Webster McDonald

From BR Bullpen

Webster McDonald
(Mac, 56 Varieties)

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 0", Weight 190 lb.

Biographical Information[edit]

Webster McDonald was a submarine pitcher who played for top teams in the Negro Leagues from 1920 through 1940, with a couple breaks early in his career. He also managed in the Negro Leagues. He was in the top five in RA in his league five times, once leading the way.

Early life and career[edit]

McDonald moved to Philadelphia, PA at age three and would spend his life there. He was raised by his aunt, Sally Clayter, and played baseball on the playgrounds of South Philadelphia. He played for the Philadelphia Giants, a minor team in 1918. In 1919, he signed on with Danny McClellan's Madison Stars, another minor black team which featured Judy Johnson. McDonald was with the Norfolk Stars in 1920 and got his first crack at the big time with the Detroit Stars, going 3-3. He then returned to the Madison Stars for 1921.

Webster started 1922 with Chappie Johnson's All-Stars and was traded to the New York Lincoln Giants. After a brief stay there, he was dealt again, this time to the minor Richmond Giants. He returned to the Philadelphia Giants for a couple years, again working with McClellan. He threw three no-hitters one year.

1925-1932: Wandering through blackball and independent baseball[edit]

McDonald finally made it to the Negro Leagues to stay in 1925 when he joined the Wilmington Potomacs, going 3-9. After that team folded, he was picked up by the Chicago American Giants and was 4-3 there.

Spending all of 1926 with Chicago, the right-hander turned out an impressive 11-4 record with a 2.92 RA. He was fourth in the Negro National League in winning percentage, seventh in wins, fourth in RA (behind three teammates, Bill Foster, George Harney and Rube Currie) and third with 70 strikeouts, 7 behind Foster and five behind Chet Brewer. He lost his only post-season game against the Kansas City Monarchs when he got no offensive support. Chicago still won the series to advance to the 1926 Negro World Series. In the Series, McDonald lost game three 10-0 when Chicago was held hitless by Red Grier. He did not pitch again in the Series, won by Chicago 5 games to 4.

McDonald was 10-5 for the 1927 American Giants. In one game, he held the Kansas City Monarchs to two hits, striking out sixteen. He had a no-hitter for nine innings against the Memphis Red Sox on August 15, only to lose his shuout in the ninth on errors, the no-hitter in the 10th, and the game in the 11th on two more base hits. McDonald's near no-hitter came the day after teammate Willie Powell had thrown a no-hitter of his own against the same team. He won game four of the 1927 Negro World Series by a 9-1 margin over the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants.

McDonald signed with the Homestead Grays in 1928 and won his only game with them. He then moved to a white semipro team in Little Falls, MN, where he starred for several years during his prime, making some forays back into the Negro Leagues.

Webster did return to Homestead for an All-Star series against major leaguers including Jimmie Foxx, Harry Heilmann, Bing Miller and Bill Sweeney. McDonald outdueled Jack Quinn 5-1, a Sweeney homer being the lone mark against him.

McDonald went 3-2 for the Chicago American Giants in his 1929 stint with the team. He won two games in the post-season, beating his old mates from Homestead, shutting them out twice on a two-hitter and four-hitter as he handed Sam Streeter consecutive defeats.

The submariner went 12-10 for the 1930 American Giants, 7th in the NNL in wins. He also was 1-1 for the Philadelphia Hilldales and 1-1 for the Baltimore Black Sox. That fall, he beat a major/minor league combo team 8-5, then defeated Eddie Rommel in consecutive weekends, 1-0 and 5-3. Mickey Cochrane also played with Rommel but it is unclear who else was on either team. McDonald's busy fall against white teams continued against an All-Star club featuring Heilmann, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty O'Doul, Sweeney and Red Kress. McDonald carried a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning of game one before the All-Stars scored four to knock him out. In the second game, he relieved in a 14-3 loss.

With Chicago in 1931, the 31-year-old right-hander had a fine year, going 7-4 with a 1.78 RA, leading the NNL by .25 ahead of Ted Trent. He also was 5-0 with Philadelphia that season. That off-season, he went 1-1 against white MLB teams, beating Fred Heimach 7-0 on October 7 and losing to Heimach 8 days later.

Leaving his semipro team after 1931, McDonald spent 1932 with the Washington Pilots, going 2-7 for a horrible team (16-35 overall). After manager Dick Warfield had a fatal stroke at mid-season, McDonald took over the club's reigns.

1933-1940: Philadelphia[edit]

Signing with his hometown Philadelphia Stars, McDonald finally found stability; he and his wife would live there the rest of their lives and he would spend the rest of his career there except for one partial season. He had a 5-3 year for the club in 1933. In 1934, he replaced Dick Lundy as manager and Philadelphia went 55-33, second to Chicago. McDonald himself was 12-4 with a 2.83 RA, third in the NNL behind Satchel Paige and Slim Jones. In the post-season, he beat Chicago 5-3 and provided solid relief in a game seven tie as the Stars beat Chicago 6 games to three. McDonald got a government job after the year and considered retirement, but stuck around for a while longer.

The Stars fell to 40-41 in 1935 but McDonald still went 10-7 with a 2.94 RA. He again was third in the league in RA, trailing Leroy Matlock and Leon Day this time. In the 1935 East-West Game, he managed the East in a 11-8 loss; he never pitched in an East-West Game though. That fall, he faced the Dizzy Dean All-Stars, who included Joe Stripp, Billy Myers, Moose Solters, Bob Garbark, Tommy Thevenow, Mike Ryba, Jimmy Ripple and Billy Urbanski. He beat Dizzy Dean 7-1 in the opener on October 12 and won the finale 11-1.

McDonald's club was 32-31 in 1936, second to the dynastic Pittsburgh Crawfords. He had a 8-10 record and 38 strikeouts, fourth in the league. In one game, he went 18 innings in a 3-3 tie against the New York Cubans.

Jud Wilson replaced Mac as manager for 1937; McDonald went 5-5 on the mound. One source lists him as managing again in 1938, in which Philadelphia went 30-24 and 1939, when they had a 28-31 record. Webster was just 5-6 the first year, but his 2.57 RA was third in the loop behind Ray Brown and Henry McHenry. He was also very briefly with the Washington Black Senators. Also in 1938, Roy Campanella, a 15-year-old would wait on McDonald's doorstep and beg him for a chance to play. Webster later agreed, starting Campy on the way to a brilliant career. The latter season, his record was 5-7. On October 14, 1939, the veteran came in with a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the second against a white MLB team and pitched hitless ball the rest of the way. The opponents included Doc Cramer, Mickey Vernon, Frankie Hayes, Don Heffner, Dee Miles, Al Brancato and Hal Wagner, with Pete Appleton and Bud Thomas pitching.

In his final season, the 40-year-old veteran was 1-1; Philadelphia went 30-44 and he is listed as the manager by one source.

McDonald's career record as a pitcher was 117-93. He is credited with a 14-2 or 14-4 mark against white major leaguers but it is unclear the source of these games. Counting all the above games, including those against mixed major-minor league teams, he was 7-1.

Post-baseball life[edit]

McDonald worked for the US Mint in Philadelphia after his retirement from baseball, then later was with the U.S. Postal Service until he retired. He was robbed twice while living in a North Philadelphia housing project as a widower late in life.

Other information[edit]

Known as a poor fielder of bunts, McDonald's "56 Varieties" nickname comes from the wide array of pitches he threw, tailored to the specific batter. His repertoire included a sinking fastball, rising curveball and changeup.

Sources[edit]

The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester