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Negro Leagues

Who are the top Negro League candidates?

Let’s go on a time-machine ride back to the mid-1930s. The baseball Hall of Fame was opening its doors and adding its first dozen or so members. How did they pick them? Well, first they consulted the WAR tables on BBREF then they applied certain historical adjustments to all the underlying statistical bases of WAR. Oh wait, that’s what Miller and I do. Start over: First they consulted…they consulted…they, uh, what did they consult?

While there were sources of statistical information on baseball players, those sources were woefully incomplete, and many didn’t agree. By way of example, when Joe DiMaggio went on his record-setting hitting streak in 1941, researchers had to dive into the archives to confirm that the longest prior hitting streak belonged to Wee Willie Keeler. When the Hall of Fame opened in 1936, the famous MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia lay nearly 35 years in the future. So our electoral ancestors probably relied mostly on lore, reputation, and actual fame. They had numbers to work with, of course, but memories made up a massive part of their assessment. Much, much, much more so than today.

When the Hall finally opened its doors to Negro Leaguers in the 1970s, electors had less, and less organized, information than the 1936 electors did. Deep into the 1980s as Blackball stars got more plaques, voters had little factual foundation to cast their votes from. Some progress came in the early 1990s, but the most consistent and systematic presentation of Negro League information, the Negro League Database at Seamheads.com, was only conceivable to people like William Gibson.

Recently, we asked a few key questions we’d need to answer to open a Negro Leagues wing at the Hall of Miller and Eric. The first couple revolved around the question of who exactly we would be electing, and this article digs a little deeper. While it’s still very much an if whether we’ll go in this direction or not, we wanted to see what we’re up against. With that in mind, we spent much of last weekend assembling lists and crosschecking them against stats and sources.

Turns out we needed a combination of strategies to identify the candidate pool because we haven’t quite reached the MacMillan stage yet in Negro Leagues information. We have lots of well-researched statistics, but they aren’t yet complete. We have anecdotal sources, too, but are subject to hyperbole. There’s lots of biographical research to help verify some items. So it’s triangulation.

The result of our experiment this weekend was a list of nearly 150 player candidates, among whom we would be choosing 29 to match Cooperstown’s total. We drew up the list of Negro Leaguers this way:

  • Hall of Fame members
  • Hall of Merit members
  • Players who got threads in the Hall of Merit’s discussions
  • Most players ranked by Bill James in the New Historical Baseball Abstract
  • Most players whose career WAR or career WAR/162 landed in the top 100 at the Negro Leagues Database
  • Any other players who might fall outside of these parameters and who we think might have a strong case when more information becomes available.

We can’t say that we identified every single one of the best possible candidates. We hope you’ll suggest any we might have missed. But we feel about 99% sure that our 29 honorees would come from this group.

So without further claiming, exclaiming, disclaiming, or declaiming, here are the candidates we think would make the most sense, grouped by position. At this point, it’s premature for us to start listing out stats and arguments and whatnot. This is just a preliminary list. Abbreviations:

F = Hall of Fame
M = Hall of Merit
S = Hall of Stats
* = Played in MLB

CATCHER

  • Josh Gibson (F,M)
  • Gervasio Gonzalez
  • Elston Howard*
  • Biz Mackey (F,M)
  • Bruce Petway
  • Double Duty Radcliffe
  • Louis Santop (F,M)
  • Quincy Trouppe* (M)

FIRST BASE

  • Bob Boyd*
  • Tank Carr
  • Julian Castillo
  • George Crowe*
  • Piper Davis
  • Luke Easter*
  • Robert “High Pockets” Hudspeth
  • Buck Leonard (F,M)
  • Buck O’Neil
  • Eustaquio Pedroso
  • Alonzo Perry
  • Bill Pettus
  • Al Pinkston
  • Mule Suttles (F,M)
  • Ben Taylor (F)
  • Edgar Wesley

SECOND BASE

  • Newt Allen
  • Sam Bankhead
  • Walter “Rev” Cannaday
  • Bingo DeMoss
  • Martin Dihigo (F,M—Dihigo could be placed just about anywhere on the diamond)
  • Jim Gilliam*
  • Frank Grant (F,M)
  • Sammy T. Hughes
  • Bill Monroe
  • George “Tubby” Scales
  • Chino Smith
  • Frank Warfield
  • Marvin Williams

THIRD BASE

  • Dewey Creacy
  • Manuel Cueto
  • Ray Dandridge (F)
  • Judy Johnson (F)
  • Leon Kellman
  • Dave Malarcher
  • Oliver Marcelle
  • Carlos Moran
  • Alex Radcliffe
  • Bunny Serrell (sometimes written Bonnie or Barney)
  • Candy Jim Taylor
  • Jud Wilson (F,M)

SHORTSTOP

  • John Beckwith (M)
  • Pee Wee Butts
  • Perucho Cepeda
  • Pelayo Chacon
  • James Buster “Bus” or “Buzz” Clarkson*
  • Frank Forbes
  • Silvio Garcia
  • Grant “Home Run” Johnson (M)
  • John Henry “Pop” Lloyd (F,M)
  • Dick Lundy
  • Dobie Moore
  • Hank Thompson*
  • Willie Wells (F,M)
  • Artie Wilson*

LEFT FIELD

  • Charlie Blackwell
  • Blainey Hall
  • Bill Hoskins
  • Monte Irvin* (F,M)
  • Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
  • Hurley McNair
  • Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso* (M)
  • Art Pennington
  • Wilson “Frog” Redus
  • Rogelio Valdes

