Negro League Pitchers

This post details the careers of some Negro League hurlers who haven’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Little Dave Barnhill was one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues in the years just prior to integration.  He started two All-Star Games against Satchel Paige in the 1940s.  A strikeout pitcher, Barnhill was just five-feet-seven-inches tall and didn’t even weigh 150 pounds.  Despite his less than imposing build, he was a fastball machine who racked up large strikeout totals.  He seemed destined for the Major Leagues but his tenure in the minors was beset by inconsistency.  He once had a 1.19 ERA at Miami Beach under former Cardinals great Pepper Martin but also had an ERA close to 6.00 while pitching for the higher class Minneapolis Millers.

Dizzy Dismukes had a long career in the Negro Leagues.  Initially a submarine pitcher in the vein of Carl Mays, Dizzy later managed, coached and worked in the front office.  He had a lengthy career with the Kansas City Monarchs where he tutored Buck O’Neil as the Monarchs’ traveling secretary.  As a pitcher, Dismukes excelled with the Indianapolis ABCs in the years around World War I.  A heady pitcher, Dizzy didn’t have blazing speed but was known for his assortment of breaking pitches.  He was a master at keeping batters off balance.

One of the top picthers in the Negro Leagues during the Deadball Era, Big Bill Gatewood stood at six-feet-seven-inches and tipped the scales at 250 pounds.  A mountain of a man, Gatewood was a rambler who pitched with a great many teams.  He is best associated with the St. Louis Stars.  He would manage the Stars and is credited with tutoring Cool Papa Bell as well as giving Bell his famous nickname.

A star pitcher during thr 1920s, Webster McDonald was a footloose hurler who made his rounds through black baseball after WWI.  Like Dizzy Dismukes, McDonald utilized a submarine style delivery and was nicknamed “56 Varieties” for his assortment of pitches.  Noted as one of the most polite men in the Negro Legaues, Webster was well-liked by everyone who came into contact with him, but it must be reasoned that batters didn’t care much for him.  He was a strikeout pitcher and is credited with tossing three no-hitters in 1933 with the Philadelphia Stars.

George Stovey is regarded as the first pitching star in the ranks of black baseball.  His time came during the 1880s and 1890s, before the Negro Leagues was established.  A Canadian, Stovey pitched in northern cities and was once rumored to have signed with the New York Giants of the National League but racial tensions prohibited him from ever taking the mound in a league contest.

Steel Arm Johnny Taylor was the brother of Negro League managerial legend C.I. Taylor.  Johnny was a terrific pitcher during the Deadball Era.  He once outdueled Smoky Joe Williams, widely regarded as the best pitcher in black baseball before Satchel Paige, with a 1-0 shutout.  Although a fine pitcher, Johnny was also a respected coach who demanded a clean-living lifestyle from his players.

Frank Wickware was perhaps the greatest gate attraction in the Negro Leagues during the Deadball Era.  The “Red Ant” supplanted Rube Foster as the staff ace of the Leland Giants as a youngster with his exceptional velocity and unusual poise for such a young pitcher.  He was in such demand during his prime that he would often sell his services to other teams while under contract with the American Giants.  His “ringer” tendencies didn’t sit well with management, but “The Black Walter Johnson” was such an extraordinary talent that his free-spirited ways were tolerated.  But later in his career, his contract-jumping became too much to tolerate when his skills began to erode.  A noted alcoholic, Wickware’s career didn’t pattern that of the Senators great and he was through at a relatively young age. 

A master of the screwball, Barney Brown was an angular left-hander remindful of Giants legend Carl Hubbell.  A five-time All-Star, Barney spent the bulk of his career with the Philadelphia Stars.  Brown was one of the top hitting pitchers in the Negro Leagues who was often saddled to losing clubs.  Given his association with teams that weren’t typically among the leaders, Brown’s career record wasn’t as sterling as it otherwise might have been.

Bill Byrd was a solid pitcher for the Elite Giants of the 1940s.  Although he played at the time the game was integrated, Byrd wasn’t a Major League prospcet because his best pitch was the spitball, which the Negro Leagues didn’t outlaw when the Majors made the pitch illegal.  Bill liked to mix in a knuckleball with his spitter to give batters fits.  A swell man with a generous nature, Bill was looked upon as a father figure in his latter years in the Negro Leagues and was nicknamed “Daddy” by Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella.

 image of Bill Drake

Perhaps the meanest pitcher in Negro League history, Bill Drake was nicknamed “Plunk” because he got a kick out of low-bridging batters.  Drake, who was born in Sedalia, Missouri, played with the All Nations teams, a club of men from many nationalities, before he became a success in black baseball with the St. Louis Stars.  Plunk excelled with some outlawed pitches, like the emery ball, which weren’t illegal in the Negro Legaues.  Given his background in integrated baseball, Bill had little trouble playing against whites.  He once played against Babe Ruth and he liked the great slugger because Babe shared a plug of tobacco with him.


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