Monday, January 11, 2021

Detroit Tigers All Stars: 1960-1969

Pitcher Mickey Lolich jumps into the arms of catcher Bill Freehan in celebration of the 1968 World Series win in game seven.  

(Photo credit: MLive.com)


This week, I present the Detroit Tigers All Star team for the 1960-1969 decade.  All Star teams for previous decades are found below:


1901-1909

1910-1919

1920-1929

1930-1939

1940-1949

1950-1959

Detroit Stars: 1919-1930


In each decade, I select nine position players, one for each position on the field plus one other hitter.  This ninth player could be a designated hitter, a multiple position player who didn't fit neatly into one position and/or the best hitter who didn't get selected as a position player.  I refer to this final hitter as the utility player.  Then I select five pitchers: four starters and one reliever.  In earlier decades when relievers were not frequently used, it will just be the fifth best starting pitcher.  


Some further general rules are as follows:

  • A player must have played at least half of his games with the Tigers at a given position or played that position more than any other position.  In rare cases, I might cheat a little bit if none of the players qualifying at a given position are any good at all and there is a superior player who played a good number of games at that position. 
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons with the Tigers, preferably at the assigned position. 
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered. 
  • If a player played other positions with the Tigers besides his assigned position, his hitting performance in those games does count. 

Many statistics and sometimes, especially for fielding evaluation, anecdotal information will be considered.  For hitters, some of the statistics I consider are:

  • Games Played (G)
  • Plate Appearances (PA) 
  • Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference WAR), 
  • Adjusted Batting Runs (ABR
  • Adjusted On Base Plus Slugging (OPS+)
The follow are among those I use for evaluating pitchers:

The 1960s decade was a decade of change in Major League Baseball.  After 60 years of 16 teams and two eight-team leagues, baseball expanded rapidly during the sixties.  MLB added four teams in 1961-1962 and four more in 1969 alone.  They also extended the schedule from 154 to 162 games starting in 1961 in the American League and 1962 in the National League.  In 1969, they went to four divisions of six teams each, two in each league. 


For the Tigers, it was mostly a winning decade capped by their third world championship in 1968 amid riots and turmoil in the motor city.  In 1961, they went 101-61 and led the league with 841 runs scored despite the presence of the Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris powered Yankees.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were better at run prevention and finished eight games ahead of the Tigers with 109 wins.  In 1967, the Tigers took it to the last game of the season finishing with 91 wins and a game out of first. The Tigers had only two losing seasons - 1960 and 1962 - and did not stray far from .500 in either of those years. 


The top Tigers of 1960-1969 by Wins Above Replacement were:


Al Kaline 49

Norm Cash 43

Dick McAuliffe 29

Bill Freehan 25

Denny McLain 22


The decade All Star team is listed in Tables 1 and 2 below and player profiles follow.


Table 1: Tigers All Star Position Players: 1960-1969


Pos

Player

From

To

G

PA

WAR

ABR

OPS+

C

Bill Freehan

1961

1969

967

3,766

25

59

113

1B

Norm Cash

1960

1969

1,442

5,708

43

270

142

2B

Jake Wood

1961

1967

592

2,050

0

-40

84

SS

Dick McAuliffe

1960

1969

1,154

4,788

29

82

115

3B

Don Wert

1963

1969

962

3,881

12

-40

90

LF

Rocky Colavito

1960

1963

629

2,723

17

92

130

CF

Mickey Stanley

1964

1969

573

2,045

10

-12

90

RF

Al Kaline

1960

1969

1,322

5,473

49

267

141

UT

Willie Horton

1963

1969

735

2,876

17

104

132

Source:Baseball-Reference.com

 

Table 2: Tigers All Star Pitchers: 1960-1969


Pos

Player

From

To

G

IP

WAR

PR

ERA+

SP

Denny McLain

1963

1969

213

1,502

22

73

113

SP

Mickey Lolich

1963

1969

267

1,528

14

16

101

SP

Jim Bunning

1960

1963

154

1,026

17

69

119

SP

Earl Wilson

1966

1969

131

866

12

35

110

RP

Hank Aguirre

1960

1967

287

1,107

17

63

115

Source:Baseball-Reference.com 



Player Profiles


C Bill Freehan


Freehan was a powerful and durable catcher who was excellent both offensively and defensively.  He was the top catcher in the game during the 1960s peaking with two fantastic seasons in 1967 and 1968.  He posted a 144 OPS+ and 6.1 WAR and finished third in the MVP balloting in 1967.  He followed up with a 145 OPS+ and 7.0 WAR and was runner-up to teammate Denny McLain in MVP voting in the 1968 championship season. 

