1943 Negro World Series
Birmingham Black Barons
Birmingham was appearing in its first Negro World Series, having gone 20-14 to edge the Memphis Red Sox and Cleveland Buckeyes in a close Negro American League race. They were managed by Wingfield Welch. The team had four of the NAL's top five in average in 1943, with OF Lester Lockett (.408), SS Piper Davis (.386), OF Felix McLaurin (.383) and 2B Tommy Sampson (.360). 1B Lyman Bostock Sr. hit .412 but apparently did not qualify for the batting title. The top hurlers were John Markham (7-2) an d Lefty McKinnis (6-4).
Homestead had been swept in the 1942 Negro World Series but recovered to win their fourth Negro National League title in a row (they would make it six straight before falling in 1946). They had a 44-15 record, well ahead of the New York Cubans' 23-16. The team was managed by Vic Harris and was loaded with talent. 1B Buck Leonard (.321) was third in the league with 6 homers, second with 20 doubles and second with 11 triples. 2B Jud Wilson (.327) led with 13 triples. SS Sammy Bankhead was second in average (.483, one point behind Tetelo Vargas of New York), tied for 4th with 11 doubles, tied for third with 10 triples and tied for second with five steals. 3B Howard Easterling was 5th in average (.399), tied for fourth with 11 doubles, tied for third with 10 triples and tied for second with five steals, matching Bankhead in the latter three departments. OF Jerry Benjamin (.370) was third with 16 doubles and led with 6 steals. C Josh Gibson had another monster year - third in average (.449), more homers than the next three players combined (22, combared to 19 by Lennie Pearson, Leonard and Larry Doby), first in doubles by a wide margin (33) and tied for 5th in triples (8). The "weak spots" on offense were outfielders Harris (.298) and Cool Papa Bell (.297). The staff was similarly strong - Johnny Wright won the pitching Triple Crown (18-5, 2.04 RA, 52 K) while Ray Brown (8-1, 3.76 RA) led in winning percentage, tied for fourth in wins and was 4th in RA while also hitting well as a part-time position player. Edsall Walker (8-4) tied for 5th in wins.
Birmingham 4, Homestead 2
The Series got started on September 21 in Washington, DC, the actual home of the Grays, who had departed Homestead by now but kept the name. Birmingham pulled off a stunner in the opener, with Al Saylor holding the mighty Grays to two runs on five hits. Wright took the loss in the 4-2 decision, giving up two first-inning tallies.
Homestead 5, Birmingham 5, 12 innings (tie)
Moving to Baltimore, MD on September 23, the two teams battled to a 5-5 tie after 12 innings. Gentry Jessup, on loan from the Chicago American Giants, got the start for Birmingham. Homestead took a 2-0 lead in the third, but Birmingham rallied for a 5-4 edge going into the bottom of the 9th before it was tied yet again.
Homestead 4, Birmingham 3, 11 innings
Back in Washington a day later, the teams again went into extra innings. Homestead jumped to a 3-0 lead against Markham when Robert Gaston (subbing for Gibson behind the plate) singled in Bankhead and McLaurin made a 2-run error. Roy Partlow blanked Birmingham for four innings but allowed the bases to be loaded in the 5th, but Brown came in to rescue him. In the 6th, bad defense came to haunt Homestead, with Bankhead making a crucial error in a 3-run inning. The game remained deadlocked untiul the 11th, with Markham tossing shutout ball for eight straight after the second. In the 11th, though, Bankhead singled off Markham and was bunted over by Harris. An error put Bankhead on third but he was thrown out trying to score on a Brown grounder. Bell, 0 for 4 so far on the day, singled in the winner. The Black Barons had eked out 3 runs on just 5 hits against Partlow and Brown.
Homestead 9, Birmingham 0
The Series finally headed west, to Chicago, IL on September 26. Wright turned in a gem, blanking the Black Barons on five hits, while McKinnis took the loss against the Grays' attack, which produced nine runs.
Birmingham 11, Homestead 8
In Columbus, OH on September 28, Birmingham ended a 3-game no-win streak to tie the Series at two. Homestead was up 6-2 after 5 1/2 but Birmingham tied it in the bottom of the 6th and scored five times in the 7th. Homestead rallied for four in the 8th but lost the slugfest, 11-10. Saylor got the win, Partlow the loss with Brown, Walker and Gipson also seeing action. In a losing cause, Gibson cracked a grand slam.
Homestead 8, Birmingham 0
Birmingham 1, Homestead 0, 11 innings
Birmingham got their home game on October 3 and kept their hopes alive with the third extra-inning contest of the Series, a pitching duel between Markham and Partlow. Ralph Wyatt doubled off Markham in the 5th and nearly scored but was gunned down at home. Through 10, neither Markham nor Partlow had given up a run. In the bottom of the 11th, Sloppy Lindsay hit a 2-out triple off Partlow and backup Ed Steele singled him home.
Homestead 8, Birmingham 4
It was all down to one last contest, on October 5 in Montgomery, AL, close to home for the Black Barons. Wright squared off against Saylor. Homestead went up 1-0 in the first, but Birmingham scored twice in the third. By the 6th, the Black Barons had a 4-2 lead and had knocked out their nemesis this Series, Wright. With two outs in the 8th, Leonard drew a walk and hits by Gibson, Easterling, Harris and Bankhead followed to put Homestead ahead for good. They would wind up with a 8-4 victory.
For the eight games, Homestead outscored the Black Barons 44 to 28, a differential of 2.0 runs per game, entirely on the strength of the two routs. Wyatt (.429 off the bench), the elderly Bell (.308, 20 years after his Negro League debut) and Leonard (.286) led the team in average while Wright (2-1, 2.10 RA, also hitting .300) and Brown (2-0, 2.89) provided the pitching. Partlow (0-2, 4.85 RA) was not as sharp. The team made 11 errors.
In addition to beating outscored by a pretty significant margin, Birmingham also showed poor defense, with 19 errors, over two per contest. They were lucky to have almost won the Series, if it hadn't been for Homestead's 8th-inning charge in game 8. Steele (2 for 5), Sampson and Double Duty Radcliffe (.320, on loan from Chicago) paced the offense. Saylor (2-1, 4.91 RA) had mixed results on the hill and Markham (1-1, 1.52 RA) was excellent but McKinnis (0-2, 9.24 RA) bombed.