Few teams have suffered quite as much at the hands of an incomplete historical record as the 1939 St. Louis Stars. They were a pretty good team—the second half champions of the Negro American League, in fact, losing the pennant in a five-game series to the first-half champion Monarchs. But scouring the newspapers at the time reveals a paltry 15-16 record* for the Stars in the Negro American League regular season (along with three losses to NNL teams). Clearly a large number of games were not reported, at least in the newspapers that have been found so far, and a lot remains to be uncovered.
Moreover, this edition of the St. Louis Stars had a somewhat confusing history, one that’s largely concealed when you just look at the standings. They actually bear no organizational connection to the original St. Louis Stars, which folded when the original NNL folded in 1931. Neither are they connected to the second St. Louis Stars club, which was founded by Henry L. Moore in 1936 and joined the Negro American League as a charter member in 1937. That team dissolved after the 1937 season.
This is actually the third distinct version of the St. Louis Stars. But it took them a few years to get to St. Louis. They were founded in the mid-1930s in Mounds, Illinois, by a numbers operator, real estate investor, and night club owner named Allen Johnson. As the Mounds Blues they built up a reputation as a strong independent outfit, managed by the veteran pitcher George Mitchell. In 1938 Johnson took over the Negro American League’s franchise in Indianapolis, and the Mounds Blues played that season as the Indianapolis ABCs. The next season they moved to St. Louis to assume the mantle of another traditional blackball power, the St. Louis Stars.
In 1940 and 1941 they split their home games between St. Louis and New Orleans. Then Johnson and Mitchell bought into the NNL’s New York Black Yankees and merged the two teams, bringing half the Stars’ roster with them to New York for the 1942 season. A year later they unmerged the two teams, placing a new NNL entry in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as the Harrisburg-St. Louis Stars (though the team apparently had no connection with St. Louis). This team dropped out of the NNL midway through the 1943 season. They barnstormed the rest of that season, then spent a couple more years as an associate member of the NAL.
In addition to a tangled history and poor reportage, the ’39 St. Louis Stars have suffered from a lack of recognizable stars. Their best-known player was probably outfielder-catcher Quincy Trouppe, who didn’t spend the whole season with St. Louis. Apart from Trouppe, you’ve got a bevy of pretty good players, none of whom really stand out—the double play combination of Marshall Riddle and Alfred “Buddy” Armour; a pair of southpaw pitchers, Frank “Chip” McAllister and Walter “Lefty” Calhoun; outfielders Dan Wilson and Leslie “Chin” Green; and ex-Monarch first baseman Ed Mayweather.
The relative anonymity of the ’39 St. Louis Stars has even caused one of the few evidences of their existence to be misidentified as a totally different team—one with a bankable star. The photo below has sometimes been identified as the 1922 St. Louis Stars featuring Cool Papa Bell, apparently the very young-looking guy in street clothes sitting in the front. (On the back of the copy I own, someone has even penciled “James Bell, CF.”)
Needless to say, that’s not Bell, and those aren’t the 1922 St. Louis Stars. They are the 1939 Stars, and here are my best efforts at identifying them:
Seated, L to R:
3) Ed Mayweather
4) Leslie “Chin” Green
6) Quincy Trouppe
Seated in front:
Mascot / ball boy
Here are comparisons for each ID to other known photographs of the players.
WALTER (LEFTY) CALHOUN
THEOLIC (FIREBALL) SMITH
FRANK (CHIP) McALLISTER
BOBBY ROBINSON (?)
LESLIE (CHIN) GREEN
Bobby Robinson is the iffiest one in my view. I originally thought the Trouppe ID was iffy too, but the more I look at it the more I’m convinced. His eyebrows, left ear (to the right as we look at it), and general facial shape are spot on. His mouth and nose look a little off, but that may be due to the blurriness of the St. Louis Stars photo (which may also affect Mayweather and Robinson).
If Robinson is correct, this would leave five players unidentified. The most likely candidates would include the team’s double play combination, 2B Marshall Riddle and SS Alfred “Buddy” Armour; the catchers, Raymond Taylor and Bob Smith; outfielder Bill Bradford; and pitcher Robert Dean. Unfortunately I don’t have confirmed images of any of those players to compare. If anybody can help out, let me know.
*-Two wins by the Stars over the Kansas City Monarchs will be added in the next update to the DB.