Thursday, February 4, 2016

5 Negro League Greats You Should Know But Don't

February is Black History Month and to coincide with it, I am going to write a few Negro League based editions.
Every baseball fan knows of the old negro leagues and some of its' great players.  We all know who Satchel Paige, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard are.  Many know of Ray Dandridge, Oscar Charleston and Rube Foster.  But there is several players who were great that many baseball fans have never heard of. 
I will tell you briefly about five of these players.

1) Willie Wells (1924-48).  Wells is considered to be the top shortstop in the negro leagues in the 1930s and early 40s.  Known for his good range, sure hands and accurate arm.  He was a solid hitter also, hitting over .300 consistently.  As many Negro League stars did, he played during the winter months in Latin America.  In Cuba he won multiple MVPs and league titles and later in Mexico he won another pennant and became known as "El Diablo" or "The Devil". 
Here in the USA, he played primarily with St. Louis Stars and Newark Eagles.  With the Eagles, he was the part of the Million Dollar Infield.  Wells played in eight Negro League All Star games.  Near the end of his career, he taught a young Jackie Robinson how to turn the double play.  Wells was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
2001 Topps Chrome What Could Have Been
2)George "Mule" Suttles"  (1918-44).  Despite using a 50 ounce bat, Suttles was known for his prodigious home runs and all the while maintaining a high batting average.  Suttles was also a member of the Million Dollar Infield and played in five all star games where he hit .412 for his career.  For exhibition games against white ball clubs, Suttles hit .374 and hit five career home runs.  His teammates would yell "Kick Mule" while he was the plate in hoping for a big hit.  Suttles was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006

3)Raleigh "Biz" Mackey (1920-47) Widely considered the greatest defensive catcher in Negro League history.  He studied the hitters' tendencies, worked well with the pitchers and was able to frame pitches in order to get calls in his favor.  Mackey had the ability to throw a strike to gun out would be base stealers at second base from the crouch just as well as many standing up. 
At the plate, he was able to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate.  Mackey was selected to play in four all star games and was even picked to start over a young slugging Josh Gibson.  Mackey later taught the finer points of catching to Roy Campanella.  He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006.

4)Norman "Turkey" Stearnes (1920-40) The outfielder played mostly for the Detroit Stars,  Stearnes had both great power and speed.   Stearnes is considered one of the greatest home run hitters in the negro leagues.  He also led the league in triples and stolen bases each at one point in his career.  Stearnes was also a very good fielder.  He was the top vote getter in the inaugural Negro League East-West All Star game and later played in three other games.  He is credited with a career. 351 average against white ball clubs in exhibition play.  He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2000.
1994 Ted Willams Co.
5) Willard Brown (1935-50). A could do it all outfielder that was best known for his power and ability to step up his play in big games.  While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, he won three batting and home run titles and garnered the nickname "Esse Hombre".
In the USA, Brown played on the great Kansas City Monarch teams that five pennants in a six year span.  "Home Run" Brown played on several all star games before called to duty for World War II.  After his return, he helped lead the Monarchs to another pennant.  Months after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color barriers in 1947, Brown and Hank Thompson was signed to play for the lowly St. Louis Browns of the American League.  Without any minor league adjustment, both Brown and Thompson struggled in the major leagues.  Brown returned to the Monarchs soon after, but managed to hit the first ever home run in AL history by a black player.  Brown was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006.

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