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shortstops

This post details the careers of a select few Negro League shortstops who have not made the Hall of Fame.

Cuban born Pelayo Chacon was a Deaball Era shortstop noted for his superior defensive skills.  A member of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, Pelayo came to the States in 1909 and played in the Negro Leagues because his skin color was a bit too dark for the Majors.  Chacon was an adequate offensive player better suited for the number two slot given his knack for the hit-and-run.  But it was with the glove where Pelayo excelled.  Quick and agile, he had excellent range afield and his swiftness allowed him to steal an ample amount of bases.

Grant “Homerun” Johnson was an early star of black baseball who played for the Page Fence Giants of the late 1890s and in Brooklyn and New York afterwards.  Johnson was a terrific hitter who excelled in the Deadball Era and was noted for refraining from vices and leading a humble life.  Always in terrific condition, Homerun played into his fifties–although not at the highest level.  He was widely considered to be the best shortstop in the Negro Leagues in the years before Pop Lloyd.

When the best shortstops of Negro League history are discussed, the two most prominent names are Hall of Famers Willie Wells and Pop Lloyd.  Dick Lundy is often listed as the third best.  A switch-hitter, Lundy was dubbed “King Richard” on account of his well-rounded game.  He hit for both average and power and possessed a rifle arm that allowed him to play a deep short and still retire the fleetest of runners.  Lundy played throughout the 1920s with the Bacharach Giants.  When Dick and a veteran Pop Lloyd played together in 1924, Lloyd was the skipper and he acknowledged that the younger Lundy had superior skills and thus moved himself out from shortstop to allow King Richard to play there.

 image of Dick Lundy

Bus Clarkson was an unusual shortstop in that he was a big, thick-bodied man.  Most men who excel at short are of lighter build–Aparicio and Reese come to mind–but Bus was built for blasting and didn’t look the part of a nimble middle infielder.  Clarkson had the typical slugger traits: he hit plenty homeruns but he also whiffed a lot.  He did offset his strikeouts with a higher than average amount of walks drawn however.  Bus made it to the Majors in his mid 30s but by that time he was no longer able to handle short.  He played mostly at third and since he was with the Braves, he rarely played since the legendary Eddie Mathews was entrenched there.

Like the Delahantys of the Major Leagues, the Bankhead clan sent a number of their sons to the Negro Leagues.  The best of the family was clearly shortstop Samuel Howard Bankhead.  A solid ballplayer, Sam did everything well and was a consummate team player, willing and able to play any position.  A star with the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the late 1930s and the Homestead Grays of the 1940s, Sam was a bit too old to make the Majors when the color line was leveled.  His kid brother Dan however pitched briefly with the Dodgers. 

Like Bus Clarkson, John Beckwith was a large shortstop.  Beckwith was even bigger than Clarkson and was known for his prodigious homeruns.  His power was more impressive than Clarkson’s but he was a free-swinger who rarely walked and amassed high strikeout totals.  Although not a great defender he was serviceable and when he aged he was shifted to third base.  Beckwith hit for amazing power and despite his swing-at-anything approach to hitting, maintained a high batting average.  His batting kept him around even though his defense was suspect and his character unbecoming.  He had a reputation for careless, lazy play and wasn’t fond of his teammates when they offered criticism.  He once beat teammate Bill Holland unconscious after he showed disgust when Beckwith made a costly error. 

Country Jake Stephens looked the part of a shortstop.  A nimble little fellow, he had the traits of a Maranville or Rizzuto and wasn’t the brawny blaster that Clarkson and Beckwith were.  Country Jake played 17 years, mostly with the Hilldale Club, and was noted for his agile work around second base.  Although a gifted defender, breaking balls gave Stephens plenty trouble throughout his career and he never developed into a solid offensive player.  A pepperpot, Stephens resembled a lesser-hitting version of the Major League’s Rowdy Dick Bartell.

This is a list of HOF eligible shortstops not profiled on this blog.  They are listed in order of batting average–from highest to lowest.

