This week marked a milestone for Negro League legends. Major League Baseball officially recognized the Negro Leagues and welcomed them into the MLB family. Overall, there are a total of 35 former Negro League players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yesterday, we shared the story of Cool Papa Bell, perhaps the fastest man to ever play the game. Today, we look at four Negro League legends whose achievements cannot be ignored and are long overdue for recognition by all baseball fans.
Negro League Legends: Leroy “Satchel” Paige
Perhaps the most well-known Negro League legend is Satchel Paige. While he was a great pitcher, he also was known as an entertainer. Legend has it that he would sometimes call in his outfielders and then proceed to strike out the side. He began his professional career with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1927. He was the most dominant pitcher in the Negro Leagues, compiling a record of 146-64 over a career that covered 18 seasons. He struck out 1,620 hitters in 1,8282.1 innings. Paige also had a career WHIP of .921. These types of numbers would surely place him in the elite category of pitchers in today’s game.
At the age of 41, Paige went on to pitch in the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Kansas City Athletics. He went 28-31 in MLB, with a respectable ERA of 3.29. He made the AL All-Start team in 1952 and 1953, at the ages of 46 and 47. In his one game with the A’s, at the age of 59, Paige pitched three scoreless innings. He retired from baseball after his appearance in 1965 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of fame in 1971. He passed away in 1982.
Negro League Legends: Josh Gibson
The most well-known slugger from the Negro Leagues was certainly Josh Gibson. He began his professional career with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. He was a catcher with an amazing amount of raw power. He was the most-feared power hitter in the Negro Leagues, and legend has it that he hit over 800 home runs in total in professional baseball. He was known in many circles as “the black Babe Ruth.” Most knowledgeable historians consider him to be the greatest player who never played in the Major Leagues.
Hitting statistics from the Negro League era weren’t always recorded, so there is no way to quantify Gibson with statistics. There is no doubt, though, that he was the greatest power hitter in Negro League history. Additionally, he hit .426 in exhibition games against Major League pitching. Josh Gibson passed away in 1947 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Negro League Legends: Oscar Charleston
Oscar Charleston began his professional career in St. Louis in 1920 at the age of 23. Originally a pitcher and outfielder, he realized early on the playing the outfield was the best career move for him. he was a barrel-chested man who was known for his combination of speed and power. He also hit for power and had an excellent throwing arm. According to available stats, in 1921, he compiled some amazing numbers. He hit .434, with 35 stolen bases (in just 60 games). He led the league in doubles, triples, and home runs. Charleston served as player-manager for the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1932-1938. He ended his career with a career average of .347. He passed away in 1954 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.
Negro League Legends: Buck Leonard
Buck Leonard is the fourth and final Negro League legend in the spotlight today. His career began in 1935 at the age of 27 with the Homestead Grays. He spent his entire 15-year career with the Grays, a record of service with one team in the Negro Leagues. he was a first baseman who was solid both offensively and with the glove. During his tenure with the Grays, the team went to four consecutive World Series, winning two. In 1952, when Leonard was 45, he was offered a Major League contract. Leonard realized, though, that his playing days were over, and declined the offer. Buck Leonard was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971 and died in 1997.
Negro League Legends: Only The Beginning
The Negro League legends discussed above are just four of the many stars that played in the Negro Leagues. There were so many great players in the Negro Leagues that, to discuss them all would take volumes and volumes. Suffice it to say that the Negro Leagues being put on the same footing as Major League Baseball is long overdue. It is a beginning, though, and Major League Baseball is better off for it.
Negro League Legends: Epilogue
Readers may be surprised to learn that several of Major League Baseball’s stars greatest stars also played in the Negro Leagues. Here are some names that many fans will recognize: Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Minnie Minoso, and Jackie Robinson. With the exception of Minoso, all are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Their contributions to Major League Baseball are well-documented, unlike those who were born too early. yet, they share a bond with the Negro League Legends: They were outstanding players who received the honors they earned. That can never be taken away from them.
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