Writing about the meeting that established the Negro National League, the Chicago Defender claimed that “[t]he newspaper men had the day at the meeting. No manager had aught to say about players. They were selected on account of their RELATIVE STRENGTH to each team.”
So, did it work? Did the newspaper men succeed in their attempt to balance the league? Their task was complicated by the fact two of the most important clubs in the NNL, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Indianapolis ABCs, hadn’t fielded teams in 1919, and had to be put together from scratch. For C. I. Taylor, this basically meant assembling a collection of former ABCs players (with a few additions). The Monarchs, on the other hand, were a brand-new club, with only a tenuous relationship to J. L. Wilkinson’s old All Nations teams (plus, the All Nations were not actually a black team, featuring many white players who probably wouldn’t have been much interested in joining the Negro leagues).
Since we now have the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database, we can use win shares to get a quick idea of how each team was built that year. I took the top 100 players in win shares for the 1920 NNL season, plus a few more, and for each team put them in five groups according to whether/how the players changed teams for 1920, including both off-season and midseason moves.
Players who moved during the 1920 season will appear in multiple groups. I haven’t attempted to adjust the win shares for number of games counted for each team, which varies in the 1920 NNL from 40 to 95, so don’t take the figures too seriously as precise evaluations of the players’ performances. (For example, Oscar Charleston earned the most win shares, but the real MVP was probably Cristóbal Torriente.) The idea here is just to get a rough estimate of where talent was flowing, especially within the league, and how the teams were put together.
CHICAGO AMERICAN GIANTS
•RETAINED: Cristóbal Torriente (23.8 win shares), Dave Brown (18.6), Bingo DeMoss (14.5), Tom Johnson (14.2); Dave Malarcher (9.0), George Dixon (8.7), Judy Gans (4.9), Jim Brown (4.7), Bobby Williams (4.2), Leroy Grant (3.1). +105.7
•IN from NNL teams: Jelly Gardner (3.7) from Detroit (via Dayton). +3.7
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: Tom Williams (19.5) and Johnny Reese (0.9) from Hilldale; Jack Marshall (8.2) from Gilkerson’s Union Giants; Frank Wickware (4.6) from Bacharach Giants. +33.2
•OUT to NNL teams: Oscar Charleston (25.7) to Indianapolis; Bill Riggins (7.0) to Detroit; Tom Johnson (1.7) loaned to Detroit midseason. -34.4
•OUT to non-NNL teams: Richard Whitworth (7.7) and Jesse Barber (7.2) to Hilldale; String Bean Williams (6.7) to Bacharach Giants. -21.6
Balance with NNL: -30.7
The American Giants donated the most wins to other Negro National Leagues, mostly by giving Oscar Charleston to Indianapolis. Foster also participated in an exchange of players with the east, losing Whitworth and Barber to Hilldale, and String Bean Williams to the Bacharachs, while getting Tom Williams from Hilldale, and Frank Wickware from the Bacharachs. It’s not clear whether these were trades or reciprocal raids. I’d suspect the latter, as Charleston was originally reported to be on his way to Hilldale, too, only to change his mind. The value of the players lost to the east is greatly understated here, since Hilldale and the Bacharachs played fewer top-flight games than the American Giants.
•RETAINED: Willie Green (3.2), John Beckwith (2.7), Horace Jenkins (1.7), Bobby Winston (1.2); Harry Jeffries (0.3), Thurman Jennings (0.2), Joe Green (0.1), Walter Ball (0.1). +9.5
•IN from NNL teams: Frank Duncan (outfielder; 0.8) from Detroit; Luther Farrell (0.8) and Harry Bauchman (0.2) from St. Louis Giants midseason. +1.8
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: John Taylor (2.8), Butler White (1.4), Bobby Anderson (0.6), and Frank Duncan (catcher; 0.4). +5.2
•OUT to NNL teams: Harry Bauchman (0.1) to St. Louis. -0.1
•OUT to non-NNL teams: none
Balance with NNL: +1.7
The Chicago Giants gained the outfielder Frank Duncan from Detroit and signed the young catcher Frank Duncan (no relation). They won only 6 games against top-flight opposition in 1920, so these figures are almost meaningless.
CUBAN STARS OF HAVANA
•RETAINED: José Leblanc (15.1), Bernardo Baró (14.1), Bienvenido Jiménez (6.5), Matías Ríos (5.3), Eustaquio Pedroso (3.2); Eufemio Abreu (2.1), Prudencio Martínez (1.6; last played for Cuban Stars in 1918). +47.9
•IN from NNL teams: none.
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: Valentín Dreke (10.1) from New York Cuban Stars; José Hernández (14.9), Ramón Herrera (7.4), Marcelino Guerra (5.3), Faustino Valdés (4.8), and José López (2.5) didn’t come to U.S. in 1919. +45.0
•OUT to NNL teams: Bartolo Portuondo (13.4) to Kansas City. -13.4
•OUT to non-NNL teams: José Junco (1.9) and Tatica Campos (0.8) to New York Cuban Stars; Manuel Villa and Abraham Tolosa didn’t come to U.S. in 1920. -2.7
Balance with NNL: -13.4
The Cuban teams always occupied a peculiar place in the Negro leagues, due to their semi-exclusive access to a foreign source of talent. They did lose Portuondo to the Monarchs, and Junco and Campos to Pompez’s eastern Cubans. They brought a number of new/newish Cubans to the U.S. to make up the deficit.