Red Kress (.286), Woody English (.286), Mark Koenig (.279), John Valentin (.279), Bill Knickerbocker (.276), Eric McNair (.274), Rick Burleson (.273), Solly Hemus (.273), Bob W. Johnson (.272), Billy Spiers (.271), Lyn Lary (.269), Jay Bell (.265), Dickie Thon (.264), Chick Galloway (.264), Eddie Kasko (.264), Hod Ford (.263), Scott Fletcher (.262), Jeff Blauser (.262), Rafael Ramirez (.261), Mike Bordick (.260)

Bones Ely (.259), Feliz Fermin (.259), Johnny Lipon (.259), Ivy Olson (.258), Walt Weiss (.258), Chico Carrasquel (.258), Gary DiSarcina (.258), Roy Smalley III (.257), Craig Reynolds (.256), Al Bridwell (.255), Frank Tavares (.255), Manny Lee (.255), Ivan DeJesus (.254), Gene Alley (.254), Bill Almon (.254), Alvaro Espinoza (.254), Eddie Bressoud (.252), Wayne Causey (.252), Tim Foli (.251), Sonny Jackson (.251), U.L. Washington (.251), Denis Menke (.250), Jose Pagan (.250), Heine Wagner (.250)

Alfredo Griffin (.249), Larry Kopf (.249), Andre Rodgers (.249), Bucky Dent (.247), Tommy Thevenow (.247), Rocky Bridges (.247), Spike Owen (.246), Doc Lavan (.245), Skeeter Newsome (.245), Curt Wilkerson (.245), Daryl Spencer (.244), Tom Foley (.244), Jack Barry (.243), Zoilo Versalles (.242), Dave Anderson (.242), Jose Uribe (.241), Tom Veryzer (.241), Wayne Tolleson (.241), Woody Held (.240)

Eppie Miller (.238), Bud Harrelson (.236), Joe DeMaestri (.236), Bob Lillis (.236), Ron Hansen (.234), Ruben Amaro Sr. (.234), Larry Brown (.233), Frank Duffy (.232), Mickey Doolan (.231), Roger Metzger (.231), Eddie Lake (.231), Dick C. Schofield (.230), Rabbit Warstler (.229), Gene Michael (.229), Mike Benjamin (.229), Hal Lanier (.228), Kevin Elster (.228), Ducky Scholfield (.227), Roy Smalley Jr. (.227), Eddie Brinkman (.224), Johnnie LeMaster (.222), Rafael Belliard (.221), Rick Auerbach (.220), George McBride (.218), Dal Maxvill (.217), Darrel Chaney (.217) and Bobby Wine (.215)

Best known as the candid skipper of the Chicago White Sox, Ozzie Guillen was a star shortstop of the 1980s and 1990s.  Never much of a hitter, Ozzie was a Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star who was solid defensively and a difficult strikeout victim.  Although he was hard to fan, Guillen was a swing-happy batter who hardly ever drew a walk.  His on-base percentages were always fairly low but he earned his dough with his glove and leadership skills.  It was obvious to anyone who watched Ozzie play that there was no other place in this world he’d rather be than the diamond.

Originally signed out of his native Venezuela by the Padres, San Diego shipped him and Tim Lollar, Bill Long and Luis Salazar to Chicago for Lamarr Hoyt.  Although Hoyt was effective for a short time in San Diego the trade became a steal for Chicago.  Ozzie would patrol shortstop for the Pale Hose from 1985 to 1997.  In his rookie season of 1985, Ozzie won the Rookie of the Year Award with a .273 batting average and nine triples.  But he didn’t win the award for his stickwork.  Guillen led American League shortstops with a .980 fielding percentage.  His batting average would fall to .250 in 1986 but then jumped up to .279 in 1987.  In ’87 Ozzie began a four-year string of seasons in which he would participate in 100 or more double plays.

Guillen was named to his first All-Star team in 1988.  That year he paced shortstops with 570 assists and finished fifth in the league with seven three-baggers.  After establishing a single season high in RBI in 1989, Ozzie set a new personal best in 1990 when he drove in 58 runs.  Ozzie made his second All-Star team that year and won the Gold Glove for his position.  An All-Star again in 1991, Guillen swiped 21 bases but after a serious injury that almost wiped out his 1992 season he would never again be a threat to steal a base. 

