Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jud Wilson: You want him on your side in a fight

A savage, pure hitter who hit with power and was at this best in the clutch, Wilson could hit anything thrown to him and would have been an ideal designated hitter. Cum Posey considered him to be the most dangerous and consistent hitter in black baseball, calling him one of the stars of all time, and placed him on the all-time All-American team for a national magazine in 1945. So intense was his disdain and lack of respect for pitchers that he actually dared them to throw the ball. The left-handed slugger hit all varieties of pitching styles and all pitchers, including Satchel Paige, who considered him one of the two best hitters ever in black baseball.

The records bear this out as he consistently hit in the high .300s and even topped the .400 level on occasion. Beginning with a league-leading .373 batting average in 1923, he is credited with averages of .377, .395, .346, .469, .376, .350, .372, .323, .356, .354, .342, .324, .315, and .386 through the 1937 season. His career covered a quarter of a century, ending after the 1945 season, with a .345 lifetime average. He starred in Cuba for six winters, and his records there show a .372 lifetime average and two batting titles. Playing with Havana, he topped the league with averages of .403 and .441 during the winters of 1925-1926 and 1927-1928. His lifetime statistics in the Negro Leagues show an impressive .345 batting average, and against major leaguers in exhibitions the ledger shows a .442 average.

A product of the Washington, D.C., sandlots in the Foggy Bottom section of town, Wilson had a big upper body, a small waist, and was slightly bowlegged and pigeon-toed. Although he was awkward, he was fast and sure afield and, while lacking form, could play adequately at either corner. The rugged Wilson played third base by keeping everything in front of him, knocking the ball down with his chest, and then throwing the batter out, and was described as "a crude but effective workman."

A fierce competitor, hard loser, and habitual brawler, the bull-necked Wilson was fearless, ill-tempered, and known for his fighting almost as well as he is known for his hitting. Teammates, opponents, and umpires all feared the fury of the fiery-eyed, quick-tempered strongman.

On the field, Wilson was vicious, and especially rough on umpires. Once he became so angered at umpire Phil Cockrell, a former player, because of a call that he made in a game against the Grays, that he grabbed the arbiter by the skin of his chest and lifted him off the floor, berating him for cheating them out of a game. His fury did not abate until his teammate "Crush" Holloway picked up a bat and interceded on behalf of the umpire.

He was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Willie Foster, Hall of Famer Southpaw

A half-brother of the famous Rube Foster, Willie Foster was a pitching star for the Chicago American Giants for over a decade. With near perfect control and a wide assortment of pitches, all delivered with the same motion, the tall left-hander was at his best when the stakes were highest. With a crucial game to win, Willie was the kind of pitcher a manager wanted on the mound. He was a smart pitcher who knew how to get the most out of his vast repertory of pitches, which included a blazing fast-ball, a slider, a fast breaking drop, a sidearm curve, and a masterful change of pace. According to Jocko Conlon, "Foster was comparable to Herb Pennock, only faster and had beautiful control, adding that he was really something to watch."

His mother died when he was only four years old, and the youngster was reared by his maternal grandparents in Mississippi. He attended school at Alcorn College until 1918, when he traveled North to Chicago to work in the stockyards and attempted to sign on with Rube's team as a pitcher. His half brother's refusal to allow him to play with the Chicago American Giants created a resentment that continued throughout his life.

He always deported himself in a gentlemanly manner and commanded respect. During his baseball career, Foster had pursued his educational goals in the off seasons and, after retiring from baseball, he became dean of men and baseball coach at Alcorn State College in 1960, a position he held until shortly before his death. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

Fred Dunlap, Great 2B of the 1800's

1880-1891, 12 seasons, BA .292 OBP .340 SLG .406
pct vs. league .924 .902
range vs. league 6.31 5.84

"I have seen all the great 2B from Al Reach in the 60's to Lajoie to Evers, and I would easily pronounce Dunlap the greatest.

He never wore a glove and his hands were as small as a woman's but he could handle any sort of throw or hit. Dunlap was ambidextrous. He would run and catch a badly thrown ball as well with his left or right hand and put the ball swiftly on the runner.

When Dunlap was a lad of ten (1869) the baseball craze had begun to spread its wings. Dunlap had neither father nor mother and the people he lived with cared little where he went. So, when he was not eating, he was out on the prairie hitting fungoes or catching the ball. The lad learned nothing but ball playing. He could neither read nor write.

He had the finest features, the nose of an Indian chief and the brown eyes of a beautiful woman. From long service under the sun, he had grown almost almond-skinned. Off the field, he always dressed elegantly.

When Dunlap quit the game, his real life went out. He was never the same afterwards. He died at age 43 in an Alms House. "

The National Game, Alfred Spink, 1911.

19th CC Defensive Genius Jimmy McAleer

Jimmy McAleer was not much of a hitter, but this brilliant defensive outfielder was a smart, clever, and ambitious man who helped create two of the original eight franchises of the American League. In 1900 he became the first manager of the Cleveland franchise now known as the Indians, and two years later league president Ban Johnson chose McAleer to assemble and manage a new team in St. Louis in direct competition with the established Cardinals of the rival National League. McAleer's new club, the Browns, nearly won the pennant in its first year of operation. Though the Browns soon fell to the second division, McAleer led the team for eight years, winning more games than any manager in team history. He then moved on to manage the Washington Senators, where he started Walter Johnson on the road to stardom, and ultimately became president and part owner of the Boston Red Sox in 1912. His Red Sox won the World Series that year, but a series of disputes with his business partners drove him from the game and deprived the American League of one of its most talented leaders and organizers.

McAleer, who stood six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds, was the prototypical good-field, no-hit outfielder. One of the weakest batters in the National League (in 1898, 84 of his 87 hits were singles), his brilliance in the field more than compensated for his shortcomings at the plate, in the eyes of many of his contemporaries. He was considered the best defensive outfielder of the 1890s, and some say that McAleer was the first centerfielder to take his eyes off a fly ball, run to the spot where it would fall to earth, and catch it.

McAleer married at least three times, the first time by 1908; 1920 census records show McAleer with a wife six years his junior, Hannah B. McAleer. He later remarried a widowed Youngstown grocery clerk named Anna Durbin. He pursued business interests in Youngstown until becoming ill with cancer in the early 1930s. On April 28, 1931, four months after his second wife, Anna Durbin, passed away, and two months after remarrying singer Georgianna Rudge, Jimmy McAleer shot himself in the head with a handgun, and died the next day. He was 66 years old, and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown.