Negro League Legends Who Quietly Moved Up MLB Leaderboards

The integration of Negro League statistics into the official MLB record books 77 years after the integration of the league has led to renewed interest in some of baseball’s all time greats. Player’s such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Satchel Paige now occupy their rightful place at the top of the leaderboards. But those three were already considered to be all timers even before the record books reflected that. What about the lesser known players who now find themselves listed among the best to ever do it? We dug through the record books to find these unheralded greats. Below, we highlight four players who don’t have the same name recognition as Gibson and Paige, but now sit atop the leaderboards with them.

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Note: For our purposes a “major league season” is defined as a season recognized by the MLB record books, regardless of the league it was played in.

Charlie “Chino” Smith

Chino Smith’s career was short, but he made it count. Credited with only 5 major league seasons before passing away from yellow fever while playing in Cuba, Smith put up impressive numbers. His final major league season came in 1929 with the New York Lincoln Giants, and statistically it was one of the greatest of all time. He hit for a .451 average that year, which ranks second best all time. His on-base percentage or OBP (.551), slugging percentage (.870), and on-plus-slugging or OPS (1.421) each rank fourth best all time for a single season.

Due to the brevity of his career, he did not have enough at bats to qualify for the league’s career leaderboard, even considering the adjusted minimums for Negro League players, but if he had and his career numbers remained what they were, people would be talking about Josh Gibson less right now. His .398 batting average would blow away the newly-crowned all time hitting champion’s mark of .372. His on-base percentage of .483 would also be first all time, though by a narrower margin, barely eking out Ted Williams .482 mark. His slugging percentage (.664) and OPS (1.147) would each rank third all time. He would also be just the third qualifying player with a career OPS over 1.000.

Dave Brown

Baseball’s newest top 10 ERA holder might have the most interesting story of anybody on this list. Brown was a workhorse during his six major league seasons, racking up 711 innings pitched in just 109 games played. Across those six seasons he had a career ERA of 2.24, good for eighth all time. His career WHIP of 1.08 ranks 10th all time. His best single season came in 1920 with the Chicago American Giants. His batting average against (BAA) that season was just .161, the second best single season mark in history. His ERA (1.72) ranks within the top 100 and his WHIP (.89) ranks in the top 50 for a single season.

Brown’s major league career ended in 1925 when he disappeared following an incident in which he reportedly murdered a man in New York. Despite later research which showed a strong possibility that he was only a witness to the event, Brown evaded the FBI who were searching for him. He played on semi-teams under a fake name until the late 1930s before reportedly settling down on the West Coast under another assumed name. 

George Walker

Like Chino Smith, George Walker’s career was short, but included some outstanding seasons. Walker’s 1940 season with the Kansas City Monarchs is what put him in the books. He had a miniscule WHIP of just 0.73, which now ranks as the best single season mark ever, just barely overtaking Pedro Martinez’s 0.74 WHIP in 2000. His ERA of 1.21 is the 11th best for a single season, while his BAA (.169) ranks seventh all time. 

Walker did not pitch enough innings in major league seasons to qualify for the career leaderboard, but if he had the numbers would be equally as impressive. He would rank in the top 40 for career ERA (2.67), top 10 in WHIP (1.08), and top 15 in BAA (.232).

Bullet Rogan

The only player on our list that is currently in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, what makes Bullet Rogan stand out isn’t how well he did any one thing, but how well he did everything. Both an outfielder and pitcher, he dominated in both roles. At the plate he hit for a career average of .336, which is the 24th best average in baseball history. His OBP (.412) and OPS (.932) both rank in the top 40 while his slugging percentage of .932 is the 64th best mark all time. On the mound, his career ERA of 2.71 sits in the top 50 while his WHIP of 1.16 just barely missed that cut, ranking 51st all time.

Interestingly, Rogan never had a single season that ranks within the top 100 all time in any of the statistics mentioned, on either side of the ball. Rather than having a few dominant seasons, he sustained his success across his career. What makes it even more impressive is that he continued this dominance across 12 major league seasons, as well as another five seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs that are not currently recognized by MLB.