The Negro Leagues showcased incredibly skilled players who electrified crowds. Unfortunately the majority of these stars never had the opportunity to play at the major league level. Satchel Paige, left with Bob Feller, was one of the lucky few, although he was a rookie at age 42. Learn about the best players in the Negro Leauges who never got their shot to play in the big leagues. (Bios from the National Baseball Hall of Fame)
A player, manager, owner, commissioner and unsurpassed visionary, Andrew "Rube" Foster was one of baseball's greatest Renaissance men. In his youth, Foster was a star pitcher of the dead-ball era, and later as owner-manager of the Chicago American Giants, the burly Texan instilled in his players the daring, aggressive, yet disciplined style of play for which the Negro Leagues became famous. In 1920, he founded the first successful Negro League, the Negro National League, which flourished throughout the decade. He died in 1930 at age 51. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1981, the first Negro Leaguer to be inducted as an executive.
John Henry "Pop" Lloyd was a line-drive hitter whose extraordinary skills at shortstop drew favorable comparisons to Honus Wagner. Lloyd was one of the best black players of the Dead Ball Era. Although a consummate gentleman off the field, Lloyd was an aggressive, fearless baserunner on it, and was also one of the best hitters of his era. He had great range and large, steady hands that led Cuban fans to dub him El Cuchara (The Shovel). The easygoing Lloyd later became a player-manager and was given the affectionate nickname Pop by the young players he mentored. Lloyd died in 1965 at age 80. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee in 1977.
Smooth-fielding, sweet-swinging first baseman Walter "Buck" Leonard played one season with the Brooklyn Royal Giants before becoming the backbone of the Homestead Grays dynasty of the late 1930s and 1940s. The left-handed hitting Leonard was a model of consistency and one of the best pure hitters to play in the Negro Leagues. He and Josh Gibson were known as the "Thunder Twins." He played in a record 11 East-West All-Star games, and his remarkable 17-year tenure with the Grays is the longest term of service with one team in Negro League history. Leonard died in 1997 at age 90. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee in 1972.
Dihigo was perhaps the most versatile player in baseball history. Known as El Maestro, he played all nine positions skillfully. Dihigo became a national institution in his native Cuba but also starred in many other countries, including Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, and also spent 12 seasons with four teams in the Negro Leagues. Playing in the Mexican League in 1938, he went 18-2 and led the league with a 0.90 ERA while also winning the batting crown with a .387 mark. He died in 1971, four days shy of his 66th birthday. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee in 1977. He is also a member of the Cuban and Mexican Baseball Halls of Fame.
Smokey Joe Williams
Smokey Joe Williams dominated early 20th-century black baseball and pitched dozens of no-hitters, many of them against amateur teams, but some against the likes of the New York Giants. In 1930, at age 44, he struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 1-0, 12-inning victory. In 1952, a Pittsburgh Courier poll named Williams the greatest pitcher in Negro League history. He defeated five Hall of Fame pitchers (Grover Alexander, Chief Bender, Waite Hoyt, Walter Johnson and Rube Marquard) in exhibitions. His career as a player and manager spanned 27 years with 10 teams. He died in 1946 at age 50. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1999.
A left-handed power hitter who excelled in both his native Cuba as well as four teams in the Negro Leagues, Torriente was a star center fielder for the Chicago American Giants, leading the club to three consecutive Negro National League titles (1920-22). The notorious bad-ball hitter excelled in the field as well, teaming in Chicago with Jelly Gardner and Dave Malarcher to form one of the best defensive outfields in history. Torriente's greatest acclaim came when, as a member of the Almendares club, he outplayed Babe Ruth, barnstorming with the New York Giants, in a nine-game series in Cuba in the winter of 1920. He died in 1938 at age 44. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by Negro Leagues Committee in 2006.
Norman "Turkey" Stearnes was one of the most prolific home-run hitters in the Negro Leagues. He led the Negro National League in homers six times and reportedly hit at least 140 round trippers in 585 career games. A swift, athletic center fielder, Stearnes also collected a slew of doubles and triples with his unusual left-handed stroke. He played for 11 teams in his 19-year career and also worked at an auto plant in Detroit to make ends meet. In 1934, Stearnes played in a four-team doubleheader at Yankee Stadium in front of 30,000 fans, claimed at the time as the largest crowd ever to watch a Negro League game. He died in 1979 at age 78. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2000.
Cool Papa Bell
Among the most illustrious players in Negro League baseball history, James "Cool Papa" Bell was noted for his incredible speed on the basepaths, excellence as a leadoff hitter and his superb defensive play as a center fielder. He began his career as a pitcher, but his other talents ensured his future as an everyday player. Bell's career lasted 20 years with nine teams, including the St. Louis Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays. Bell died in 1991 at age 87. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee in 1974.
Gibson — known as the "black Babe Ruth" — was considered the greatest catcher and power hitter in the Negro Leagues. He pounded out home runs with regularity, despite playing most of his career in two of baseball's most cavernous ballparks. He hit for both average and power; in recorded at-bats against big league pitching, Gibson batted .426. He played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. Gibson died after a suffering a stroke in 1947 at the age of 35, just three months before the integration of Major League Baseball. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by Negro Leagues Committee in 1972.
A multi-talented star, Charleston was renowned by those who saw him play as the finest all-around player in Negro League history. A barrel-chested, left-handed hitter, the fiery Charleston hit for both average and power while revolutionizing defensive play in center field. His blazing speed, aggressiveness on the basepaths and intensity led many to compare him to Ty Cobb. In 60 games in 1921, he batted .434 while leading the Negro National League in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases. His career as a player and manager spanned 40 years and 14 teams. He died in 1954, nine days shy of his 58th birthday. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee in 1976.