It is well known that some of the greatest throwers of baseballs spent most of their time in the Negro Leagues. Their games often drew crowds that rivaled those of the major leagues— and many players’ skillset also rivaled MLB talent.
To continue our coverage of the Negro Leagues this month, here is a short list of some of the best pitchers from the Negro League era. A few notes; Negro League data is vast—lots of different leagues, players, and divisions. All data has been pulled from the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database.
Satchel Paige: 1,563.0 IP, 170 ERA+
The near-consensus best Negro Leagues pitcher, Paige’s career spanned over five different decades. Compiling 112 complete games and 25 shutouts, not only was Paige hard to hit, is also seems he was immune to the ‘times through the order’ penalty that plagues many starting pitchers in yesteryear and today.
Regarded not only as a pitcher with great stuff, Paige was also known to be a cerebral pitcher as well—one with great command. ‘In and out, up and down. Nine out of 10 times he could put it where he wanted it,’ says fellow Negro Leaguer and hall of famer Hilton Smith.
‘Smokey’ Joe Williams: 2270.0 IP, 147 ERA+
Williams racked up more innings and strikeouts than any Negro Leagues pitcher in his 26 year career. Like Paige, Williams set himself apart from the crowd with his lights out stuff and pinpoint control when he made a name for himself as a member of the New York Lincoln Giants.
Perhaps the peak of Williams’s career came in 1930 when he struck out *checks notes* 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a *checks notes again* 12 inning shutout as a *checks notes a third time* 44-year old.
Ray Brown: 1562.1 IP, 149 ERA+
The ‘Sunday Pitcher’—a term affectionately given to a team’s ace starter, Brown was known for drawing crowds every time it was his day on the bump. He was part of the Grays dynasty that won eight consecutive pennants. In 1944, Brown threw a one hit shutout in the 1944 Negro League World Series.
Known for this devastating curveball that he was prone to throw in any count, Brown was dominant—but not just as a pitcher. He also played the outfield on days he wasn’t throwing and pinch hit from time to time as well.
Martín Dihigo: 1443.0 IP, 134 ERA+
One of many Cuban players to make his mark in Negro League Baseball, Dihigo had a .312/.402/.514 line in almost 4,000 plate appearances—all the while being one of the best pitchers of his time. Garnering nicknames like ‘El Maestro,’ Dihigo not only hit and pitched with the best, he also played every position on the diamond—and well.
At his best, he was competing for ERA titles and batting titles simultaneously. It is not wonder he his in enshrined halls of fame in five different countries; the US, Cuba, Mexica, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Dihigo is the only player with this distinction.
Bullet Rogan: 1681.2 IP, 143 ERA+
Rogan got his start playing for army teams before eventually finding himself joining the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920 at the age of 30. Known for his blazing fastball, Rogan used his quick delivery to throw any and every different hind of pitch from curveballs to forkballs to spitballs.
Like the others on this list, Rogan was no one dimensional player. As a hitter, he posted a 157 OPS+ for his career. For many years, he was both the ace pitcher and the cleanup hitter.