By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Is the Hall of Fame forgetting something? (Part 2)
Unquestionably the greatest second baseman in black baseball for the first quarter-century, Bingo DeMoss was the consummate ballplayer, excelling at all phases of the game.
At 6-feet-2 and 180 pounds, he was a giant at that position in those times, despite that he was famously nimble. Fast on the bases and quick in the field, he could make all the plays, and his style afield served as a model for those who later played the position.
In addition to his impeccable defensive skills, the right-handed line-drive hitter was also productive with the bat, recording a .303 batting average in 1926. A scientific hitter with superior bat control and exceptional eye-hand coordination, he could place the ball wherever he wanted, making him an excellent bunter, a skilled hit-and-run artist, and an ideal second place hitter in the line-up.
He began as a shortstop in 1905 with the Topeka Giants, the first full-time black semi-pro team in the Midwest. After hurting his arm while pitching in an emergency, he moved to second base. DeMoss spent his prime years with the Chicago American Giants, and as a player-manager for the Indianapolis ABC’s and Detroit Stars. From 1920 through 1930, he batted .247, including highs of .314 for the 1929 Detroit Stars and .292 for the 1920 Chicago American Giants.
DeMoss was a proficient bunter and hit-and-run man, making him an ideal second-place hitter. Bingo was the best second baseman of the first quarter century of the 1900s. His size puts him the same class as two other great second basemen of similar stature, Sammy T. Hughes and Ryne Sandberg.
DeMoss started his career with local teams in Kansas, but moved to Spring Valley, Indiana and played for French Lick (of Larry Bird fame) and West Baden, playing for teams that entertained guests in this resort area.
DeMoss, with his daring base running, precision bunting, and sparkling defense, quickly became a star and he moved onto the Indianapolis ABCs and the “Black Big Leagues” in 1915 playing for manager C.I. Taylor.
After two years with the ABCs, DeMoss moved to the Chicago American Giants and played for legendary manager Rube Foster. DeMoss fit in perfectly with Foster’s style of play–a style in which every player was expected to be able to bunt a ball into a hat 15 feet from home plate. DeMoss was the team’s captain for six years.
The American Giants that DeMoss played for were said to have been able to beat the best teams in baseball without hitting a ball out of the infield! After his playing days wound down that DeMoss became a top manager–after all, he had been managed by Taylor and Foster, two of the greatest in history. DeMoss managed the Detroit Stars from 1926-1931, playing second base most games too, and helped develop players like Turkey Stearnes, Double Duty Radcliffe and Huck Rile.
He later managed the Chicago Brown Bombers, a top black semipro team. Playing for the two greatest managers of his day, Bingo absorbed baseball strategy from the masters. A smart, aggressive field general, his leadership contributed to the success of the teams on which he played. He continued to manage through 1943. His last assignment was with the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers of the United States Baseball League, a circuit organized by Branch Rickey to scout players for possible signing by the Brooklyn Dodgers. The league only lasted until 1945.
Newt Allen played second base in the Negro Leagues for many years, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs.
He assumed temporary managerial duties in May 1941 when Andy Cooper fell ill, and managed the remainder of the season following Cooper’s death in June, losing a playoff to the Birmingham Black Barons.
He resigned as manager before the following season but remained with the team, mostly playing third base by then. He retired as a player after the 1944 season, later coaching one season for the Indianapolis Clowns. He also played for: the Louis Stars (1931), Detroit Wolves (1932), Homestead Grays (1932), voluntarily retired (1945-1946); prior to returning with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1947
His primary position: was 2nd, but he also manned: 3rd, SS, OF, 1st, and was a player/manager born Newton Henry Allen, ‘Newt’ batted and threw right and was widely considered the best second baseman during the 1920s and early 1930s, the wide-ranging, slick-fielding middle infielder had quick hands and was superb on the pivot in turning a double play.
Although playing primarily at second, he was a fine infielder at any position. He was quick in the field and on the bases, was an aggressive base runner and a rough slider who utilized his speed to take extra bases as well as to steal bases. An excellent bunter and consistent hitter with good bat control who went with the pitch, he was an ideal player to have hitting in the second spot in the lineup.
His 23-year career was spent almost entirely with the Kansas City Monarchs. His progression to the Monarchs was rapid. While attending Lincoln High School in Kansas City, he helped organize an amateur team, the Kansas City Tigers, and soon graduated to the semipro ranks with the Omaha Federals in 1921, where he was discovered by J.L. Wilkinson, owner of both the Monarchs and the All Nations ballclub. Allen was assigned to the All Nations team, but at the end of his first season, 1922, he was promoted to the Monarchs.
In the first phase of his career, the second baseman sparked the defense and served as captain as the Monarchs captured Negro National League pennants in 1923-1925 and 1929. In 1924, the first World Series was held between the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League, and Allen hit .282 with seven doubles as the Monarchs edged Hilldale in a hard-fought best-of-nine series that featured four one-run games and a tie.
