Slavery was America’s greatest shame since the country’s founding and the greatest shame once that stain on American life was removed was continuing discrimination. The effects of that throughout society were incalcuable. The same hateful attitudes that permeated so many areas of daily life were applied to baseball, too, over the first half of the 20th century.
When Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signging with the Brooklyn Dodgers it heralded the beginning of a new era in the sport. But for many stars of the game with black skin it was too late. Many of those players were too old, and were long-retired. Others were too old to start fresh. A small number, still active, were nearing the end of their productive baseball livesbut briefly appeared in the majors.
So after choosing an All-Time National League Team and an All-Time American League Team I am choosing an All-Time Negro Leagues team. This is a somewhat harder task since all of the players competed so very long ago and accurate record-keeping has always been an issue in determining the history of Negro Leagues teams and players. Between barnstorming teams, exhibition games, and sketchy box score records, it has always been difficult to keep track of exact player statistics. It’s tough to just flip to the pages of a record book and compare numbers with full faith.
Pulling together a roster of former Negro Leagues players (and some who even predated formal league play) depended on the judgment of the Baseball Hall of Fame, reading material, and anecdotal evidence. With few exceptions the players chosen never appeared in a Major League game, but those that did were at the tail end of their careers. While Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and others did play in Negro Leagues games clearly the main portions of their playing days were spent on the bigger stage.
The All-Time Negro Leagues Team
Manager: Buck O’Neil (ran the Kansas City Monarchs while playing first base). Coaches: Martin Dihigo (did everything on and off the field), Jud Wilson (manager and good player), Ben Taylor (21-year playing career, too), Rube Foster (founder, manager, pitcher Negro National League).
Pitching staff: Satchel Paige (the ageless wonder did get a chance in the majors late), Smokey Joe Williams (threw smoke), Bullet Joe Rogan (threw bullets), Bill Foster (one season won 23 games in a row), Hilton Smith (six-time All-Star), Leon Day (seven-time All-Star, once won all games in a season, 13-0), Ray Brown (76 percent winner), Jose Mendez (early Cuban star), and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe (played so long it was said he won 500 games and hit 400 home runs). Reliever: Andy Cooper (most renowned closer in Negro Leagues play).
Outfielders: Cool Papa Bell (said to be the fastest player of all time), Monte Irvin (health prevented him from being first signed to break the color line, played well for the New York Giants), Oscar Charleston (.350s hitter, star base stealer), Turkey Stearnes (seven-time Negro Leagues home-run king), Cristobal Torriente (Babe Ruth marveled at his talent).
Utility Man: Martin Dihigo. He pitched, hit and managed and is not only in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, but is in the baseball halls of several Latin American countries.
Now that I have pieced together a third all-time team it is time to choose one more–the all-time team selected from the best of my National League, American League and Negro Leagues players. This should be even tougher deciding who to leave out.