Limited to just a dozen games in 1992, Ozzie came back in ’93 to hit .280 for the ChiSox.  For the first time in his career he was able to play on the big stage as the White Sox made the postseason.  He hit .273 in an ALCS loss to the Blue Jays.  He wouldn’t play in the postseason again until he left Chicago.  During the strike shortened 1994 campaign, Ozzie set a personal best single season batting average of .288.  With each passing year he became more and more difficult to strikeout and in 1996 and ’97 he was the hardest player to whiff in the American League.

Ozzie posted a .981 fielding percentage in ’96 and at the age of 33 in 1997 he scored 59 runs.  Chicago was unable to get back to the postseason and the championship hungry Guillen signed with the Orioles as a free agent.  After a rocky start he was released by Baltimore but Bobby Cox swooped in and picked him up to serve as a valuable part-time shortstop for his Braves.  Atlanta made the postseason as usual under Cox that year and Ozzie hit Padres pitchers at a .417 clip in the NLCS but the Braves lost to the Friars.  However, Guillen would get his World Series look in 1999 when the Braves won the NL flag by defeating the Astros in the Division Series and the Mets in the NLCS.  He appeared in three World Series games but was unable to get a hit against the champion Yankees.  He spent one last year in the Majors with the 2000 Devil Rays.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,993/R 773/H 1,764/2B 275/3B 69/HR 28/RBI 619/SB 169/BB 239/SO 511/BA .264/OBP .287/SA .338

Sometimes listed as “Chico” Cardenas, Leo was a Gold Glove shortstop who was named to five All-Star teams.  The Cuban born Cardenas was a sound defender who possessed modest power.  In the days before A-Rod and Tejada, shortstops weren’t known for blasting, but Chico drilled 20 homeruns in 1966 for the Reds.  Chico had six seasons in which he posted a double-digit homerun output.

Cardenas made his debut with the Reds as a 21-year-old in 1960.  The Reds at the time had the slick-fielding Roy McMillan at short but they dealt Roy after the season and let Chico platoon with veteran Eddie Kasko in 1961.  The system worked as the Reds won the pennant but they fell to the Mantle/Maris led Yankees in the World Series.  Given that Cardenas was a .300 hitter in 1961, and Kasko wasn’t, the Reds named Chico their everyday shortstop in 1962.

Cardenas hit .294 his first year as a regular player and swatted ten homeruns.  Although his batting average began to head south from there on, Leo was such a dynamite defender that he earned the nickname Mr. Automatic.  In 1964, his first All-Star season, Chico led shortstops in putouts–something he’d do on four separate occasions.  But his bat began to heat up again in 1965 when he posted double-digit totals in every extra base hit department.  He won a Gold Glove that year while pacing the league in intentional walks. 

Although Chico’s batting average dropped 32 points from 1965 to 1966, his power spiked.  He swatted a career high 20 homeruns in ’66 while also establishing a personal best in RBI.  With the newfound power, Chico’s defense didn’t suffer.  The Cuban led shortstops in both fielding percentage and putouts.  But his production wasn’t a sign of things to come.  He was limited to 108 games in 1967 and when he was healthy again in ’68 his batting average reached an all-time low of .235.

After a down year in ’68 the Reds traded Chico to the Twins for Jim Merritt.  The trade was a blessing for Cardenas who would make two postseason appearances with Minnesota.  The change in leagues led to Leo’s bat coming back around as he hit .280 for the pennant winning Twins.  But Minnesota was bumped off in the ALCS by the Orioles and they suffered an identical fate in 1970 when Baltimore again made short work of them in October.