•RETAINED: Koke Alexander (8.2), George Britt (6.9), Candy Jim Taylor (4.6), George Brown (3.0), John Cunningham (0.7). +23.4
•IN from NNL teams: Boots McClain (1.3), Mitchell Murray (0.2), and Samuel Dewitt (0.1) acquired from Indianapolis midseason. +1.6
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: Bruce Hocker (2.5) and William Webster (1.3) from Jewell’s ABCs of Indianapolis; Slim Branham (2.8), Isaac Lane (2.7), David Wingfield (2.0), and Charley Wilson (1.6). +12.9
•OUT to NNL teams: Dizzy Dismukes (10.6), Ed Rile (3.4), Samuel Dewitt (0.8), and Mitchell Murray (0.7) to Indianapolis; Lee Hill (4.0) to St. Louis; Charley Hill (3.5) and Mack Eggleston (3.1) to Detroit. -26.1
•OUT to non-NNL teams: none
Balance with NNL: -24.5
The Marcos lost Dizzy Dismukes and the promising Ed Rile, without really getting much in return.
•RETAINED: Edgar Wesley (10.2), Frank Warfield (8.7), Pete Hill (8.3), Joe Hewitt (4.7), Bruce Petway (2.3). +34.2
•IN from NNL teams: Jimmie Lyons (20.2) and Bill Gatewood (16.3) from St. Louis; Bill Riggins (7.0) from American Giants; Chick Harper (3.5), acquired from KC mid-season; Charley Hill (3.5) and Mack Eggleston (3.1) from Dayton; Tom Johnson (1.7), loaned from American Giants midseason. +55.3
•IN from non-NNL Teams, or rookies: Bill Holland (14.8) and Eugene Moore (1.0; loaned to St. Louis midseason) from Jewell’s ABCs of Indianapolis; Charley Hill (3.5), Andy Cooper (2.9), Gunboat Thompson (2.3), Smith (pitcher; 1.4), and Alonzo Longware (0.8). +23.2
•OUT to NNL teams: John Donaldson (14.7), Sam Crawford (14.4), José Méndez (7.0), and Vicente Rodríguez (3.1) to Kansas City; Dicta Johnson (13.5) to Indianapolis; Jelly Gardner (3.7) to Dayton; Eugene Moore (2.8) loaned to St. Louis midseason; Frank Duncan (outfielder; 0.8) to Chicago Giants. -60.0
•OUT TO non-NNL teams: none.
Balance with NNL: -4.7
Detroit donated a huge amount of value to other NNL teams (nearly twice what they retained), include their entire pitching staff. The main beneficiaries were the Monarchs, with 39 win shares going to Kansas City. The Stars recouped most of their losses, though, picking up Lyons and Gatewood from St. Louis and Riggins from the American Giants, as well as a couple of choice rookies, Bill Holland and future Hall of Famer Andy Cooper.
•RETAINED: Jim Jeffries (10.6) and Russell Powell (6.3) last played for 1918 ABCs (Jeffries played one game for Jewell’s ABCs in 1919). +16.9
•IN from NNL teams: Oscar Charleston from American Giants (25.7); Dicta Johnson (13.5) from Detroit; Dizzy Dismukes (10.6) and Ed Rile (3.4) from Dayton; Samuel Dewitt (0.8) and Mitchell Murray (0.7) from Dayton; Charleston, Johnson, and Dismukes were former ABCs. +54.7
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: Ben Taylor (18.6) and George Shively (6.7) from Bacharach Giants; Morten Clark (14.2) from Lincoln Giants; Bob McClure (9.8), Biz Mackey (7.4), Ralph Jefferson (4.2), Henry Blackmon (3.1), Morris Williams (1.3), Namon Washington (1.1), and Robert Hudspeth (0.1), all from Texas; Connie Day (3.9) from Jewell’s ABCs; Boots McClain (0.2). +70.6
•OUT to NNL teams: Boots McClain (1.3), Mitchell Murray (0.2), and Samuel Dewitt (0.1) dealt to Dayton midseason. -1.6
•OUT to non-NNL teams: George Shively (1.0) left for Bacharach Giants mid-season. -1.0
Balance with NNL: +53.1
Excluding former ABCs: +3.3
Basically, the ABCs reacquired a bunch of their old players, then with the team mired in a midseason slump, C. I. Taylor signed half the roster of the Texas Negro League’s San Antonio Black Aces. The Aces’ owner threatened to sue; it’s unknown whether he made good on the threat, but Taylor kept the players, nearly all of whom went on to decent Negro league careers. Biz Mackey, of course, ended up in the Hall of Fame.
