All Time Lists: 20 Greatest Players of the Negro Leagues

All Time Lists: 20 Greatest Players of the Negro Leagues

Negro Leagues

Cristóbal Torriente, Outfielder

Cristóbal Torriente (November 16, 1893 – April 11, 1938) was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and played there from 1913 to 1927. He holds the record Cuban League batting record of .352. In the 1920’s, his team, the Alemendares, added Babe Ruth to their team, but Torriente outhit Ruth in most categories. Along with Martin Dihigo and Jose Mendez, Torriente is considered one of the best Cuban players in history and was the first inductee into their Hall of Fame in 1939.

Torriente played in 1915 and 1916 with the Cuban Stars, then with the All Nations team. Between 1918 and 1925, he was on the Chicago American Giants, and led the Giants to Negro National League titles from 1920 to 1922, batting .411, .338, and .342 for those years. He won the batting title in 1920, and again in 1923 with an average of .412.

He was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1926 and led the team with a .381 batting average. His career average was .331. He was a pull hitter, with a strong, accurate arm from center field.

He was also well known for his exploits off the field. In a 1915 game, he was benched for kicking an umpire. Although he put on street clothes, Umpire Goekle then “send him to the bleachers.” Still loud and rowdy, the umpire called the law on him to have him forcibly removed. In another event, a fight with an umpire went from the field to the public street outside.

After baseball, he moved to Ybor City, Florida, and died in New York City in 1944.

William Wells, Shortstop

Willie James Wells (August 10, 1906 – January 22, 1989), nicknamed “The Devil,” was born in Austin, Texas. He played for the minor league Austin Black Senators in 1923, and then entered the major league with the St. Louis Stars the following season. He stayed with their team until it was disbanded in 1931. In 1926, he hit 27 home runs, a Negro League record. He also played with the Chicago American Giants from 1932 to 1935 and the Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1939. While with the Eagles, he was part of the Million Dollar Infield,” with Ray Dandridge, Dick Seay, and “Mule” Muttles.

He played in the Mexican League in 1940 and 1941, where he enjoyed the open acceptance of his non-white skin and heritage. It was there he was named “El Diablo” for his extraordinary intensity. The nickname followed him back to America in 1942. He was a player/manager for the Eagles in 1942, but then returned to Mexico for the 1943 and 1944 seasons.   His official record was a .319 batting average, .510 slugging percentage, 98 home runs, 644 runs scored, 399 RBIs, and 756 games played.

After returning to America, he played for various teams until 1950. He then moved to Canada as a player/manager of the Winnipeg Buffaloes, until he retired from playing in 1954. He did return again to the U.S., as manager of the Birmingham Black Barons.

He eventually returned to Austin to care for his mother in her later years. He died there in 1989 of congestive heart failure. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, and also the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame,

Smokey Joe Williams, Pitcher

Joseph “Smokey Joe” Williams (April 6, 1886 – February 25, 1951), was one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball. He was often known as “Cyclone Joe” in his early years. Born in Seguin, Texas, his parents were African-American and Comanche Indian.

He entered professional baseball in 1905 with the San Antonio Black Broncho’s, where he was the star pitcher and had a record of 28-4, 15-9, 20-8, 20-2, and 32-8. He was grabbed by the Chicago Giants in 1909, with Giants owner Frank Leland declaring that he was the best pitcher in all of baseball.

He moved over to the Lincoln Giants in 1911, helping that team to shine. When John Henry Lloyd left in 1914, Williams took over as player/manager, a post he held until 1923. After the Lincoln’s finished fifth out of the six teams in the Eastern Colored League, Williams was released.

He played a year with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, but then played the rest of his career with the Homestead Grays. Although records are sketchy, it is thought that he won 41-3 for the Lincoln Giants and 1914, and still had a good record of 12-7 for the Grays at age 43 in 1929.

During the off season, he pitched successfully to the greatest players of the Major Leagues, He posted a 20-7 record in exhibition against Grover Alexander, Walter Johnson, Chief Bender, Rube Marquard and Waite Hoyt. He also played in three exhibition games against the Major League World Series champions, besting them two games out of three. The game he lost was 1-0 against the New York Giants, although Williams pitched a no-hitter.

On August 7, 1930, at age 44, he struck out 27 players of the Kansas City Monarchs in a 1-0, twelve inning game. Later that year he won against an up and coming pitcher, Satchel Paige, the only time he played against him. Smokey Joe retired in 1932.

He died in New York City at the age of 64. He was honored with a “Smokey Joe” Day in the Old Polo Grounds in New York in 1950, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

For more information, I would suggest you visit and support the efforts of the Negro Leagues Baseball Leagues Museum.

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