CENTERFIELD

  • Cool Papa Bell (F,M)
  • Willard Brown* (F,M)
  • Oscar Charleston (F,M)
  • Johnny “Cherokee” Davis
  • Larry Doby* (F,M,S)
  • Roberto Estalella* (technically, Estalella did not appear in the Negro Leagues, but there’s some question about whether his skin color hindered his path to the majors)
  • Pete Hill (F,M)
  • Sam Jethroe*
  • Jimmy Lyons
  • Felix McLaurin
  • Alejandro Oms (M)
  • Spots Poles
  • Norman “Turkey” Stearns (F,M)
  • Clint Thomas
  • Jules Thomas
  • Cristobal Torriente (F,M)
  • Tetelo Vargas

RIGHT FIELD

  • Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre
  • Rap Dixon
  • Danny McClelland
  • Ted Strong
  • Fred Wilson
  • Burnis “Wild Bill” Wright

PITCHER

  • Walter Ball
  • Dave Barnhill
  • Frank Bradley
  • Ramon Bragaña
  • Chet Brewer
  • Dave Brown
  • Ray Brown (F,M)
  • Harry Buckner
  • Bill Byrd
  • Andy Cooper (F)
  • Leon Day (F)
  • John Donaldson
  • Bill Foster (F,M)
  • Rube Foster (F,M)
  • Manuel “Cocaiña” Garcia
  • Carl Glass
  • Lewis Hampton
  • Rats Henderson
  • Bill Holland
  • Connie Johnson*
  • “Toothpick” Sam Jones*
  • Jose Junco
  • Jim “Lefty” LaMarque
  • Jose LeBlanc
  • Bill Lindsay
  • Max Manning
  • Verdel Mathis
  • Leroy Matlock
  • Booker McDaniels
  • Webster McDonald
  • Terris McDuffie
  • Henry McHenry
  • Jose Mendez (F,M)
  • Jose Muñoz
  • Don Newcombe*
  • Andres Ortega
  • Juan Padron
  • Leroy “Satchel” Paige* (F,M)
  • Roy Partlow
  • Andy “Pullman” Porter
  • Wee Willie Powell
  • Dick “Cannonball” Redding
  • Wilbur “Bullet” Rogan (F,M)
  • Red Ryan
  • Harry Salmon
  • Hilton Smith (F)
  • Ted Trent
  • George Walker
  • Smokey Joe Williams (F,M)
  • Nip Winters
  • Johnny Wright

Before we go any farther, we do want to point out that in many cases, some of these positional assignments are less than final. Many of these guys played all over the place and could as easily be labeled UT as anything else. As we get more information we’ll get them more precisely located on the diamond.

You might notice a particular kind of player on this list that bears mention. Ellie Howard, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Minnie Miñoso all fall short of the Hall of Miller and Eric based solely on their MLB records. (Well, and Satchel, but….) If these fellows have enough of a boost from Negro League or minor league data, they could vault into our hallowed Hall. In this way, we have to allow for the overlap of Negro Leagues and Major Leagues because in the event life didn’t give us a neat and tidy separation.

All that said, I’ve done quite a lot of work on Negro League players in the past, and some of these guys surprised me. In part, that probably means we don’t yet have enough information on the more surprising among them in the Negro Leagues Database to be certain of their level of performance—but what’s there looks great. They may fall away. Of course others might join this list if any missing information boosts their credentials. We’ll get to that bridge if we ever cross it. In practice, probably half of these guys wouldn’t survive the first couple rounds of cuts anyway, but we’d rather draw a more inclusive list at the beginning and thin it out than be desperately adding names to an inadequate list.

This was a fun exercise. We hope you’ll try it yourself and/or let us know who we forgot, skipped, or simply failed to spot. After all, the last high-level Negro League game was played before many of our readers parents or grandparents were born.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “Who are the top Negro League candidates?

  1. A few possible additions for you
    1b-Lemuel Hawkins and LeRoy Grant
    2b-19th Century standout Bud Fowler
    3b-Dobie Moore
    OF-“Steel Arm” Davis (probably too short a career)
    P-Phil Cockrell, Rube Currie, Bill Gatewood, and George Stovey (19th Century)
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | May 1, 2017, 8:33 am
  2. A brief comment on the above:
    Hawkins and Moore played for the championship Monarchs of the 1920s
    Cockrell and Currie were aces on the Hilldale team that played in the 1st two Negro World Series’ of the 1920s
    Davis was with Foster’s American Giants that dominated the later 1920s
    I should have also added Bill Lindsay whose career was cut short by his unexpected death in 1918. He’ll be a low overall but high peak type.
    Good luck.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | May 1, 2017, 8:40 am
  3. At the risk of cluttering your reply box, I didn’t notice Moore at shortstop. I’m used to thinking of him as a third baseman.
    I also note you are not listing executives like J. L. Wilkinson (Monarchs), Cum Posey (Grays), Gus Greenlee (Crawfords), and Alex Pompez (Cubans). Are you going to add them also?
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | May 1, 2017, 9:22 am
  4. Dobie Moore and Dick Lundy were enshrined in the Hall of Merit.

    He might be more of a contributor candidate, but Sol White has some merit as a player.

    Keep up the great work guys!

    Posted by Ryan | May 1, 2017, 10:48 am
    • We could also throw in Pearl Webster. Webster was a catcher who entered the Army in World War I and died in France of influenza a couple of weeks after the war ended. His career may be too short for your purposes. Finally (we all hope) Jesse Barber was a utility man in the teens and 20s who did well at a lot of positions.
      v

      Posted by verdun2 | May 1, 2017, 8:23 pm
  5. Great list.

    A few more to consider:
    1B/C – Bill Pierce
    C – Joe Greene
    2B- Pat Patterson
    SS – Bill Riggins
    3B- Howard Easterling
    LF – Charles “Frank” Earle

    Posted by KJOK | May 2, 2017, 2:49 am

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