Chico made his final All-Star squad in 1971 when he banged out 18 homeruns for the Twins.  Still stellar on the field, Cardenas led shortstops with a .985 fielding percentage.  The Twins made an astute move by dealing Chico to the Angels after the season for fireman Dave LaRoche.  In California, Chico’s career stalled out.  He only hit .223 for the Angels in 1972 and lost his everyday assignment.  He ended his career in 1975 as a reserve with the Texas Rangers.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,941/R 662/H 1,725/2B 285/3B 49/HR 118/RBI 689/SB 39/BB 522/SO 1,135/BA .257/OBP .311/SA .367

Although the Bonham Blanket never set the world afire with his batting, he covered more ground than most shortstops of his day.  McMillan still rests in the Top 20 among shortstops for all-time career putouts and assists.  A three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All-Star, Roy spelled doom for any ground ball hit in his vicinity.  McMillan topped shortstops in fielding percentage in five separate seasons, assists in four campaigns and putouts three times.  Offensively, he knew his limitations and once led the league in sacrifices.

Roy spent the 1950s patrolling shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds.  The Texan was called up by the Reds in 1951 and played a sharp shortstop.  Despite his meager .211 batting average as a rookie, Cincinnati saw enough talent in Roy to make him their everyday shortstop in ’52.  In his first full year in the Majors, he led the league in games played and turned in the excess of 100 double plays.  From 1952 to ’56, McMillan turned over 100 twin-killings each season for a five-year string.  The most Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith was able to string together were two such campaigns.

Roy led shortstops in assists in 1953 and putouts in ’54.  In the ’53 campaign, he posted a .972 fielding percentage which was a whopping fifteen points above league average.  McMillan led the National League with 31 sacrifices in ’54, moving runners over so big guns Kluszewski, Greengrass, Bell and Post could drive them in.  The following year Roy hit a career high .268 and turned 111 double plays.  Then, from 1956 to 1958, he led National League shortstops in fielding percentage each season.  His top fielding percentage over the course of his career was the terrific .980 he posted in 1958.

McMillan made his two All-Star appearances in 1956 and ’57 before missing action in 1959.  Back to everyday duty in 1960, Roy showcased newfound power when he reached double-digits in homeruns for the first time.  But his batting average fell off to .236, and the Reds, in dire need of pitching, sent Roy to the Braves for Joey Jay and Juan Pizzaro.  In his first year with the Braves, Roy was in a league all to his own defensively.  He led National League shortstops in assists, putouts and fielding percentage, which helped to offset his meager .220 batting average.  He enjoyed one of his better years offensively in 1962 when he hit a career high twelve dingers for the Braves in 1962.

McMillan appeared in just 100 games in 1963 and early during the ’64 season he was swapped to the lowly New York Mets for Jay Hook and Adrian Garrett.  His offensive numbers were dismal his first year in New York but he rebounded with a decent ’65 season.  That ’65 season was Roy’s last as an everyday player.  He finished second among shortstops in assists and third in putouts at his advanced age.  He played one final year with the Mets in 1966 before calling it a career.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,093/R 739/H 1,639/2B 253/3B 35/HR 68/RBI 594/SB 41/BB 665/SO 711/BA .243/OBP .314/SA .321

A longtime Yankee, Crosetti made his debut with the Ruth/Gehrig Yankees of the early 1930s and was still an active player in the postwar era of DiMaggio/Berra.  He coached with the Yankees afterwards and was in the Bronx during the Mantle/Maris days as well.  The San Francisco native had a long run with the Yankees that allowed him to play in seven World Series and coach in many more.  A decent shortstop, Crosetti was noted for his plate-crowding (he often led the AL in hit by pitched balls), solid walk-drawing abilities and surprise power.

Crow made his debut with the Yankees in 1932 when Babe Ruth was 37-years-old.  As a rookie, Frankie played regularly and legged out nine triples as a frosh.  His breakout year would come in 1934 however as he was one of the few infielders to post double-digit totals in all the extra base hit departments.  After a down year in 1935, Frankie put together an impressive string of four seasons for the mighty Yankees beginning in 1936.

Named to his first All-Star team in ’36, Frankie enjoyed his finest season that year.  He hit .288 that season–forty-three points above his career average–and finished fourth in the AL with 137 runs scored.  His fine on-base skills enabled him to set the table for the Yankees heavy hitters and he thus scored many runs.  Beginning in 1936, Crow put together a four-year string in which he’d score at least 109 runs every season.  Although his batting average plummeted in 1937, Frankie nevertheless scored 127 runs on an offensive juggernaut.  He would score 113 runs in 1938 and paced the league with 27 steals.  He only hit .048 in the 1937 World Series but would redeem himself in the 1938 Fall Classic with a .250 batting average and six RBI.