Former ABCs +105.2
Rookies from Texas +27.0
Other acquisitions +8.3
KANSAS CITY MONARCHS
•IN from NNL teams: John Donaldson (14.7), Sam Crawford (14.4), José Méndez (7.0), and Vicente Rodríguez (3.1) from Detroit; Bartolo Portuondo (13.4) from Cuban Stars. +52.6
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: George Carr (12.0) and Edgar “Blue” Washington (2.6) from Los Angeles White Sox; Reuben Curry (14.2) and Hurley McNair (14.0) from Gilkerson’s Union Giants; Bullet Rogan (13.8) and Dobie Moore (9.7) from 25th Infantry Wreckers; Otto Ray (2.1); Chick Harper (3.1); Joaquín Arumís (1.0) from Cuba. +72.5
•OUT to NNL teams: Chick Harper (3.5), dealt to Detroit midseason. -3.5
•OUT to non-NNL teams: none.
Balance with NNL: +49.1
Excluding former All Nations: +27.4
The Monarchs developed several interlocking networks for acquiring players. Wilkinson evidently started with his old stars Donaldson and Méndez, making Méndez the manager. Both had played for the Los Angeles White Sox in the late teens, and it must have been through this connection that LA players George Carr and Edgar Washington ended up in KC. Wilkinson secured two more veteran players from Detroit, the pitcher Sam Crawford and Cuban catcher Vicente “El Loco” Rodríguez, and then was able to sign third baseman Bartolo Portuondo away from the Cuban Stars. He tried to get two more Cubans, Cristóbal Torriente (another old All Nations star) and Bernardo Baró, but failed. Most likely Foster, having had to give up Charleston to the ABCs, couldn’t face losing Torriente as well.
Méndez and Wilkinson had to settle instead for two members of Gilkerson’s Union Giants, the veteran Hurley McNair and young pitcher Reuben Curry, a Kansas City native. Wilber “Bullet” Rogan of the famous 25th Infantry Wreckers was a Kansas Citian who had appeared briefly for the All Nations while on furlough back in 1917. Presumably it was Rogan who recommended his Wreckers teammate, Dobie Moore. Wilkinson had already signed them both up by February, although their Army enlistments were not up until the end of June, so the Monarchs had to wait.
Former All Nations: +21.7 (including Rogan, +35.5)
Union Giants: +28.2
L. A. White Sox: +14.6
Other Acquisitions: +5.2
ST. LOUIS GIANTS
•IN from NNL teams: Lee Hill (4.0) from Dayton; Eugene Moore (2.8) loaned from Detroit; Harry Bauchman (0.1) from Chicago Giants. +6.9
•IN from non-NNL teams, or rookies: Lunie Danage (6.2), Doc Dudley (6.0), Wayne Carr (5.5), Jimmy Oldham (1.3), Joe Casey (1.1), Luther Farrell (1.1) from Lincoln Giants, Lonnie Torian (0.8). +22.0
•OUT to NNL teams: Jimmie Lyons (20.2) and Bill Gatewood (16.3) to Detroit; Luther Farrell (0.8) and Harry Bauchman (0.2) to Chicago Giants midseason. -37.5
•OUT to non-NNL teams: Robert Scott (1.6) to Royal Giants after 2 games; Sam Bennett left midseason to play in North Dakota. -1.6
Balance with NNL: -30.6
The St. Louis Giants gave up a lot of value to the Detroit Stars in Jimmie Lyons, one of the best position players in the league, and Bill Gatewood, one of the best pitchers. They didn’t get anything back of value from NNL teams, and their rookie crop didn’t exactly set the league on fire. They tried signing some players from the 25th Infantry Wreckers, but couldn’t hang on to the best of them, Heavy Johnson.
Here’s a table showing each team’s balance with the other NNL clubs. In parentheses I’ve put figures excluding the former ABCs and All Nations players, just to highlight the adjustments made after Taylor and Wilkinson got their guys back.
Balance with NNL (excluding former ABCs & All Nations):
Indianapolis ABCs +53.1 (+3.3)
Kansas City Monarchs +49.1 (+27.4)
Chicago Giants +1.7 (+1.7)
Detroit Stars -4.7 (+30.5)
Cuban Stars of Havana -13.4 (-13.4)
Dayton Marcos -24.5 (-13.9)
St. Louis Giants -30.6 (-30.6)
American Giants -30.7 (+2.0)
In a nutshell, the American Giants and Detroit Stars gave a bunch of players to Indianapolis and Kansas City; Detroit was compensated with a couple of very important St. Louis Giants players; and the St. Louis Giants were, to put it bluntly, screwed.
W. S. Ferance, who said he had been the “under secretary” of the St. Louis Giants for five years, wrote an article in 1923 attacking Rube Foster, and described the transfer of Lyons to Detroit this way:
Ferance doesn’t mention it, but I wonder if Oscar Charleston’s otherwise puzzling transfer to St. Louis for 1921 was actually some sort of delayed compensation for the loss of Lyons.
In any event, even the loss of Charleston didn’t stop the American Giants from dominating the league. They were followed in the final standings by the teams that gained the most talent from other league teams—Detroit, Kansas City, and Indianapolis—while the teams that (aside from Foster) gave up the most, St. Louis and Dayton, were left to wallow in the second division.