In a rematch the following season, Allen hit .259 as the Monarchs lost to Hilldale, after having defeated the St. Louis Stars in a playoff for the Negro National League flag. Long known for his leadership ability, he became the Monarchs’ manager in 1941 when Andy Cooper suffered a pre-season stroke and died during the season. He won the Negro American League championship that season, but resigned as manager just before the beginning of the following season, resuming his duties as a reserve infielder.
Allen’s accomplishments as a player were even more impressive. A master at scoring runs, he bunted, stole bases and did whatever was needed to win. Among the fastest base runners of his generation, his most remarkable season was his 1929 campaign, in which he batted .330 while hitting 24 doubles and stealing 23 bases in a typically abbreviated Negro League season.
In 1937 the Monarchs entered the newly formed Negro American League and promptly dominated it, winning five of the first six pennants, with Allen contributing averages of .363, .273, .255, .323, .305, and .272, respectively, during this last phase of his playing career. Just as he had played in the first World Series between the Eastern Colored League and the original Negro National League in 1924, he also played in the first World Series played between the Negro American League and the new Negro National League in 1942.
The Monarchs defeated the great Homestead Grays, with Allen contributing a .267 batting average while playing third base. Three years later the Monarchs won their last Negro National League flag by decisively winning both halves of a split season.
No World Series was held that season, and a year later the Monarchs disbanded temporarily. In addition to his Golden Glove performance in the field, the wiry spark plug hit for averages of .277, .308, .259, .334, .280, .330, and .345 for those seven seasons with the Monarchs (1924-1930).
Popular with the fans even in the latter years of his career, he was selected to the East-West All Star game four times, 1936-1938 and 1941, playing both second base and shortstop in the annual classic but going hitless for his four appearances.
He had a tour as manager of the Monarchs in 1941; he also took the reins of the Indianapolis Clowns for the 1947 season, his last year in the Negro Leagues. The magical glove man was more than adequate with a bat as well, finishing with a lifetime batting average of .296, posting a .301 average against major leaguers in exhibitions, and recording a .278 average for two winter seasons in Cuba.
Allen’s winters on that island were separated by a dozen years, with him hitting .313 with Almendares early in his career (1924-1925) and .269 with Havana in the latter part of his career (1937-1938). During his career Allen also played winters in California, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela and toured the Orient in 1935-1936 with the Monarchs, playing exhibitions while touring Japan and the Philippines.
Like the comparable Judy Johnson, he was a remarkable fielder, arguably the best fielding second baseman of any race from the 1920s through the 1940s, and tended to come through in the clutch. Unlike Johnson, Newt Allen is not in the Hall of Fame, although many experts regard him as having been superior to many White inductees.
Allen did make the list of 39 finalists for the 2006 special Negro Leagues and Pre-Negro Leagues Election, but was not one of the 17 finally chosen. Allen died at age 87 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His known statistics: .293 career batting average, 16 home runs, and 640 games.
The other Negro League second sacker who deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame is Samuel Thomas “Sammy T” Hughes at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 190 pounds, he would be large even for a modern player at a position that is predicated on agility.
A thinking man’s player, Sammy T. was a consistent contact hitter who excelled on the hit-and-run play and made an excellent number-two batter in the line-up.
A tough competitor, the tall rangy right-hander hit with good but no consistent power, recording a batting average of .353 in exhibitions against major leaguers. In addition to his picture-perfect work afield, he was also a good base runner and a solid hitter. A thinking man’s player, Hughes was a consistent contact hitter who excelled on the hit-and-run play and was a good bunter, which made him an excellent number-two batter in the lineup.
Hughes began his career with the hometown Louisville White Sox. He hit .421 for the team in 1931, when they joined the Negro National League, but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the league lead. In ’32, he was with the Washington Pilots, and then in 1933 the tall second baseman joined the Nashville Elite Giants.
He remained with the Elite Giants through several franchise moves in the 30s.
In ’36, Hughes went 13 for 26 in a 5-game exhibition series against a group of white players. The pitchers were Jim Winford, Mike Ryba, Bob Feller, Jim Weaver and Earl Caldwell. The White 2B in that series was a retired Rogers Hornsby, who struggled, hitting just 2 for 19 as he was badly outplayed by the younger Hughes.
A tough competitor, the rangy right-handed batter hit with good extra-base power, mostly doubles. Although he could reach the fences, his home-run production was not sufficiently consistent for him to be considered a home-run threat, he finished with 13 career round-trippers.
Playing with the Elite Giants in the Negro National League, he recorded batting averages of .355, .353, .319, .302, .345, and .254 for the seasons 1935-1940.
The following season, the smooth second sacker was lured south of the border to Mexico, where he batted .324 with Torreon. Hughes dazzled in 7 years in the California Winter League during his career, hitting .384, 33 points better than Babe Herman and higher than Hall-of-Famers Oscar Charleston, Turkey Stearnes and Cool Papa Bell.
He also was among the top 10 in homers in the CWL, with 17 in 294 at-bats while never a league leader in anything other than doubles, Hughes was known as a hitter who made stinging contact and as a great defensive 2B with some speed.
During his sixteen-year career ‘Sammy T’ was selected to the East-West All Star team more than any other second baseman. The flashy fielder compiled a respectable .263 batting average during the five years that he faced All Star pitching.
