1926 – Bob on Frank Grant and the pre-Negro Leagues black ballplayers

I’m still struggling with the pre-Negro League black ball players, and where they fit in history.

I decided to take a closer look at Frank Grant. I looked at his 3 years in the International League from 1886-1888. The stats available are spotty at best. And interpreting them is tough. At baseball age 20, he played half a season and played well, hitting .344 and slugging .516. The league’s batting average was .244. I’d say that that was a pretty good start. (Silly aside: the nicknames for the Utica and Oswego teams were the Pent Ups and Starchboxes; and I get annoyed with the Fort Wayne TinCaps!)

In 1887, Grant batted .366 and led the league in home runs. However, the league that year batted .324. This was the year that baseball counted walks as hits, so hitting .366 really wasn’t THAT special.

In 1888, Grant hit .346 in a league that batted .255, but that’s about it as far as reliable stats go.

The problem as I see it is that the International League in 1886-1888 wasn’t that good of a league. Lots of these guys did play in the majors at one time or the other, but none of them were of obvious HOF quality. There were quite a few who were essentially the same age as Grant and performed about as well as he did in the IL, but were nothing special in the big leagues, Jocko Fields, Jon Morrison and Mike Lehane, to name three. The biggest real star to come out of that league was probably Mike Griffin or maybe Ed McKean. No one else from that league has gotten many votes in our GOR.

Grant was referred to as the “black Fred Dunlap”, which in many ways seems about right, a good player, maybe even an all-star in his best years, but not a great player. He does deserve some kudos for being, arguably, the best black player prior to the Negro League(s) forming.

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