Imagine a rogue minor league baseball czar seventy-five years ago. The game is segregated, but for the sake of his league’s survival, this renegade decides to include one of the all-black major league ball clubs in his circuit. His existing (all-white) teams aren’t affiliated with any major league teams anyway, and they need to make money. It’s the depression and everybody knows black teams make the turnstiles click. They put asses in the seats.
From an analytical standpoint, if this had occurred, we’d probably learn a lot by studying the performance of the black team. Even if the minor league was a Class C or Class D outfit, near the bottom of the professional food chain, we’d have access to information which would probably enlighten our understanding of the talent pool before Jackie Robinson erased the color barrier.
Of course, there was no such progressive baseball czar (or maverick minor league) back in the late 1920s or 30s. Or was there?
With just a little bit of creative imagination, when we examine the records of the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, we have something similar to the integration scenario outlined in the previous paragraphs. Over the course of 11 seasons, the two Pittsburgh teams played dozens of games against Class C teams from the Middle Atlantic League and Pennsylvania State Association. So many games, in fact, that we’re able to cobble together almost a half season’s worth of data.
For the purposes of this study (again, think creative imagination), I’ve grafted the performances of the Grays and Craws into one “super” negro league team. The Mid-Atlantic and Penn State teams have likewise been consolidated. For one thing, over the course of the eleven year study, several players wore both the Grays and Craws uniforms. Secondly, both the Grays and Craws were top notch ball clubs. And finally, the Mid-Atlantic and Penn State were almost indistinguishable from one another…both Class C…same general region…some of the same cities represented. For what it’s worth, most of the games are the Grays, and most of the opponents were from the Mid-Atlantic.
We can look at their records head-to-head, the super Negro League team versus the white minor league teams, in games spanning 1927-1937. What makes this extra interesting is, unlike head-to-head games with Major league ”stars” (which were generally ad hoc outfits slapped together during the post-season to make a quick buck), the minor league teams are intact, with full rosters.
The usual lame caveat: My study includes most of the games, but I’m sure there are other box scores out there, buried in old newspapers, waiting to be discovered. So let’s cut to the chase…
How did these legendary black teams do, competing against Class C teams? In 52 games for which I have box or line scores, they went 42-9-1 (.824). The black teams averaged 8.66 runs per game, while allowing 3.55.
I’ve found 60% of the actual box scores, with full statistical detail. In these 31 games, the black team went 26-4-1 (.867), while scoring 8.52 RPG, and allowing 3.97. Now remember, every single game was played at the minor league team’s home ball park, with white umpires.
Do you want some additional statistical detail? Of course you do, so here goes:
UPDATE (9/24/09): I’ve just completed the individual pitching statistics, which gave me an opportunity to audit the numbers. Biggest change: The W-L record in the 31 boxes should be 25-5-1 (.833). Run stats stay the same. Some other minor corrections have been blended into the statistics below.
COUPLE NOTES: The white batters were hit by pitched balls almost twice as much as the black batters. One of the black team’s shutouts was a 7-inning no-hitter by Satchel Paige.
With some time, statistics for individual players could be presented. The names who appeared in these games (earning a de facto “cup of coffee” in the white minors) reads like a who’s who of negro league greats: Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, John Beckwith, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Double Duty Radcliffe, Jud Wilson and Martin Dihigo.
UPDATE (9/24/09 11:00am): Okay, listed below are the individual pitching statistics. Over the course of these 31 games, played during an 11-year span, 26 different pitchers took the bump against Class C minor league teams. Here are their records.
There are four future Hall of Famers featured here (Ray Brown, Joe Williams, Bill Foster and Satchel Paige). Combined, their record against low-level minor league teams is 6-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 9.9 strikeouts per 9 innings.