James Stephen Zapp
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 208 lb.
- High School Immaculate Mother Academy
The single-season record holder for RBI in the Midwest League (known at the time as the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League), Jim Zapp might have been a major leaguer in another time, but he was 28 when his professional career began, when MLB teams would only take chances on top-flight black players.
Zapp began playing baseball in 1942 when he was stationed on a Navy base in Hawaii and his team won back-to-back titles in 1943-44. After his military career ended, Zapp joined the Baltimore Elite Giants as a backup. He hit 11 homers for the minor Atlanta Black Crackers in 1947 and joined the Birmingham Black Barons the next year as a starting outfielder. The 24-year-old helped the team to a title, though he lost his starting spot for a time after Willie Mays began to shine. Zapp hit a key home run in the playoffs to help the Black Barons win it before they fell in the Negro World Series.
Zapp spent the next two years in semipro baseball, returning to the professional ranks with Baltimore in 1950-51. In '52, Zapp hit .330/~.403/.563 for the Paris Lakers, driving in 136 runs to set the MOVL record; he was 27 ahead of teammate Butch McCord, a fellow former Negro Leaguer. His 20 homers led the league; it was a low-power environment as only seven other players even hit 10. He was second in slugging and total bases to McCord. He also had 19 outfield errors (fielding .908), the most in the league. In 1953, Zipper slipped to .286/~.412/.429 in only 11 games for the Danville Dans. The next year, Jimmy was with the Big Spring Broncs and pounded out 32 homers, 4th in the Longhorn League but 40 behind record-setter Joe Bauman. He hit .290/~.361/.630 and continued to suffer afield, managing just a .896 fielding percentage in the outfield. He just missed the league's top three in slugging. He also spent part of the year with the Elite Giants and Black Barons in the dying Negro Leagues.
In 1955, Zapp stayed with the club, now the Big Spring Cosden Cops, and batted .311 with 29 HR (8th in the Longhorn) and 90 RBI. He also played for the Port Arthur Sea Hawks, adding another 8 HR and 37 RBI to make his season totals more impressive in his last year of play.
Sources: The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, Midwest League Guide, 1953-1955 Baseball Guides, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database