Continuing our celebration this week of the Negro Leagues and black baseball’s importance in the context of America’s national pastime, today we look at the all-time Negro League All Star team.
Yesterday Kenny Kelly profiled some of the greatest Negro League hitters of all time, some of these players are likely some of the best professional baseball hitters of all time, though they are lesser known than the MLB players of the early years of professional ball. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find familiar names down below as well.
Today Brian Menendez released our list of the top-five Negro League pitchers of all time, with one of those starters taking the mound on our all star team.
Tomorrow I will be profiling the history of the Negro League All Star game know as the East/West game, but for the time being, let’s take a look at our version of the All-Time Negro League All Star game.
Starting Pitcher: Satchel Paige is the obvious choice to start for this All Time team. Satchel was a prolific pitcher with a career that spanned the better part of the 20th century. He started his professional career in the 1920s, and pitched effectively through the Negro Leagues, earning his way onto a Major League roster in the late 40s. He then went barnstorming before returning to the big leagues in the 1960s. Paige was a great control pitcher who could strike men out. He put up 1500+ innings in the Negro Leagues and another 500 in MLB.
Catcher: Josh Gibson is perhaps one of the most famous hitters of all Negro League players. Despite being only 35 years old when he died of a brain tumor, Gibson is one of the better-known Negro League players. Gibson is most famous for being a power hitter, but he hit for average as well. Though records are incomplete, it seems to be the consensus that his Negro League batting average was above .350, with some estimates putting more in the .385-range. Per his Cooperstown plaque, he is credited with nearly 800 home runs in a 17 year career, even if that number is exaggerated, in his tracked and confirmed Negro League stats, he was averaging a homer every 16 at-bats, which would put him in the top-ten for any MLB power hitter.
First Base: Walter ‘Buck’ Leonard is our starting first baseman. A teammate of Josh Gibson, Leonard is another player who hit for power and average. He regularly posted .350+ batting averages, leading the Negro Leagues in 1948 with a .395 mark, and often finished second in home runs behind Gibson.
Second Base: at second base, we place utility man Martin Dihigo. The pitcher / outfielder / second baseman hailed from Cuba, and was another player in the Cool Papa Bell-mold of disruptive lightning quick on the bases.
Third Base: Ray Dandridge is our starting third baseman. A born shortstop, Dandridge played at the hot corner for most of his career since his teammate Hall of Famer Willie Wells manned up-the-middle. Dandridge was an exceptional fielder, with a strong bat.
Shortstop: Few shortstops can claim to play a decent middle infield into their mid-40s, but John Henry Lloyd is one such player. As a 45-year-old in 1945, Lloyd batted .370, and followed up by hitting .369 the following season.
Leftfield: Monte Irvin played several positions over the course of his Negro League, Mexican League, and MLB career, including leftfield, rightfield, first base, and shortstop. Another prolific hitter who managed to hit for both power and contact. Irvin was on Branch Rickey’s radar in the mid-40s, and considered joining the Dodgers shortly after his military tenure. Instead he took time to play in Puerto Rico and Mexico before eventually playing with the Giants in 1949. Irvin played in the Mexican League where he won the Triple Crown in 1942.
Centerfield: An obvious fit for this team, Cool Papa Bell mans center field. One of the fastest players in the Negro Leagues, and likely in all of baseball at the time. Bell is a switch hitting lightning fast runner. While he wouldn’t hit for power, he’d drive pitchers nuts on the base paths.
Rightfield: As with most All Star teams, we’re going with two centerfielders, with the ‘slower’ player moving over to a corner slot. Oscar Charleston brings multiple skills to the table on this All Star team. A fantastic power hitter, a great contact hitter, and an excellent defensive center fielder, he is many all star players rolled into one. Charleston won at least four batting titles and several home run crowns. He is a top-five player of all time in the Negro Leagues.