All Time Lists: 20 Greatest Players of the Negro Leagues

All Time Lists: 20 Greatest Players of the Negro Leagues
Negro Leagues
“First colored world series, opening game Oct. 11, 1924, Kansas City, Mo. / photo by J.E. Mille[r], K.C. “

Hilton Smith, Pitcher

Hilton Lee Smith (February 27, 1907 – November 18, 1983) was born in Giddings, Texas. After playing for black semi-pro teams, he debuted with the Monroe (La.) Monarchs in 1932. From 19935 to 1946, he pitched for the Bismarck ND semi-pro team alongside of Satchel Paige.

In late 1936, Smith signed with the Kansas City Monarchs, where he stayed until his retirement in 1948. He possessed an outstanding curveball, but he was often overshadowed by his friend and teammate Satchel Paige. Often, Paige would pitch the first three innings of a game, and Smith would complete the victory. Smith was also a better hitter than Paige. Because of incomplete records, it is difficult to determine how many of Smith’s “saves” for Paige should really be attributed to Smith.

After retiring from baseball, he worked in a steel plant, but also was able to scout for the Chicago Cubs. He died in 1983 and was honored by his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2003.

“Turkey” Stearnes, Outfielder

Norman Thomas “Turkey” Stearnes (May 8, 1901 – September 4, 1979) was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He acquired his nickname from his unusual running style. He began with the Nashville Giants in 1920 and played for the Detroit Stars from 1923 to 1931. In 1931, the Stars could not pay his salary because of the Depression, so he moved from team to team. He retired in 1942 as a member of the ansas City Monarchs.

He was considered one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history. He batted over .400 three times and led the Negro National leagues in home runs seven times. He is credited with 176 home runs, the all-time Negro League record. The 175-pound player was a fast base runner, and one of the best outfielders of his time. His recorded record was a .344 average, 176 home runs, 750 games and a .621 slugging percentage.

Because of the era he played in, Stearnes worked in the Detroit auto industry to pay his bills. His boss was Tigers owner Walter Briggs, who was supportive of his double life. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. A plaque in his honor is on display outside the centerfield gate at the Tigers Comerica Park.

 “Mule” Suttles, Outfielder

George “Mule” Suttles (March 31, 1901 – July 9, 1966) was born in Edgewater, Alabama, and although he played one game for the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in 1921, he began to play consistently with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1923. He was renown for his power hitting and batting average. In five years with the Stars, from 1926 to 1930, he led the league in home runs twice and in doubles, triples and batting average once each. In his final years he also played with the Newark Eagles.

In five East-West All Star games, Suttles batted .412 with an .883 slugging percentage. In 26 documented exhibition games, he hit .374 with five home runs. His career total was an .329 average with 129 home runs, second in league history to “Turkey” Stearnes. He once hit three home runs in a single inning, and at Havana’s Tropicana Park he hit a ball so hard it flew out of the stadi9um and into the ocean beyond it.

Mule died of cancer in Newark, NJ at the age of 65. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

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