 

The slugging catcher is 15th among MLB catchers in career WAR and some argue that he should be in the Hall of Fame.  Bill James ranked him the #12 catcher in the  New Bill James Historical Abstract.   


A Detroit native, Freehan grew up in suburban Royal Oak where he started catching at a young age.  During one Little League All Star game, he was bowled over at the plate by future Tigers teammate Willie Horton (Trey Stecker, SABR.org)   


1B Norm Cash


"Stormin' Norman" had a monster season in 1961 batting .361/.487/.662 with a 201 OPS+.  His 85 Adjusted Batting Runs that year was the highest total in franchise history.  He has since admitted to using a corked bat that year which puts the legitimacy of those numbers in doubt.  His highest OPS+ otherwise was 149, but was 120+ every year from 1960-1973.  He had 12 seasons of 2+ WAR and 9 seasons of 3+ WAR.


Cash had fun playing the game and  was very popular with teammates, fans and media.  He was the last batter facing Nolan Ryan in a contest in July, 1973 in which the fireballer was completing a no hitter and 17-strikeout game.  According to Tigers outfielder Jim Northrup, "Norm walked up to the plate with a table leg from the locker room. The plate umpire, Ron Luciano, says, `You can't use that up here.' Cash says, `Why not, I won't hit him anyway.' He then gets a bat, then hit a popup to shortstop to end the game. As he was walking away he says to Luciano, `See, I told ya.'" (Bill Dow, Baseball Digest, 2001)


2B Jake Wood


Dick McAuliffe playing more shortstop than second base during the decade left the keystone spot open for either Jake Wood or Jerry Lumpe. Neither was a star, but Wood edged out Lump thanks to superior hitting and good baserunning.  Wood had an interesting statistical combo in his rookie year in 1961 playing every Tigers game in the league's first 162-game season and leading the American League in both triples (14) and strikeouts (140).  He finished third in the league in steals each year from 1961-1963 with 30, 24 and 18 respectively.    


SS Dick McAuliffe


I ranked McAuliffe as the Tigers third best second baseman ever behind Charlie Gehringer and Lou Whitaker, but the early part of his career was spent mostly at shortstop where he was the usual Tigers starter from 1963-1966.  McAuliffe often looked awkward both at the plate and in the field, but was a steady performer for 14 seasons in Detroit.  He peaked from 1966-1968 when he averaged 5.6 WAR per season.  His best season was 1966 when he posted a 148 OPS+ with 6.0 WAR.

McAuliffe was best known for two things: 

  • He was a scrapper who wasn't afraid to mix it up with opponents.  In one famous fight, he charged the mound after pitcher Tommy John narrowly missed his head with a pitch. He roughed up John who left the game with a separated shoulder.
  • He had an unusual batting stance imitated by every kid in Michigan in the 60s and 70s.  As Bill James described it. "he tucked his right wrist under his chin and held his bat over his head, so it looked as if he were dodging the sword of Damocles in mid-descent.  He pointed his left knee at the catcher and his right knee at the pitcher and spread the two as far apart as humanly possible, his right foot balanced on his toes...He then whipped his bat in a violent pinwheel" (The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract).


3B Don Wert


Steady, but unspectacular, Don Wert played with some good teams in the 1960s.  He played over 1,000 games at third base, was an above average defender and had a couple of seasons with OPS+ slightly over 100.  His best season was 1965 when he accumulated 3.2 WAR.  


On September 17, 1968, the Strasburg, Pennsylvania native stroked a game winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Yankees 2-1 as the Tigers clinched the American League pennant.


In Spring training, 1964, manager Chuck Dressen asked Wert to be more vocal at third base and Wert responded with high pitched chatter that sounded like a yipping Coyote.  Thus, he acquired the nickname "Coyote" (John Milner, SABR.org).  


LF Rocky Colavito


Rocky Colavito came from the Indians in 1959 in a famous of swap of the batting leader (Harvey Kuenn) and home run leader (Colavito).  Colavito played four years with the Tigers including a fantastic 1961 season with 45 homers and a 157 OPS+.  He finished in the top five in the American League in WAR in both 1961 and 1962.  He also had perhaps the best outfield arm in the majors during his prime.  


CF Mickey Stanley


Fan favorite Mickey Stanley accumulated 17 WAR during his career which was fifth among Tigers center fielders.  He was a below average hitter and strong strong fielder.  He won four Gold Gloves in centerfield, although there is no indication from statistics that he was as elite defensively as he was billed.  Stanley's 1,175 games in center field was second most to Ty Cobb in franchise history.  


Stanley's claim to fame was that manager Mayo Smith played him at shortstop in the 1968 World Series with little previous experience at the position.  The move was made because the Tigers had four good outfielders with Al Kaline returning from an injury and a notoriously weak hitting shortstop in Ray Oyler.  Stanley held his own at short and the Tigers won the Series.    


This All Star team might look better if I moved Stanley to shortstop, McAuliffe to second and Jim Northrup to center field, but I wanted put players at their primary positions. Northrup is the best Tigers player to be shut out of the decade All Star teams thanks to great outfield depth and Northrup never really having a regular position    


RF Al Kaline


Al Kaline joined the Tigers straight out of high school in 1953 at age 18 and remained with the organization in some capacity until his death in 2020.  That amounted to more than half the team's existence. He led the league in batting (.340) and accumulated 8.2 WAR at the age of 20 in 1955.  That turned out to be arguably his best season, but he had a lot of other great seasons in route to the Hall of Fame. 


Mr Tiger was never the best player in the league in the sixties, but was often one of the best and always good.  His WAR rounded to three or more every year and he finished in the top ten six times during the decade. He also hit for an OPS+ of 130 or more eight times.  


“People ask me, was it my goal to play in the majors for 20 years? Was it my goal to get 3,000 hits someday? Lord knows, I didn’t have any goals,” Kaline once said. “I tell them, ‘My only desire was to be a baseball player.’" (BaseballHall.org)  


UT Willie Horton


Born and raised in Detroit, Willie Horton was a home town town favorite for his performance both on and off the field.  On the field, he was a top slugger for many years finishing in the top ten in home runs five times and slugging four times.  He was at his finest during the 1968 championship season hitting 36 home runs and posting a 165 OPS+.

Off the field, Horton helped to restore order during the 1967 riots by climbing onto a truck and pleading with fellow African Americans to stop looting and committing violence.  


SP Denny McLain


McLain was baseball's last 30-game winner in 1968 and he continued to dominate in 1969.  He won both the Cy Young and MVP in 1968 leading the league in innings (336), Wins (31) and complete games (28).  He won another Cy Young in 1969 with a 134 ERA+ in 325 innings.  McLain made his mark off the field as well.  He was an accomplished organ player who frequently performed in nightclubs.  He also appeared on the The Ed Sullivan Show and other popular programs and was featured in Life and Time magazines.  He was a national star and he loved the limelight. 

After 1969, it was all downhill for McLain.  In February 1970, Sports Illustrated published a story linking him to gamblers and organized crime.  Among other things, the article suggested that a foot injury in 1967 was the result of a mobster stepping on McLain’s toes when a partner could not cover a bet.  Because of the story, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended McLain for the first half of the 1970 season.  Later in the season, Kuhn suspended him two more times, once for pouring water over the heads of reporters and again for carrying a gun.

After his career, it got worse.  He tried to make a living in radio and television and other various occupations but he built up large debts and went bankrupt,  He later turned to loan sharking and bookmaking and was imprisoned in 1985 for racketeering, extortion and drug trafficking.  He went to prison again in 1996 after stealing $12.5 million from the pension fund of his meat-processing company.  


SP Mickey Lolich


Mickey Lolich is the Tigers all-time strikeout leader with with 2,679.  The portly lefthander had three complete game wins in the 1968 World Series leading his team to an improbable comeback after being down three games to one versus the Cardinals. His best regular season in the sixties was 1969 when he won 19 games, posted an ERA+ of 124 and finished second with 271 strikeouts.     


