1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords
1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords / Franchise: Pittsburgh Crawfords / BR Team Page
Managed by Oscar Charleston
History, Comments, Contributions
The 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords are often named as the greatest Negro League team. See, for instance, The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway (pg. 317), Blackbaseball.com, MLB.com or The Negro Leagues Book while Baseball Dynasties by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein lists the 1934-1936 Crawfords (pg. 227). The 1935 Crawfords had the best winning percentage of the Crawfords franchise and did so against stronger competition than in the 1933 NNL (before the New York Cubans and Philadelphia Stars joined the loop) or in future years, after the Chicago American Giants left for the new Negro American League.
They also had two inner-circle Hall-of-Famers in Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston - but Charleston was 38 years old and a below-average hitter, a far cry from his hitting of even a couple years prior, let alone his all-around play of the early 1920s. The team also lost another inner-circle Hall-of-Famer, Satchel Paige, from their 1933-1934 squad. They also fell from ten All-Stars in 1934 to six in 1935. Additionally, they barely won in the postseason, having to win three straight elimination games for the title.
Pittsburgh won only one of the league's two halves, facing the other winner, the New York Cubans in the finals. They dropped Game 1 9-3 when Frank Blake held them to four hits, one of them a Gibson homer. Neck Stanley did even better in Game 2 with a four-hit shutout, 4-0. Leroy Matlock got Pittsburgh back by beating Schoolboy Johnny Taylor in Game 3, helped by triples from Gibson and Cool Papa Bell and a Charleston dinger. In Game 4, they fell to the brink when they were handcuffed by Martín Dihigo, 6-1, Matlock losing on short rest.
They then came back to win Game 5 behind [Roosevelt Davis]], 3-2; in the bottom of the 9th, Davis singled off Blake. Chester Williams bunted and a wild throw let pinch-runner Bell score the winner. Then, good hitting crushed good pitching in the next two games. Pittsburgh was trailing 6-3 going into the bottom of the 9th of Game 6 when Charleston hit a three-run shot off Dihigo to show he still had it. Pat Patterson doubled, Matlock reached on an error, Sammy Bankhead walked and Judy Johnson singled past first for the winner. The next day, Gibson and Charleston both homered to give Davis a 8-7 win over Luis Tiant Sr. to avoid the upset and give the Crawfords the title.
The Crawfords hit a league-high .307 and their 106 OPS+ was second. Gibson not only hit .369/.448/.661 for a 176 OPS+ with 48 runs and 57 RBI in 44 games, but even stole ten bases. He led the NNL in homers, RBI, slugging and OPS. 2B Patterson (.386/.414/.602, 153 OPS+, 41 RBI in 39 G) hit very well, CF Bell (.345/.434/.508, 137 OPS+, 68 R, 12 SB in 49 G) led the loop in runs and walks and LF Bankhead (.338/.412/.507, 131 OPS+, 49 R in 51 G) led in hits. On the other hand, half the regulars had an OPS+ under 100 - 1B/Mgr Charleston showed his age at .271/.343/.387 (84 OPS+), Johnson hit .281/.308/.399 (77 OPS+), RF Jimmie Crutchfield .248/.322/.350 (70 OPS+) and SS Williams .237/.283/.306 (49 OPS+) in an off-year though he fielded well. The bench was strong with C/RF Bill Perkins (.328/.361/.540, 124 OPS+) and Curtis Harris (.375/.425/.567, 148 OPS+, 27 RBI in 31 G).
In a high-offense environment, their 4.10 staff ERA was still good for a 124 ERA+, 3rd in the league. The team did just fine without Paige, as Matlock had a season for the ages (8-0, Sv, 1.52, 334 ERA+, while hitting .308). Spoon Carter (4-1, 3.07, 166 ERA+), Davis (5-1, Sv, 3.14, 162 ERA+, batting .344), Sam Streeter (6-1, 4.09, 124 ERA+), Bill Harvey (2-3, 4.18, 122 2ERA+) and Bert Hunter (7-4, 2 Sv, 4.97, 102 ERA+) all fared well. Kincannon (0-4, Sv, 7.56, 67 ERA+) struggled.
All stats listed are per the Seamheads database 5/11/21
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Jimmie Crutchfield, Josh Gibson, Chester Williams, Leroy Matlock