After two years of relative stability, 1940 proved to be a difficult season for the Negro leagues, as the trickle of players defecting to Venezuela or (especially) Mexico became a flood. Many of black baseball’s biggest stars—Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Leon Day—spent most or all of 1940 south of the border.
Compounding this problem, the most famous of the Negro leaguers, Satchel Paige, spent his fourth consecutive season in exile. Injury and a refusal to play for the Newark Eagles, the team that owned his contract, had kept him off league rosters since 1936. Finally a complicated deal that awarded the Eagles two other players from the Crawfords—shortstop Bus Clarkson and pitcher Ernie Carter—resulted in Paige being allowed to suit up for league games with the Kansas City Monarchs, the club whose barnstorming B-team he had been headlining for two years. (Unfortunately we don’t yet have any box scores covering his league appearances late in 1940.)
The Homestead Grays may have lost Josh Gibson to Mexico, but they retained most of the rest of their roster, including Ray Brown (16-2, 1.88), Buck Leonard (.369, 8 homers), and Edsall Walker (11-4, 3.13). The Grays, now playing most of their home games in Washington, D. C., also added Howard Easterling (.344./.404/.511) and the 44-year-old Jud Wilson. The latter was supposed to make up for the loss of Gibson’s power but finished the year homerless and with a .260 average. Still, these players proved to be just enough to stave off the Elite Giants’ challenge and give the Grays their third pennant in four years.
Over in the Negro American League, the defending champion Kansas City Monarchs lost their two best everyday players, Willard Brown and Ted Strong. But KC compensated through the fine play of infielders Herb Souell (.340) and Jesse Williams (.368) and the pitching of Frank Bradley (4-1, 2.38), Jack Matchett (6-2, 2.58), and others, and won the pennant going away.
Once again, we owe our stats for the 1940 season to Larry Lester, Wayne Stivers, and the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group.