SP Jim Bunning


Bunning had, in effect, two baseball careers reaching 30 WAR with both the Tigers and Phillies.  The Southgate, Kentucky native reached six WAR twice and led the league in strikeouts twice as a Tiger.  Unfortunately, he was traded too soon as he had his three best seasons in Philadelphia from 1965-1967.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.  After his playing career, Bunning was a long-time Kentucky congressman serving in both houses. 


Bunning's best season of the sixties decade for the Tigers was 1960 when he led the American League with 201 strikeouts and finished second with a 2.79 ERA.  Between 1960-1962, Bunning averaged 127 OPS+ and 5 WAR.  


SP Earl Wilson


Wilson was a double threat on the mound and at the plate showing surprising power for a pitcher.  He was 12 WAR as a pitcher with the Tigers, but also helped himself with 3.3 WAR as a batter.  In 1968, he hit 7 home runs for the second time, a total surpassed by only Wes Ferrell (9 with the Indians) in 1931. 


RP Hank Aguirre


Henry John Aguirre was another swing man who ranked 22nd among all Tigers pitchers in bWAR (18.1) and 17th in RE24 (67.2).  His best season with the Tigers was 1962 when he made 22 starts and 20 relief appearances and combined to lead the league in ERA+ (185) and WHIP (1.051) in 216 innings.

As a rookie for the Cleveland Indians in 1956, Aguirre struck out Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams the first time he faced him. Aguirre later asked Williams to autograph the ball and the slugger reluctantly agreed.  A couple of weeks later, the "Splendid Splinter" pounded Aguirre's first pitch for a home run. While rounding the bases, Williams shouted to Aguirre, "Get that ball, and I'll sign it, too."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Detroit Stars All Star Team: 1919-1931

The Detroit Stars were a charter member of the Negro National League in 1920

(Photo Credit: MLBemuseum.com)


 

On December 16, Major League Baseball announced that it will now officially recognize seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920-1948 as major leagues.  Historians have long considered baseball played in these leagues as comparable in quality to the White major leagues.  It is about time that they these leagues get their due recognition.  


It is of course tragic that the Black leagues were not integrated with the White leagues and shameful it has taken so long for them to be classified as major leagues.  Now that it has finally happened though, it is time for more baseball writers and analysts to delve into the records and stories and make the rich history of the Negro Leagues more widely known.  

For those of us who love statistics, it is important to understand the challenges of analyzing Negro Leagues data.  Hall of Fame historian Jay Jaffe discussed these issues in a recent FanGraphs article.  I will summarize some of them here:

  • Negro Leagues statistics are only about three quarters (73%) complete according to Ben Lindbergh, writer at The Ringer.  It varies by era depending on how frequently newspapers printed box scores and accounts.  For example, the 1920s era is mostly complete while the 1940s era is only about half complete. 
  • Seasons prior to 1920 will be excluded.  For example, Hall of Fame outfielder Pete Hill played for the Chicago American Giants, one of the greatest Black teams ever, from 1911-1918 but those years will not be counted in official major league statistics.  His statistics from 1920-1925 with the Detroit Stars and other teams will count.
  • Seasons after 1948 will be excluded.  So, seasons for players, such as Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, playing in the highly competitive Negro American League from 1949-1962 will not be recognized.  
  • Players like Jackie Robinson who played in both the Negro Leagues between 1920-1948 and also the White major leagues will have their official total statistics altered to include their time in the Negro Leagues.
  • The Negro Leagues had shorter seasons - usually somewhere between 50 and 100 games - than the White majors.  Teams may have played 100 or more additional games outside of league play often against inferior local teams, but these games will not be counted.  
  • The official site for Negro Leagues statistics is Seamheads.com.  It is a fun site and you should get to know it.  

My first dive into the Seamheads database and other more anecdotal sites will involve putting together a Detroit Stars All Star team similar to the decades teams I have been assembling for the Tigers.

The Detroit Stars were established as an independent league team in 1919 and became a founding member of the Negro National League in 1920.  The Stars played through 1931 when the Negro National League collapsed due to the great depression.  A different Negro National League was established in 1933.  The Detroit Stars played in the league the first year, but were not very successful and played under 40 games.  

My All Star team is going to be based on 1919-1931.  While 1919 is not officially recognized, they had a strong team in a competitive  league that year.    

