Constructing a Team of the Greatest African American Baseball Players

It was Jackie Robinson Day on Saturday and an intriguing question came about.

Brooklyn Dodgers infielder Jackie Robinson with Larry Doby and Satchel Paige of the Cleveland Indians. (via SPORTING NEWS ARCHIVES)

Throughout the long history of Major League Baseball and baseball as a sport, there have been many great African-American players. So a follower of mine, Brian H. Waters of FOX Sports 1340, asked this:

Robinson was one of the greatest baseball players to play the game. With a career slash line of .311/.409/.474, 137 home runs and 734 RBI, Robinson would surely be a part of the greatest group of African American players in the game. However, who else would join him? Here’s my 25-man roster of the all-time great African-Americans to play baseball:

  1. Catcher, Josh Gibson (batted .359 in 16 Negro League seasons, 12x Negro League All-Star)
  2. Catcher, Quincy Trouppe (8x Negro League All-Star)
  3. First Baseman, Eddie Murray (1977 AL Rookie of the Year, 8x MLB All-Star, 504 home runs, Hall of Fame)
  4. First Baseman, Frank Thomas (5x MLB All-Star, 2x AL MVP, 521 home runs, Hall of Fame)
  5. Second Baseman, Jackie Robinson (6x MLB All-Star, 1947 Rookie of the Year, 1949 NL MVP, Hall of Fame)
  6. Shortstop, Ozzie Smith (15x MLB All-Star, 13x Gold Glove Award Winner, Hall of Fame)
  7. Shortstop, Ernie Banks (2x NL MVP, 14x All-Star, Hall of Fame)
  8. Third Baseman, Bobby Bonilla (6x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger)
  9. Outfielder, Ken Griffey Jr. (13x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove Award Winner, 1997 AL MVP Award Winner, Hall of Fame)
  10. Outfielder, Willie Mays (1951 Rookie of the Year, 2x NL MVP, 24x All-Star, Hall of Fame)
  11. Outfielder, Hank Aaron (1957 NL MVP, 25x All-Star, Hall of Fame)
  12. Outfielder, Frank Robinson (2x MVP, 14x All-Star, 1966 Triple Crown, Hall of Fame)
  13. Outfielder, Barry Bonds (7x MVP, 8x Gold Glove, 2x Batting Title, 14x All-Star)
  14. Shortstop, Derek Jeter (1996 AL Rookie of the Year, 14x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove Award Winner)
  15. Pitcher, Bob Gibson (2x NL Cy Young, 1968 NL MVP, 9x All-Star, Hall of Fame)*
  16. Pitcher, Satchel Paige (2x All-Star, Hall of Fame)*
  17. Pitcher, Vida Blue (6x All-Star, 1971 AL Cy Young/MVP)*
  18. Pitcher, Dwight Gooden (4x All-Star,1984 Rookie of the Year, 1985 NL Cy Young)*
  19. Pitcher, “Smokey” Joe Williams (Hall of Fame)
  20. Pitcher, Don Newcombe (1949 Rookie of the Year, 1956 NL Cy Young/MVP, 4x All-Star)*
  21. Pitcher, Lee Smith (7x All-Star, 3x Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award Winner)
  22. Pitcher, Tom Gordon (3x All-Star, 1x Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award Winner)
  23. Pitcher, James “Mudcat” Grant (2x All-Star)*
  24. Pitcher, Al Downing (1x All-Star)*
  25. Pitcher, J.R. Richard (1x All-Star, 1979 ERA Title)*

*Denotes Black Ace

To be frank, this was the hardest list that I have ever compiled in my life. Each player is very deserving of being on this list. There are also many others that have been left off of the list, most notably Reggie Jackson.

Jackson was an amazing ballplayer. As a 14x All-Star, 1973 AL MVP, and a Hall of Famer, Jackson was one of the most talented players to play the game. Leaving him off of the list was due to the rest of the talent on the team.

Interestingly enough, Ferguson Jenkins is Canadian. His omission from the list is purely from a citizenship standpoint. If he was from the United States of America, he’d definitely be on this list.

Also left off of the list was Larry Doby. Doby broke the color barrier for the American League, playing with the Cleveland Indians. He was also a 7x All-Star, batted .283/.386/.490 and played center field. His career WAR of 49.5 is great.

It was a tough choice to pick the outfielders. Each outfielder in my list would be a top-10 player of all-time, in my opinion (that could be debated until the cows come home). Between Griffey Jr., Mays, Aaron, F. Robinson, and Bonds each put up ungodly numbers.

Griffey Jr. played against some of the top talent during the Steroid Era, without using steroids. He also excelled against the steroid users and other stars. That’s pretty commendable. (Mitchell Layton / Getty Images Sport / Getty)

As for the infield, Murray is one of only five players to have both 3,000 career hits and 500 home runs. Smith was an amazing shortstop, holding the major league record for assists (8,375). J. Robinson broke the color barrier and I could go on for days about him. Thomas and Banks are Chicago legends for each respective team.

Jeter is a modern-day legend. He’s the “Captain”. He’s “RE2PECT”. He’s the jump throw master. He’s also one of the greatest New York Yankees to ever play, which automatically vaults him into the list.

At catcher, Gibson never got to play in the major leagues, but he was considered to be one of the best catchers ever due to his .359 batting average. He was also known as “the Black Babe Ruth”. Trouppe was a professional boxing champion and had a long career playing in the Mexican League.

Eight pitchers on this list are a part of the “Black Aces”, a list compiled by Grant. The “Black Aces” have won at least 20 games each and are denoted by an asterisk. Despite not being part of the list of players, Williams is widely considered to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.

L. Smith and Gordon were the best African-American relievers. Smith held the record for saves (478) until Trevor Hoffman broke the record. Gordon also had 157 saves himself.

Catcher and pitcher were the hardest positions to pick because of the lack of African-American players at the position. Elrod Hendricks was among the other black catchers to be considered, as he had a solid MLB career, mainly with the Orioles.

What do you all think about the list?