African Americans, American League, baseball, blacks, Dodger Stadium, Dodgers, East-West All-Star Game, Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball, MLB, National League, Negro Leagues, Negro National League, World Series
You know I couldn’t do an article like this without giving this man prominence. Photo courtesy of lineupforms.com
A TEAM MADE OF SOME OF THE GREATEST ATHLETES TO EVER PLAY BASEBALL
Technically, this has nothing to do with sports in Southern California.
But I simply don’t care, as being an African-American who’s been a baseball person for the vast majority of my life, this is something that I have wanted to do for a while.
I know that while making up an all-time team like this, there will be some very worthy players that I regretfully will leave out because there will be no room for them on this 25-man roster, which will consist of a starting lineup, a pitching staff, reserves, a manager, and five players on an “Honorable Mention” list.
I won’t waste any more time – here is my official all-time African-American baseball team, beginning with the…
STARTING LINEUP (In Batting Order):
- Rickey Henderson (Left Field) – The greatest lead off hitter of all time, stealing more bases, scoring more runs, and hitting more home runs from the lead off spot than anyone else who ever played baseball.
- Jackie Robinson (Second Base) – If I have to explain why this man is on the team, then I don’t know what to tell you.
- Willie Mays (Center Field) – My choice for the greatest all-around baseball player who ever lived, and the reason why although I’m a Dodgers fan and will continue to be, I don’t hate the rival Giants.
- Josh Gibson (Catcher) – The best catcher and all-around hitter of all time. Every time someone mentions Johnny Bench as the best ever behind the plate, I always emphatically reply, “What about Josh Gibson?!”
- Henry Aaron (Right Field) – Baseball’s true home run king in the eyes of many, and the classiest player of all time in my book for all the racist hell he took while breaking Babe Ruth’s record.
- Buck Leonard (First Base) – “The Black Lou Gehrig”; along with Gibson, a superstar for the Homestead Grays for 17 years.
- John Henry “Pop” Lloyd (Shortstop) – Widely considered the first African-American baseball star, playing in the Negro Leagues during the first two decades of the 20th century. Was called “The Black Honus Wagner”, which the Pittsburgh Pirates legend felt honored by.
- Judy Johnson (Third Base) – Was a star for (mostly) the Negro League’s Philadelphia Hilldales for 17 years: The Philadelphia Athletics’ manager Connie Mack said that he would have happily acquired him if not for his skin color.
- Satchel Paige (Pitcher) – The greatest pitcher of all time. So good that when he finally reached the majors with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 after over 20 years of incredible dominance in the Negro Leagues, he won the Rookie of the Year award – at age 42 – and led the Indians to what is now their last championship.
THE REST OF THE PITCHING STAFF
- Bob Gibson – The greatest pitcher that the St. Louis Cardinals ever had. Had the lowest earned run average of the modern era, 1.12 in 1968. Was so tough, he once pitched with a broken leg.
- Don Newcombe – The best pitcher from the Dodgers’ Brooklyn days, a main reason for their dominance in the National League during the 1950s. I had the honor of meeting him and getting his autograph a few years ago.
- Ferguson Jenkins – One of only four pitchers to record 3,000 strikeouts with less than 1,000 walks. Perhaps the best player to come out of Canada, and certainly the best pitcher.
- Vida Blue – Arguably the biggest pitching star of the early 1970s. Was one of the leaders of the Oakland A’s dynasty from that time with their three straight World Series titles.
Relievers (Yes, I know that except for Smith, they were all starters, but I must have a bullpen):
- Lee Smith (Closer) – One of the dominant closers of the 1980s; he had the all-time saves record until Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera broke it.
- “Smokey” Joe Williams – Next to Satchel Paige, the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues; the only time this man and Paige faced each other in a game played in 1930, Williams won 1-0.
- James Rodney (J.R.) Richard – One of my favorite pitchers as a kid, threw absolute fire to the tune of being the first right-hander in the National League to strike out 300 batters. His career-ending, life-threatening strike in 1980 was very tragic.
- Dock Ellis – The Pittsburgh Pirates’ best pitcher in the early 1970s, was the ace of the staff that won the World Series in 1971. And he’s a SoCal guy, hailing from Gardena.