In prior posts, I have assembled All Star Teams for the Detroit Tigers by decade:       

1910-1919

1920-1929

1930-1939

1940-1949

1950-1959


The Stars All Star team will be constructed similarly.  I will select nine position players, one for each position on the field plus one other hitter.  This ninth player could be a multiple position player who didn't fit neatly into one position and/or the best hitter who didn't get selected as a position player.  I refer to this final hitter as the utility player.  I will also select five pitchers.  


The All Star teams are listed in Tables 1 and 2 below.  Player profiles follow. 


Table 1: Detroit Stars All Star Position Players: 1919-1931

Pos

Player

From

To

G

PA

OPS+

C

Bruce Petway

1919

1925

284

954

69

1B

Edgar Wesley

1919

1927

467

1,971

145

2B

Frank Warfield

1919

1922

263

1,208

96

SS

Bill Riggins

1921

1926

541

2,348

94

3B

Claude Johnson

1927

1929

230

1,004

102

LF

Wade Johnston

1928

1931

263

1,172

126

CF

Turkey Stearnes

1923

1931

639

2,783

179

RF

Pete Hill

1919

1921

144

589

185

UT

Ed Rile

1927

1930

294

1,245

142

Source:Seamheads.com

 

Table 2: Detroit Stars All Star Pitchers: 1919-1931

Pos

Player

From

To

G

IP

ERA+

SP

Andy Cooper

1920

1930

230

1,237

120

SP

Bill Holland

1920

1922

88

543

133

SP

Bill Force

1921

1923

100

584

112

SP

Bill Gatewood

1920

1921

45

283

136

RP

Yellow Horse Morris

1925

1927

77

417

102

UT

Ed Rile

1927

1929

23

162

134

Source:Seamheads.com


Player Profiles


C Bruce Petway


Bruce Petway was one of the top catchers in the early days of the Negro Leagues.  He was a great receiver with a strong accurate arm and was one of the first catchers to consistently throw to second base without coming out of his squat.  Playing in exhibition games in Cuba in 1910, he reportedly threw out Ty Cobb three times in three attempts.  Petway was also very fast for a catcher and was a good bunter and base stealer (Negro League Baseball Museum, nlbemuseum.com). 


Petway played for the Stars towards the end of his career starting at age 33 from 1919-1925.  He also managed the team from 1922-1925.  He batted just .251 with a 69 OPS+, but was known more for his managing and catching at that point in his career.  His best offensive years for the Stars were 1921 and 1924.  In 1921, he batted .301 with a 105 OPS+ in 249 plate appearances.  He batted .326 with a 124 OPS+ in 110 plate appearances in 1924 at age 38.  


1B Edgar Wesley   


Edgar Wesley was a big left-handed slugger and strong defensive first baseman and was considered the best all around player at his position in the early years of the Negro National League.  He was also known to be an aggressive base runner.  Indianapolis catcher Larry Brown recalled Wesley barreling into home plate so hard that he cut his chest protector: "My mask went one direction, my glove went the other and the ball went up to the stands" (Richard Bak, Turkey Stearnes and the Detroit Stars).


In eight years with the Stars, Wesley hit .322 with a 144 OPS+.  He led the league with 11 home runs in 1920, but his best was yet to come.  He had a monster year in 1925 leading the league in batting (.404), slugging percentage (.715) and OPS+ (202). He also hit 17 home runs in 264 plate appearances which was second to his legendary teammate Turkey Stearnes (19).   


2B Frank Warfield


Frank Warfield was an elite defender who had good speed, reactions and a strong arm.  He also had a unique underhanded snap throw to first base which helped him in turning double plays.  He had little power, but was a slap hitter who could draw walks and was an excellent base runner.


The five-foot-seven-inch 160-pound infielder was an intense competitor on and off the field.  While he was a smart player, he was very sarcastic and caustic with teammates and opponents and he carried a knife.  He was unpopular enough that he earned the nickname "weasel".  He once got into a violent fight in Cuba with teammate Oliver Marcelle and bit off part of Marcelle's nose.  All of this was the result of a dice game and $5 which Marcelle owed Warfield (Negro League Baseball Museum, nlbemuseum.com).  


The Weasel batted mostly leadoff for the Stars between 1919-1922 hitting .278 with a .347 on base percentage and 96 OPS+.  He was remarkably consistent with OPS+ of 98, 96, 99 and 93 over the four years.  In 1921, he finished second in the league in walks (43) and seventh in runs scored (72). 