Crosetti was named to the 1939 All-Star team and scored 109 runs for the Yankees–his last 100 runs scored season.  His batting, which was never of star quality, became a liability from that moment on.  Fortunately for the Yankees they had a young man named Rizzuto who Crow mentored to take his place.  Crosetti’s last year as a regular was 1940.  The two years prior he had led shortstops in putouts but his years atop the leader board came to an end in the 1940s.  Rizzuto began to play regularly but World War II interrupted play and Scooter joined the Navy. Crosetti, who was in his thirties, went to work in a war plant and played sparingly for the Yankees through the war years.  When the war was nearing its end, Crow returned to baseball full-time and was the Yankees everyday shortstop in 1945.  When Rizzuto returned in ’46, Crow was strictly a reserve until he retired and took to coaching full-time.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,683/R 1,006/H 1,541/2B 260/3B 65/HR 98/RBI 649/SB 113/BB 792/SO 799/BA .245/OBP .341/SA .354

Although Monte Cross never set the league afire with his hitting, he was an elite defender at short during the Deadball Era.  He didn’t hit with Honus or Dahlen but Cross flashed leather with the best of them.  Cross was so highly regarded for his defensive work that he played 15 seasons in the Majors despite his weak hitting.  The wiry shortstop was often among the leaders in defensive stats.  To this day, Monte rests at the 14th spot in career putouts among shortstops.

Cross made his Major League debut in 1892 with the old Baltimore Orioles of the National League.  His weak stickwork couldn’t keep him around and the Orioles cut ties with Monte thereafter.  He resurfaced in the Majors in 1894 for a spell with the Pirates in the decade before Honus established himself as the everyday shortstop in Pittsburgh.  Cross began to play regularly in 1895 and legged out a career high 13 triples that season.  Although he wasn’t a heavy hitter, Monte got by offensively on his above average speed and decent walk-drawing abilities.

After a full season with the Pirates, Monte joined the St. Louis Browns in 1896.  The following year he enjoyed his best offensive season when he established career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging average.  Defensively, he led shortstops with 516 assists.  But beginning the following year Monte started a string of sixth consecutive seasons in which he paced the league in putouts at short.  He recorded 404 putouts in 1898, which would be his career high for a season.  By this time he had joined the Phillies and performed his defensive feats in Philadelphia.

In 1899 Monte set career highs in runs scored and base hits but on into the new century his offensive work would dry up and he’d have to rely on his glove for the reminder of his days.  That wasn’t a difficult task for the slick-fielder.  Cross recorded a league best 339 putouts in 1900.  He led the NL in that department again in 1901 but his batting average fell to an all-time low of .197 that season.  However, with the American League in full swing, the new circuit was raiding the rosters of the established National League and Monte jumped the Phillies and signed with Connie Mack’s crosstown Athletics.  Cross had two so-so years with the lumber under Mr. Mack and again led the league in putouts both seasons.

But when Monte’s bat completely deteriorated in 1904, Mack couldn’t tread water with an automatic out in his lineup, no matter how sound he was defensively. Mack platooned Cross at short in his flag-winning season of 1905 with nineteen-year-old phenom Jack Knight.  The limited work helped Cross’ batting average as he hit .266 in a part-time capacity.  In his only World Series action, Monte was overmatched by Giants pitching and hit just .176 with seven strikeouts.  But Schoolboy Knight never did take off like expected and Cross played regularly for the Mackmen again in 1906.  Monte hit an even .200 but pilfered 22 bags at the ripe old age of 36, which gave him eight seasons with 20 or more thefts.  Cross played one final year in the Majors in 1907.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,684/R 719/H 1,365/2B 232/3B 68/HR 31/RBI 621/SB 328/BB 616/SO 710/BA .234/OBP .316/SA .313