topic in baseball can be argued except the actual outcome. You ask 20 baseball fans the same question and you will get a dozen different responses. The same goes for my topic today which is which Negro League players were the best. Feel free to disagree but these are my picks for the All-Time best from the Negro Leagues.
Negro League All-Stars
Position by Position
Negro League Pitcher- Satchel Paige
(Leroy Robert Paige) He played baseball for five decades and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Negro League Hall of Fame. He started his baseball life playing for the Mobile Tigers. He made many barnstorming tours across the county playing baseball and finally at the age of 42, he began his MLB career with the Cleveland Indians. He was the first Negro player to participate in the World Series. He became an All-Star in 1952 and 1953 as a member of the St, Louis Browns.He played his last professional game in June of 1966. He passed away on June 8, 1982.
Backup 1st team pitcher- “Smokey” Joe Williams
Many believe his baseball stuff was superior to Paige. Some called him “cyclone” for his blazing fastball. He began playing around 1910 with the Chicago Giants and he retired in 1933 with the Homestead Grays. It was not uncommon for Joe to strike out over 20 batters per game.He one-hit the Kansas City Monarchs in a 12 inning performance, In 1914, his record was 41-3 with over 100 strikeouts in a 17 game stretch. He was considered a “sure 30 game winner” by Ty Cobb if he was allowed to play in the major leagues. In exhibition contests against major league teams he went 20-7. It is reported he had 27 strikeouts in a game facing the Kansas City Monarchs.
Negro League Catcher- Josh Gibson
He has been tabbed as the very best power-hitting catcher to ever play the game. He is the second person named to the Negro League Hall of Fame. At 6’1” and 210 lbs. He was nicknamed the “Black Babe Ruth”. He began barnstorming the county with other black baseball players. In 1933, he hit 55 home runs in 137 games and batter .456. On December 16, 2020, Major League Baseball announced that it will recognize Negro league records, giving Gibson the major league record for single-season batting average with .441.
Negro League First Base- Buck Leonard
He played his entire 15-year career with the Homestead Grays. He was an 11-time All-Star in the Negro League. He finished with a .320 lifetime batting average along with a .519 SLG% in over 1600 at-bats. He ranked 47th on the All-Time Greatest Player List in 1999 by the Sporting News, He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Negro League Second Base- Frank Grant
Ulysses Franklin Grant was selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. He was primarily known as a slick fielder back in the 1880s. In 283 career games, he had 388 hits with 74 doubles and 22 triples in 1155 at-bats. In 1887, Grant led the Bisons with a .353 batting average, hit for the cycle in one game, and stole home twice in another. His teammates decried that his fielding bordered on impossible.
Negro League Shortstop- Henry Lloyd
Many believe Lloyd to be the greatest shortstop to play the Negrp League. In fact, Babe Ruth said Henry “Pop” Lloyd was the greatest player he ever saw. He was an expert place hitter even though he batted clean-up most of his life. Born in 1884 as the son of a Florida slave, he became well known as a gentleman in all regards. He played from 1906-1932 for ten teams and went on to manage several others. He died in 1964 and was a janitor at the Atlantic City High School. He was inducted in 1977 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Negro League Outfielders- Oscar Charleston, “Cool Papa” Bell, Monte Irvin
Oscar Charleston- In 1925 he played for the Harrisburg Giants and batted .451 with 20 home runs and drove in 35 runners and won the batting titles in 1924 and 1925.
“Charlie was a tremendous left-handed hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year, and cover center field as well as anyone before him or since…he was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one.”
- Buck O’Neill
He was elected in 1976 to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is a new book on his life at Amazon.
“Cool Papa” Bell– He played from 1922-1946 and was considered one of the fastest players to play the game. He could shut off the light switch at the door and be in bed before it got dark. In 1974, Bell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.He became a switch hitter to supplement his base speed. His accomplishments include 2x Negro World Series champ ( 1943, 1944)
- 8x All-Star (1933–1936, 1942 (2)-1944)
- Lifetime batting average: .337 (Negro leagues)
Monte Irvin – was selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. He made his MLB debut in 1949 with the New York Giants. In 1951, he was asked to mentor rookie Willie Mays of the Giants. His career included All-Star (1952):
- World Series champion (1954)
- NL RBI leader (1951)
- San Francisco Giants No. 20 retire jersey
About the author– Tom Knuppel has been writing about baseball and sports for a few decades. As an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan he began with the blog CardinalsGM. Tom is a member of the United Cardinals Bloggers and the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. He also maintains the History of Cardinals website. More recently he has been busy at KnupSolutions and the primary writer of many sports at KnupSports and adds content at Sports 2.0. Tom is a retired High School English and Speech teacher and has completed over one hundred sports book reviews. He also can be followed on Twitter @tknup.
Feel free to contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org
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