The Negro Leagues began 101 years ago in 1920 and over that time there have been countless superstars. Some of those like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron became household names after successful Major League Baseball careers. However, standouts like Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and John Henry Loyd didn’t get that same attention. We look at the five most remarkable players in Negro Leagues history.
Arguably the most remarkable player in Negro Leagues History, Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was born July 7, 1906, in Mobile, AL. He earned his nickname as a young kid carrying passengers' bags at the railroad station. Satchel was one of the most revered pitchers in the Negro Leagues with a career record of 146-64 starting his career with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts in 1926 and competing for 13 teams (three in Major League Baseball) over a span of five decades! He often pretended to not know his age, but he became the oldest player to appear in a major league game when he started on the mound for the Kansas City A’s at age 59.
Charleston was born in 1896 and after three years in the U.S. Army, he continued his baseball and made his Negro League baseball debut in 1915 with the Indianapolis ABCs. The left-handed center fielder boasted a career batting average of .339 and was a 3-time East-West All-Star Game selection. His career spanned 43 years with more than a dozen teams and six different managerial positions including a stint in 1945 with the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers where he recruited black players like Roy Campanella to join the integrated movement in Major League Baseball.
Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle are regarded as some of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Add Josh Gibson to that list. Gibson is often referred to as the best power hitter in the Negro Leagues with 384 home runs and in all of sport. His ability to hit the long ball was something of lore. According to The Sporting News, Gibson is credited with launching a 580 foot home run in Yankee Stadium back in 1967. Primarily a catcher during his 17-year career, most of which was spent with the Homestead Grays, Gibson was the Negro National League batting champion from 1936-1938 and 1942-1945. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Walter “Buck” Leonard
The youngest of six Leonard children, Walter or “Buck” a nickname that would stick with him from his youth days, was another stalwart for the Homestead Grays championship teams of the 1930s and 1940s. A left-handed first baseman who was known for his offensive prowess hitting fourth behind Josh Gibson for many years. Leonard, a 13x All-Star selection, and 3x Negro World Series Champion, he hit .320 over his career with a .527 career slugging percentage. Although, he never played in Major League Baseball, he was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1972.
John Henry "Pop" Lloyd
Often referred to as the Honus Wagner of the Negro Leagues, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd was referred to as the best short stop in the Negro Leagues. Babe Ruth reportedly called him one of the greatest ever in the game. Lloyd was born in 1884 in Palatka, Florida and made his Negro League debut with the Cuban X-Giants in 1906 and carried a lifetime batting average of .343. Known for “following the money” Lloyd bounced from team to team, playing for ten different clubs while serving as a player-coach for several of those. He was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1977.
There were countless others who made an impact on the game and paved the way for those who came after them. Guys like Monte Irvin, Smokey Joe Williams, Cool Papa Bell, Rube Foster, and Martin Dihigo are all an integral part of Negro Leagues history.
To learn more about the history of Negro Leagues Baseball visit our friends at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and stay tuned to Dugout Mugs on social media for future collaborations!