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Sug Cornelius

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William McKinley Cornelius (Willie)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 7" or 5'8", Weight 175-180 lb.

Sug Cornelius was known primarily for a sharp curveball which he could "throw around a barrel." He complimented it with a fastball, slider, screwball, drop and change-up. His nickname was pronounced "Shoug" and was a derivative of sugar, his nickname as a baby. Cornelius began his career with the 1928 Nashville Elite Giants, going 0-1 and he went 2-1 for them and 2-6 for the Memphis Red Sox the next year. In 1930, the 21-year-old went 4-3 for Memphis and 3-7 for the Birmingham Black Barons The '31 season presented him with a 4-4 record for Memphis. He tied for the Negro Southern League lead in wins, was second in RA (3.78) and led with 21 strikeouts.

In 1933, Willie joined the Chicago American Giants and had a 7-5 mark with them. He was chosen for the West roster in the 1933 East-West Game but did not appear. Josh Gibson hit a home run off of him that was measured for 512 feet. In a post-season game, he outdueled Satchel Paige 3-1. Cornelius was only 5-12 in 1934, leading the Negro National League in losses, though he pitched 9 2/3 innings of no-hit ball in a duel against Paige; he lost when his outfielders were caught napping in the 10th. In a postseason match, he lost the final game to the Philadelphia Stars and Slim Jones 2-0.

At age 24, he went 4-4 and pitched a scoreless eleventh for the win in the 1935 East-West Game. In '36, Cornelius was 2-3 yet got the call to start for the West in the East-West Game. He allowed 6 hits and two runs in three innings as one of three West pitchers to get hammered in a 10-2 defeat; Sug took the loss. In 1937, he was fourth in voting for the East-West Game among pitchers (28,782 votes) but did not appear. He went 8-4 that year to tie Ted Trent for the league lead in wins. His 2.43 RA was 4th behind Trent, Hilton Smith and Eugene Bremer while his 49 strikeouts led the league. In the postseason, he won game one against the Kansas City Monarchs, relieved in game twoand lost game five by a 2-1 margin to give KC the series; he walked six that day. In another post-season series, he lost a game to the Homestead Grays.

Cornelius was again 8-4 in 1938; he was tied for second in wins in the Negro American League, 4th in RA (3.99) and second in strikeouts (68, trailing Hilton Smith). He was second in East-West voting among pitchers behind Schoolboy Taylor and started for the West. He again struggled, allowing three runs and five hits in his only inning in a 5-4 defeat. His record in three East-West games was 1-1 with an unimpressive 9.00 ERA and a WHIP of 3.2.

Willie was 5-6, 3.35 in 1939 and was fifth in the NAL in RA and third with 40 strikeouts. In '40, the 31-year-old moundsman went to the Mexican League, where he went 7-9 with a 5.04 ERA for Santa Rosa (the only standings I could locate list no Santa Rosa entry though numerous other players appeared there. They may have become another team or may be missing from the standings for some other reason), the top mark on the team by a large margin.

Returning to the USA in 1941, Sug went 4-6 for Chicago, then followed with an 0-5 year for Chicago and the Cincinnati Buckeyes. In 1943, he went 7-4 in a revival year for the American Giants and was third in the NAL in RA, trailing only Gentry Jessup and Booker McDaniel. After not pitching in '44, he returned in '45 to lose a game for Chicago to finish his career at 65-78 in the Negro Leagues.

Sources: The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester

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