Negro Leagues

We continue to focus on the Negro Leagues on the Cover the Bases podcast, in recognition of February’s designation as Black History Month. During the first half of last century, the Negro Leagues provided an opportunityfor players who were unable to participate in the major leagues simply because of racial inequality.  It is a critically important baseball story to tell, and we are pleased to have as our guest, Neil Lanctot professor of History at The University of Delaware.

Neil’s book is Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, published by University of Pennsylvania Press . The book was awarded the prestigious Seymore Medal from SABR honoring the best book on baseball history or biography.   

This book provides a different perspective of the Leagues than the typical analysis of the players, teams and events on the field.  Neil determined that a complete analysis of the business aspects had not been told before, and launched on an effort to uncover any information about the finances and business activities that produced Negro League baseball games.

We take a look at the use of the name “Negro Leagues” as a catchall term for the various loosely affiliated organizations, including the Negro American League (NAL), the Negro National League (NNL), and earlier entities such as the Eastern Colored League.  This does not even take into account the numerous barnstorming Negro teams who traveled the country playing exhibitions against mostly semi-pro industrial teams.

One of the great contributors to the development of the League was a player and owner by the name of Rube Foster.  Not only was he a great pitcher, he also had the vision and the ambition in around 1910 – 1911 to team up with a white tavern owner named John M. Schorling, who was the son in law of Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox.  There was a need to fill the ballpark that was under Schorling’s control, so he teamed with Foster to put players onto teams to use the park.

The business structure lead to many white businessmen getting involved with the League as owners , booking agents and organizers.

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This past week we staged our second Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars Series.  In the end, Cameron ( @CoolPapaC) took the series from me 3 games to 2. Once again it took us a full five games to settle the Series.  In case you missed it, you can catch up on how the Inaugural Negro League All Stars Series went.  We had a fantastic evening of great baseball excitement, great music, and enjoyed keeping everyone informed via Twitter as the Series progressed.

Our intention competing via this board game, is to get to know these great players who were playing in the Negro Leagues.  The folks at Strat-O-Matic have done an amazing job of making these games play out as realistically as anything played on a ball field, and we feel that the outcomes are consistent with what might have happened had these players played with these lineups back in the day.

We made the decision right from the start to draft entirely new teams each Series so that we get the broadest exposure to players.  Maybe when we have used the complete set of 103 cards in the set, we will choose up more permanent teams.  We end up drafting a full roster of nine position players and three pitchers.  If we decide to use a pinch hitter at any point in the series we go back into the player pile to pick up another hitter.

We played at the Basic level, but we intend to get to the Advanced and Super Advanced versions as we get comfortable with the formats. Moving up to those levels provides a more realistic ballgame, as it takes into account park conditions, defensive options, pitcher workloads and righty/lefty matchups.  As this stage however we are getting familiar with the basic elements of the games. It also helps us from a time standpoint, competing in a Best of Five Series might take us more than one sitting!

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In recognition of February’s designation as Black History Month, we are focusing our Cover the Bases podcast on books that have been written about the Negro Leagues, and some of the legendary players who had an impact on the game of baseball on and off the diamond.   There can be no better place to start than talking about Satchel Paige.

Our guest this episode is Larry Tye, author of the book Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend.  The book is published by Random House and is currently available in hardcover or Kindle versions.

One of the immediate challenges Larry faced when writing this book was quantifying the accomplishments of Satchel Paige, especially since record keeping and historical information was not as diligently kept in that era.

He did some painstaking analysis attempting to determine the total number of games that Satchel pitched, so he chose the major league record holder Jesse Orosco as a comparison.  Orosco appeared in 1252 games, and as Larry explains, that accomplishment generally occurred between April and October.  Satchel pitched “from April to April” and based upon his legendary status was expected to appear in any game that his team was scheduled to play.  Based upon his research, Larry has determined Satchel appeared in approximately 2500 games.

Larry also came to the conclusion that the claims that Satchel made regarding wins, shoutouts, no-hitters .. all of the big pitching categories .. would have set or broken major league records, had he not been excluding from playing there until the end of his career.

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This past Tuesday night we staged our first Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars Series.  In the end, I took the series from Cameron 3 games to 2, but it was the entire experience that we are so excited about.  Our intention is to stage these Best of Five series numerous times throughout the year, with a big showdown in the post season.

Negro League Strat-O-Matic | Baseballisms.comFor whatever reason neither Cameron (@CoolPapaC) nor I had ever played Strat-O-Matic before Tuesday night.  We couldn’t decide if in our youths it was other sports, lack of patience, or our peers that kept us away from the game. It took an article from the great Joe Posnanski to get us thinking about what we had missed, and to spark an idea about playing and documenting these series.

The article talks about the painstaking work that the researchers at Strat-O-Matic went through in order to create the pitcher and hitter cards required to stage a ballgame.   There are 103 Negro League player cards developed for this game, and we decided immediately that this was the version that we wanted to play.

Our decision was based upon the fact that we had very little personal reference for many of the stars of the Negro Leagues.  We felt that this would be a great way to get to know them as players, and to expand our appreciation of our National Pastime as fans.  Of course, we are well aware of Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neill, Satchel Paige, etc. and of course Cameron is a big fan of Cool Papa Bell, but we felt that there was an important part of baseball history that we could explore by generating a rooting interest in these players.  Through the playing of Strat-O-Matic, we believe that we could get a good first hand understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these players, as if we were seeing them play at our local ballpark. Through diligence in compiling the information about these players, and as I think Strat-O-Matic fans will attest, the simple yet complex dice and card interactions provides a high caliber recreation of a player’s capabilities.

We were often stunned as the act of playing would closely resemble the type of performance that was written about in the League player biographies.

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The opening paragraph of Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend is of Carl Hubbell acting as a scout for the New York Giants, watching a young Willie Mays.  Hubbell watches as a ball in the gap is quickly cut off by Mays, who then turns and fires to second to keep the runner from stretching a single.  On this episode of Cover the Bases, author John Klima tells of his own experiences in scouting big league prospects, and of the player acquisition process in the waning days of the Negro Leagues.

Willies Boys | John Klima | Baseballisms.comJohn is the owner of Baseball which provides advanced coverage of major league caliber players, utilizing technologies such as video, advanced scouting techniques and analysis.  John was able to draw upon some critical assistance from some legendary names in the scouting profession such as George Gennovese, Bob Zuck, and Spider Jorgensen to get his career in scouting under way.

Baseball focuses on what he calls projection scouting, looking at players for what they may be able to produce at higher levels of ball, and not just reporting what they have accomplished in their short careers to this point.

At Baseballisms, we hope that the book about the world of scouting that Lee Lowenfish hinted at in a recent Cover the Bases episode, comes to fruition.  This cross between art and science is a fascinating aspect of the game that can often be overlooked.

John states that the signing of Willie Mays was the “greatest scouting story ever told”.  It was a challenge in those days for teams to find and sign players, made even more challenging with the discriminatory practices of the times.  Many teams had seen and heard of Mays, but it was the New York Giants who were able to pull the correct strings and talk to the correct people around Willie to make the signing happen.

The Birmingham Black Barons were rumored to have had up to twelve players on that team who could have been playing in the major leagues.  Four of the sixteen teammates actually did make it to the bigs, as well as the ballboy for that team.  It took more than just talent for the Negro League players to actually get through the rigors of getting signed and playing in the Majors.

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