SS Bill Riggins


There is some confusion about Riggins' real name.  It appears that he was named Arvell at birth, but it's often spelled Orville (Agatetype.typepad.com).  During his playing career, he went by the name Bill or "Mule".  Before his playing career, he worked in the coal mines of Southern Illinois.  Mule was a heavy drinker, but it didn't seem to affect his playing skills.  He was an excellent fielder and baserunner and Bill James ranked him the fifth best shortstop in Negro League history (The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract)


Riggins played with the Stars from 1920-1926 batting .285 with a 94 OPS+ in 541 games.  In 1926, the switch-hitting shortstop batted .300, finished second in the league in stolen bases (25) and fifth in runs scored (80).  He also finished second in steals in 1925 with 26.  In both cases, the league leader was Cool Papa Bell, the fastest runner in Negro League history.


3B Claude Johnson


Claude Cecil Johnson started out as a second baseman with the Cleveland Stars in 1921 and also managed the team in 1923.  Hooks joined the Detroit Stars 1n 1927 and played mostly third base.  His best season was in 1928 when he batted .333 with a 123 OPS+ in 75 games.  He finished seventh in on base percentage that year (.421).


LF Wade Johnston


Like Claude Johnson above, William Wade Johnston started out with the Cleveland Stars in 1921.  He joined the Detroit Stars in 1928 and became their starting left fielder for four years batting .310 with a .391 on base percentage.  He was small at five-foot-seven-inches tall and 142 pounds, but he had good power,  In 1929, he finished third in the league in homeruns (16) and sixth in OPS+ (164).  He apparently had some patience as he led the league with 35 walks in just 200 plate appearances in 1931. 


CF Turkey Stearnes


Norman Thomas Turkey Stearnes was the top player in Detroit Stars history and one of the best in Negro Leagues history.  He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.


Stearnes was quiet and unassuming off the field, but he was a dynamic player on the field.  The legendary Satchell Paige once said that Stearnes "was one of the greatest hitters we ever had.  He was as good as Josh (Gibson).  He was as good as anybody who ever played" (BaseballHall.org).  


If Turkey played today, he would be described as a five-tool player.  Cool Papa Bell said "that man could hit the ball as far as anybody and he was one of our best all around players.  He could field, he could hit, he could run.  He had plenty of power. (BaseballHall.org).


The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .348 with a 173 OPS+ in 1,049 games lifetime.  His 197 home runs was the third most behind Gibson (238) and Oscar Charleston (211) in recorded Negro League history.  


In nine years with the Stars, Stearnes lead the league in homeruns four times and in OPS+ twice.  He finished in the top ten in OPS+ every year and the top five seven times. 


RF Pete Hill


Pete Hill played most of his career in the pre-Negro League era prior to 1920.  His organized baseball years ran from 1899 to 1925 and he was one of the pioneers of Negro League Baseball.  He was the captain of Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants from 1911-1918, the most dominant African American team of the time.  Foster created the Detroit Stars in 1919 and named Hill the manager.  Foster then organized the Negro National League in 1920 and the Stars were one of the original franchises.  


Negro League statistics were not accurately kept or well published and statistics for Black baseball prior to 1920 were even worse, but Hill was considered an excellent fielder with a cannon arm and great glove.  Offensively, he was a line drive hitter and a speedy base runner.  Prominent baseball historian and author of Biographical Encyclopedia of Negro Baseball James Riley said that he would include Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Pete Hill in his pre-1920 era all star outfield.  


Hill's days with the Detroit Stars did not come until he was 36 years of age in 1919.  He was a player manager from 1919-1921 and he could still hit.  He put up Ruthian numbers in 1919 batting .396 with 16 home runs and a 273 OPS+ in 165 plate appearances.  He followed that up with OPS+ of 139 and 153 in 1920 and 1921 respectively. Hill was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.  


UT Ed Rile   


Edward "Huck" Rile was a two-way player (first baseman and pitcher) who played for 11 teams over 14 seasons.  At six-feet-six-inches and 230 pounds, Rile was one of the biggest players in Negro Leagues history.  Huck excelled on both sides of the ball with a lifetime OPS+ of 122 and ERA+ of 110.      