- Jim “Mudcat” Grant – The first African-American to win twenty games and a World Series contest in the American League, done with the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
Some more recent big league stars (from left to right): Andrew McCutcheon, Matt Kemp, and Michael Bourn, at a recent All-Star Game in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of the shadowleague.com
The Rest Of The 25-Man Roster:
- Roy Campanella (Catcher) – A true legendary Dodger along with Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and those other “Boys of Summer” in the 50s, winning three MVP awards in a five-year span during that time.
- Ernie Banks (First Baseman/Shortstop) – “Mr. Cub”. “Let’s Play Two!” 512 home runs. The greatest to ever play in Chicago’s North side. A real shame that he passed away just before those Cubs won that epic World Series in 2016.
- Joe Morgan (Second Base) – One of the essential cogs of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the 1970s, winning the MVP award during the Reds title years of 1975 and ’76. Named the greatest second baseman of all time according to analyst Bill James.
- Ozzie Smith (Shortstop) – “The Wizard”. The greatest fielding shortstop of all time for (mostly) the St. Louis Cardinals. His work with the leather – 13 Gold Gloves – puts him on this team. And he’s a SoCal local, straight out of Locke High School in Watts.
- Frank Robinson (Outfield) – Baseball’s first black manager, with the Indians in 1975. Baseball’s last Triple Crown winner (until the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera a few years ago), leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBI with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. The only man to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues. Enough said.
- James “Cool Papa” Bell (Outfield) – The fastest baseball player ever, playing (mostly) with the Negro League’s St. Louis Stars over a 26-years career. This man was so fast, it was reported that he once scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt.
- Oscar Charleston (Outfield) – Was widely regarded as the best all-around player in Negro League history. He had a lifetime average of .357, including a .326 mark against white major leaguers in exhibition play. Had a reputation as a hard-nosed guy who didn’t take any mess, and was listed as the fourth best player of all time behind Willie Mays, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth by Bill James.
MANAGER: Andrew “Rube” Foster – “The Father of Black Baseball”. Not only was he a standout pitcher in the 1900s and 10s and managed the Chicago American Giants for years, he also started the Negro National League, the first real black baseball league, in 1920. A real pioneer.
Don Newcombe (left) and Matt Kemp (right) during a Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium, wearing his iconic #42. Photo courtesy of cheatsheet.com
- Curt Flood – Sure, he was an outstanding center fielder for the Cardinals in the 1960s, winning seven Gold Gloves during that time. However, EVERY professional athlete, particularly those making multi-millions, dearly owes Flood for the stand he took against the indentured servant-like Reserve Clause in 1970, basically sacrificing his career so that baseball players (and other athletes) can be free to choose where they want to play.
- Ken Griffey, Jr. – The greatest Seattle Mariner of all time, basically saving baseball in that town. Hit 630 home runs. Won ten Gold Gloves with his spectacular Spiderman-like catches in center field. One of the newest Hall of Famers, elected in 2016.
- Tony Gwynn – “Mr. Padre”. The best player in the history of the San Diego Padres. The best pure hitter of the last 35 years, winning eight batting titles. Came the closest to being the first man to hit .400 since Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941. Had over 3,100 hits. And he’s a SoCal product from Long Beach and Long Beach Poly High School.
- Willie Stargell – “Pops”. The Pirates’ undisputed leader in the 1970s, leading the “We Are Family” Bucs to the World Series crown in 1979. One of my favorite players as a kid; he exuded true class along with being a devastating slugger, being the first one to hit a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium.
AND A VERY SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION:
Buck O’ Neill – After watching this gentleman spin so many wonderful stories about his Negro League days on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary miniseries, there was absolutely no way that I couldn’t include this man, as not only was he a standout player and manager with the Kansas City Monarchs, he was also the first African-American on a major league coaching staff, joining the Chicago Cubs in 1962.
And he was a GREAT ambassador for the game, a man who I SO wanted to meet; it’s an absolute outrage that he isn’t enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
OK, there you have it – my all-time African-American baseball team.
Although I had to make some very tough decisions as to who to include and leave off this squad, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
A pic of the 1939 East All-Stars from the marquee event of the Negro Leagues, the East-West All-Star game, held in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Josh Gibson is in the top row, 3rd from right. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com