Representing the Elite Giants when they were in Nashville, Columbus, Washington, and Baltimore, he was on the West squad twice (1934-1935) and on the East Squad three times (1936-1939).
In 1936 he was also selected to the Negro National League All Star team that entered the Denver Post Tournament and breezed through the competition so easily that they were told not to come back. Hughes hit a cool .379 for the tournament.
In 1942 the star secondbaseman hit .301 and fielded brilliantly to spark the Elites in a fierce pennant battle with the Homestead Grays that went down to the wire.
During this time, a reporter for the People’s Voice newspaper wired him that a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates had been tentatively arranged for Hughes, Roy Campanella, and Dave Barnhill. The three players jumped at the chance and left the Elites to showcase in a game against the Toledo Mudhens.
However, the two players from the Elites did not get permission from their owner beforehand and were fined and benched temporarily. Hughes was quickly reinstated, but Campanella jumped to Mexico, and the Elites slumped in the final week of the pennant race after losing the services of their young catcher.
Not long afterward, Hughes’s baseball career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the Army with the 196th Support Battalion during the invasion of New Guinea. He was discharged early in 1946 but, after returning from three years in the service, he held out for more money, asking for an additional $1,500 per month.
He remained at home in Los Angeles, while the Elites were floundering in early June, but eventually signed with the club. However, the super second sacker played only a short time, hitting .277 in his last year in the league.
A first basemen who several veteran baseball men consider among the finest fielders ever at that position was ‘Buck’ O’Neil. For many the name of John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil evokes both smiles and admiration; few men in any sport have witnessed the expansive sweep of history that O’Neil saw, felt and experienced.
O’Neil was best known for having been a slick-fielding first baseman and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League.
He first began playing pro baseball in the summer of 1934 where he spent several years “barnstorming” (travelling to various places playing inter-racial games).
He began his professional baseball career touring with the Miami Giants in 1934 and got his nickname “Buck” from one of the team’s owners, Buck O’Neal. The other owner was Johnny Pierce, but booking agent Syd Pollock soon took over the ballclub and renamed them the Ethiopian Clowns in 1935.
From 1934 to 1938 O’Neil played on various teams, including the Miami Giants, New York Tigers, and the Shreveport Acme Giants. In 1937 he signed with the Memphis Red Sox, earning $100 per month. That same year, he played for one month with the Zulu Cannibal Giants, a barnstorming team.
The Giants, owned by Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, wore straw skirts instead of uniforms, but the team paid well and the players didn’t have to wear war paint as some “African-themed” teams did. In 1938, after four years of moving from team to team, O’Neil earned a spot as the first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the elite teams of the Negro Leagues and stayed with the franchise until 1955, managing the last eight years, after Tom Baird bought out J.L. Wilkinson in 1948.
A consistent hitter with good extra-base power to right centerfield, he hit .258, .257, .345, .250, .247, and .222 from the time he joined the team in 1938 until he joined the Navy during the 1943 season. He usually batted in the sixth spot, although he preferred hitting second, which he did for a couple of seasons.
After his batting title in 1946, he followed with seasons of .358, .253, .330, and .253 for the years 1947-1950. On the bases he had only average speed but was a smart base runner, and in the field he was a graceful fielder but with only an average arm
O’Neil had a career batting average of .288, including four .300-plus seasons at the plate. In 1946 he led the league in hitting with a .353 average and followed that in 1947 with a career-best .358. He also posted averages of .345 in 1940 and .330 in 1949. He played in four East-West All-Star games and was twice in Negro League World Series.
A steady hitter, O’Neil won the 1946 Negro American League batting title with an average of .353 to lead the Monarchs to another pennant. Although not known as a power hitter, the steady right-hander hit 2 home runs to go along with his .333 batting average in the World Series against the Newark Eagles.
In 1948 he took over as player/manager of the Monarchs and guided them to two league titles in 1953 and 1955.
As a manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, Buck was responsible for more than three dozen baseball players going to Major League organizations, including Ernie Banks.
It could be argued however that O’Neil accomplished just as much, if not more, off the field. Buck O’Neil left the Monarchs following the 1955 season, and in 1956 became a scout for the Chicago Cubs.
He was named the first black coach by the Cubs in 1962 and is credited for signing Lou Brock, Joe Carter, Lee Smith, Oscar Gamble, Matt Alexander, George Altman, Harvey Branch, Jophery Brown, John Hairston, J.C. Hartman, Lou Johnson, Donnie Moore, and Bill Robinson. After many years with the Cubs, O’Neil became a Kansas City Royals scout in 1988, and he was named “Midwest Scout of the Year” in 1998 when he was but 82 years young!
In addition to scouting, Buck served on the Veterans’ Committee at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Buck O’Neil was the Chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. O’Neil was nominated to a special Hall ballot for Negro League players, managers, and executives in 2006, but he failed to receive the necessary 75% to gain admission by one vote, 1!
In the years after his death due perhaps to the loss of O’Neil as a driving force, the recession or management issues, The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has struggled and is facing a deficit that may approach a quarter of a million dollars. If you can, please donate to and visit the museum in Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine district.
NEXT: More information on Negro League legends.