The switch hitting Rile had a fantastic season as both a batter and pitcher for Detroit in 1927.  At the plate, he hit .389 with a .660 slugging average and finished second in the league with a 188 OPS+ in 297 plate appearances.  From the mound, he was second in the league with a 157 ERA+ in 141 innings.  He didn't pitch a lot in 1928, but continued to excel offensively batting .348 with a 147 OPS+.      

  

SP Andy Cooper  

Andrew Lewis Cooper was a left-handed pitcher who worked for 19 years mostly with the Stars and Kansas City Monarchs.  Sturdily built at six-foot-two-inches and 220 pounds, Cooper was a durable and steady performer.  He went into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 (BaseballHall.org).  


According to Russ J. Cowans in 1941 in The Chicago Defender (one of the leading African American newspapers of the day) "Andy never possessed the fine assortment of curves held in the supple arms of other pitchers.  However, he did have what so many pitchers lack - sterling control.  Cooper could almost put the ball any place he wanted it to go.  In addition, Cooper had a keen knowledge of batters.  He knew the weakness of every batter in the league and would pitch to that weakness when he was on the mound." 


Cooper's best season in Detroit was 1925 when he went 12-2 and was second in the league with a 2.88 ERA in 147 innings.  He had five other seasons of 120 ERA+ or better with the stars.  


SP Bill Holland


Elvis William Holland started 226 games in the official 1920-1948 window which is more than any other Negro Leagues pitcher.  His 1,920 innings pitched total was second to Bill Foster (2,005) and his 1,085 strikeouts was third among Negro Leagues pitchers.  


The Right-handed Holland had a wide array of pitches but was most known for his fastball which is probably the reason for one of his nicknames ("Speed").  He also had a competitive streak and fiery disposition resulting in his being dubbed "Devil".  


Holland's best year in Detroit was 1922 when he was third in ERA+ (153) and second in strikeouts (115) in 191 innings.  In 1921, he lead the circuit with 140 strikeouts in 218 innings pitched. 


SP Bill Force


William "Buddie" Force was a left-handed pitcher for the Stars, Baltimore Black Sox and Brooklyn Royal Giants over a ten year career.  In 1922 with Detroit he finished second in the league in strikeouts (120) and posted a 120 ERA+ in 176 innings pitched.  He had a similar year in 1923 finishing third in strikeouts (92) and registering a 119 ERA+ in 195 innings.  


Buddie pitched a no hitter versus the St. Louis Stars on June 27, 1922 (Detroit Free Press, June 28, 1922).


SP Yellow Horse Morris


John Harold Goodwin Morris had a relatively brief Negro Leagues career pitching six seasons from 1924-1930 with the Stars, Kansas City Monarchs and Chicago American Giants.  After his career, he played briefly for one of the famous House of David barnstorming teams.


The House of David was a religious cult that banned alcohol, sex and shaving, but they loved baseball.  They established teams which toured or barnstormed the country playing amateur, semi-pro and eventually professional teams.  They often included well known major leaguers or ex-major leaguers such as Mordecai Brown and Pete (Grover Cleveland) Alexander.  Players grew beards and long hair or had fake beards and hair.  Much like the Harlem Globe Trotters, they entertained fans with trick plays such as hiding the ball in their beards.   


The original House of David team was a White team which often played some of the best Negro Leagues teams.  It was the first time in many towns especially those in rural areas where fans saw Blacks and Whites on the same field.  Later, there were Black teams such as the Van Dyke colored House of David in Sioux City Iowa for which Morris played (Ryan Whirty, Des Moines Register, April 4, 2015).


Morris pitched three seasons in Detroit posting a 102 ERA+ in 417 innings.  His best season was 1927 when he had a record of 14-8 with a 3.16 ERA (120 ERA+) in 185 innings.


SP Bill Gatewood 

According to Bill Johnson at SABR.org, Bill Gatewood was known for three things:


  • He gave Cool Papa Bell his nickname.
  • He taught Satchell Paige his notorious hesitation pitch.
  • On June 6, 1921 against the Cincinnati Cuban Stars, he pitched the first no hitter in Negro National League history.  He later pitched a second no hitter.   

Morris pitched only two years in Detroit but they were dominant seasons.  In 1920, he had a 15-5 win/loss record and 138 ERA+ in 159 innings.  The following year in 1921, he posted a 134 ERA+ in 124 innings. 

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