1) Satchel PaigeThe rubber-armed Paige, who Joe DiMaggio called “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced,” is estimated to have won as many as 600 games during his 30-year Negro League and barnstorming career. During that career he played for many teams, including the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, Birmingham Black Barons, Cleveland Cubs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Kansas City Monarchs, New York Black Yankees, Satchel Paige’s All-Stars, Philadelphia Stars, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Kansas City A’s.
One can only imagine the big-league records Satch would have set had only the owners let this baseball marvel play in his prime. Ted Williams and Robin Roberts, two Hall of Famers, said that Gibson and Paige were as talented as any players they had ever seen.
2) Josh GibsonIn 1933, he hit .467 with 55 home runs in 137 games against all levels of competition. His lifetime batting average is said to be higher than .350, with other sources putting it as high as .384, the best in Negro league history.
Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque states he hit “almost 800 home runs in league and independent baseball during his 17-year career.” (This figure includes vs. semi-pro competition and in exhibition games.) His lifetime batting average, according to the Hall’s official data, was .359. It was reported that he won nine home run titles and four batting championships playing for the Crawfords and the Grays. It is also believed that Gibson hit a home run in a Negro league game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet (180 m) from home plate. Although it has never been conclusively proven, Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall said Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of Yankee Stadium. Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith once said that Gibson hit more home runs into Griffith Stadium’s distant left field bleachers than the entire American League.
3) Oscar CharlestonAn intense, focused, and intelligent man, Charleston was among the most renowned players of his time, a tremendous power and contact hitter and one of the finest defensive center fielders of all-time. His career batting average was .348, and he regularly finished among league leaders in both home runs and stolen bases. He was also known for his combative nature, getting into many brawls, including at least one memorable fight with an array of Cuban soldiers.
In 1932, Charleston became player-manager of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and presided over what some baseball historians consider the best Negro league team ever. His roster included Hall of Famers Josh Gibson,Satchel Paige, and Judy Johnson. The team went 99-36, and Charleston himself batted .363.
A powerful hitter, Oscar won at least four batting titles and several home-run crowns. He is among the top five Negro Leaguers in batting average (.339) and home runs, as well as the all-time leader in stolen bases. (Negro League records are sketchy and incomplete.) Writer/analyst Bill James named Charleston the fourth-greatest player of all time.
4) Walter “Buck” LeonardHe began his Negro league career in 1933 with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, then moved to the legendary Homestead Grays in 1934, the team he played for until his retirement in 1950. The Grays of the late 1930s through the mid-1940s are considered one of the greatest teams of any race ever assembled. The team won nine league pennants in a row during that time.
Leonard batted fourth in their lineup behind Josh Gibson. He led the Negro leagues in batting average in 1948 with a mark of .395, and usually either led the league in home runs or finished second in homers to teammate Gibson. Since Gibson was known as the “Black Babe Ruth” and Leonard was a first baseman, Buck Leonard was inevitably called the “Black Lou Gehrig.” Together, the pair was colloquially known as the “Thunder Twins” or “Dynamite Twins”. In fact, Negro league star Monte Irvin said that if Leonard had been allowed in the major leagues, baseball fans “might have called Lou Gehrig the white Buck Leonard. He was that good. The Monarchs disbanded after 1950