Negro League Second Basemen

This post profiles the careers of some Negro League second basemen who have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

An anomaly in the Negro Leagues, Newt Allen spent most of his career with one team: the Kansas City Monarchs.  A gifted table-setter for the Monarchs, Allen possessed well above average  speed and used this to his benefit in a number of ways.  Quick afield, Newt was an expert on the double-play pivot and offensively he used his wheels to take extra bases when others couldn’t.  He played just over twenty years in the Negro Leagues, almost exclusively with the Monarchs.  A number of sources list Newt as a switch-hitter but he is remembered to have batted just from the right-hand side.  Given his swift style of play and expert bat handling skills–Allen excelled at the hit-and-run–as well as his underrated status, Allen is quite comparable to former Washington Senators great Buddy Myer, who should be in the Hall of Fame.

Built along the lines of Rabbit Maranville, Bunny Downs had modest tools who hustled his way through a solid career in black baseball.  Downs was only a serviceable hitter whose chief asset was his glove.  He and Dick Lundy were widely regarded as one of the top double-play duos in the Negro Leagues.  But Bunny had a troubled life off the field and once killed a woman, which he claimed was self defense.  He had a long life in baseball and worked in the Indianapolis Clowns’ front office when they signed a young Hank Aaron. 

An early star of the Negro Leagues, Bill Monroe was one of black baseball’s first stars.  Monroe could easily slide into the “hotdog” category of ballplayers given his penchant for pleasing fans with behind-the-back catches and circus plays.  Despite his excessive showmanship, Bill was a superior defender at both second and third base and gained the attention of the legendary Rube Foster who bought him for his American Giants club.  He batted in the heart-of-the-order of Foster’s dynasty and was considered the backbone of a team that also boasted Hall of Famer Pop Lloyd.

A longtime second baseman for the Lincoln Giants, George Scales was a solid second baseman who could fill in anywhere on the diamond.  Scales got his start at the close of the Deadball Era and proved to be a solid line-drive hitter.  Defensively he wasn’t of the same ilk as Newt Allen, but the chunky Scales was serviceable and made up for his inferior range with a quick and accurate arm.  An All-Star, Scales managed in both the Negro Leagues and in Latin America after his playing days.

Bingo DeMoss is widely regarded as the top second baseman of early black baseball.  A star for Rube Foster’s American Giants, Bingo was a gifted defender who made plays with ease at second base.  DeMoss was the captain of the American Giants in the years directly after WWI as he did all the things necessary for a team leader.  He was a clever batsmen who was a natural opposite field hitter and quite gifted at the hit-and-run.  Bingo was a natural leader who led by example and made for an obvious choice as a skipper after his playing days.  A perfect player for the strategy-minded Deadball Era, Bingo did all the little things right.

Dick Seay was hands down the best defensive second baseman in black baseball during the 1930s.  In an era when players typically hit .300 with their eyes closed, Seay struggled to hit above .200.  He was an all-field-no-hit second baseman who made up for his offensive deficiencies by playing a flawless defense.  Dick was the forerunner for such splendid glove men like Mark Belanger in the Major Leagues. 

A star player for the Hilldale Club of the 1920s, Frank Warfield was a fiery ballplayer regarded as an outstanding fielder and solid batter.  Although not a hitter for power, Warfield was a solid number two hitter that excelled at sacrifice bunting and legging out infield hits.  As a player/manager, Frank guided Hilldale to pennants in the mid 1920s.  He stayed well passed his usefulness as a player while engaged as a player/manager late in the 1920s, but he was a respected field general despite his quick temper.  Warfield plays a prominent role in one of Negro League’s most bizarre cases when he and star third baseman Oliver Marcelle were engaged in a dice game.  Marcelle didn’t have enough money to pay-up after the game so like Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, Warfield took his pound of flesh by biting off the tip of Marcelle’s nose.

Charlie Grant was one of black baseball’s first great stars and given his light-complexion, attracted attention from the Major Leagues.  John McGraw, legendary skipper of the New York Giants, signed Grant and changed his name to “Chief Tokahoma” in order to pass him off as an Indian.  The plan worked until some of Grant’s friends came out to the Polo Grounds to watch Charlie practice.  When people began to wonder why black folks took such a keen interest in Grant, it was found out that he was black and not Native American, and McGraw’s attempt to play a black man in the Majors failed.

Unusually tall for a second baseman, Sammy T. Hughes was nevertheless a solid defender who had well above average range given his stature.  Hughes was a star second baseman for the Elite Giants just before WWII.  A solid doubles hitter, Sammy was elected to numerous All-Star Games but the war ended his career prematurely.  A fixture in the All-Star Games, Hughes spent time in New Guinea during the war and after his layoff he wasn’t quite the same player.


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