Ben “Old Reliable” Taylor played professionally from 1909 to 1929 and got his nickname from his consistent on-field performance. Taylor is considered one of the best first basemen in the history of Black baseball. He was also a longtime manager. Today he is immortalized in Cooperstown as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Benjamin Harrison Taylor was born on July 1, 1888, in Anderson, South Carolina, to father Isham and mother Adeline (née Hayne). Both Isham and Adeline were born in 1840 in South Carolina.1 Isham worked as a farm laborer and Adeline took care of their home.2 Ben was one of 10 children. He had older brothers named Charles, Sam, John, Jim, and Pomp, older sisters named Sara, Francis, and Martha, and a younger brother named Julian.3
Three of Ben’s older brothers also played professional baseball. His brother Charles, who was known as “C.I.,” founded the Birmingham Giants and later played for the Indianapolis ABCs from 1914-1918 and 1920-1921. C.I. managed multiple teams and was a co-founder of the Negro National League.
Ben’s brother John was known as “Steel Arm Johnny.” He pitched professionally for 14 seasons and was later the pitching coach, assistant manager, and trainer4 for the Washington Potomacs when Ben was the Potomacs’ manager in 1924.5 Ben’s brother James was known as “Candy Jim” and played for many teams in a career that spanned from 1907-1942.6 The Taylors were, one present-day author notes, “the ‘first family’ of Negro Leagues baseball.”7
Ben Taylor, who stood five-foot-eleven, weighed 175 pounds, batted left and threw left, made his professional debut in 1909 as a pitcher for the Birmingham Giants, who were managed by C.I.
When C.I. traveled north to Indiana to manage the West Baden Sprudels in 1910, Ben went with him and played both first base and pitcher. In late May of that year Ben pitched so well in a three-game series against the Cuban Giants that the Giants’ owner, John Bright, offered him a pay increase to join the Cuban Giants. Taylor declined.8 Ben showed his hitting prowess on June 24 in a home game against French Lick. He went 4-for-5 with a home run, two doubles, and a single in the Sprudels’ 13-2 win that day.9
Taylor was back on the mound in 1911, pitching for the St. Louis Giants. Including all exhibition games, Taylor is credited with a 30-1 record that year.11 In the 1911-1912 off-season, Taylor pitched for Habana of the Cuban League, a team managed by legendary slugger Grant “Home Run” Johnson.
In 1912, Taylor split the season between the Sprudels and the New York Lincoln Giants, who were managed by Hall of Famer Pop Lloyd. On June 5 of that year, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat called Taylor “one of the best colored pitchers in the country.”12 That distinction was short-lived though; Sprudels management decided to move Taylor from the mound to first base in 1912.13
In 1913, Taylor played for the Sprudels and the Chicago American Giants, who were led by Negro League pioneer owner and manager Rube Foster. Taylor’s .336 batting average in 1913 was 12th best among players with western Black professional clubs. Additionally, Taylor hit .429 in two exhibition games against major-league teams. Ben’s brothers James and John also played for the American Giants that season.
In 1914, Taylor played the first of his eight seasons with the Indianapolis ABCs, who were co-owned and managed by C.I. Ben’s brothers Jim and John also played on that team. The Seamheads.com Negro Leagues database lists Ben as both the best hitter and best pitcher on the ABCs that year. With Indianapolis, he batted .366 in 60 games, with 50 runs scored to lead all players on western Black professional clubs. Further, he went 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA in seven appearances as a pitcher. He also squeezed in a handful of exhibition games with the Chicago American Giants, going 3-for-16 with two runs scored, bringing his average for the season to .353 in 64 games with 52 runs scored.
In February 1915, Taylor and five ABCs teammates were in Palm Beach, Florida, playing for a hotel’s team named the Breakers.14
On March 22 and 23 that year, the ABCs’ preseason training schedule included two exhibitions in Birmingham, Alabama, against Talladega College. Previewing this matchup, the Birmingham Reporter newspaper said, “Ben Taylor is claimed by experts to be the greatest first baseman the game has produced.”15
Taylor returned to the ABCs in 1915. He hit a grand slam in an ABCs’ 11-1 win over the Cuban Stars at Federal League Park on August 8.16 The grand slam drove in four of Taylor’s 47 known RBIs for the ABCs that season. On October 17, the ABCs beat a team of American League and National League players 3-2 at Federal League Park. Taylor stood out in this exhibition, with the Indianapolis Freeman writing “Old reliable Ben Taylor accepted twenty chances without a skip, and it was Ben’s hard rap in the twelfth that sent the winning run across.”17
Taylor went to winter ball again that off-season, this time joining the Royal Poinciana Hotel team in Palm Beach, Florida. Games between hotels in Palm Beach had rosters full of incredible talent; Taylor’s teammates there included his brothers C.I. and Jim, along with star pitcher John Donaldson. Taylor hit for power that winter; he led the Florida Hotel League in OPS (.945).
For the next three years, Taylor stayed with the ABCs and hit well. He batted .313 in 1916 with 28 RBIs, the sixth-highest total among players with western Black professional clubs. The ABCs won a western region championship that year, defeating the Chicago American Giants four games to one. He hit .294 in 1917 and .306 in 1918, which was the eighth-best average among western Black professional players.
On July 10, 1918, the ABCs played a classic game against the Cuban All-Stars in Muncie, Indiana. The score was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth when ABCs catcher Russell Powell hit a two-run, game-ending home run. Taylor went 1-for-4 with a single, an RBI, and 11 putouts at first base. Muncie’s Star Press newspaper covered the game and said, “During the entire game sensational fielding was made by players on both sides.”18
Taylor returned to the ABCs as a player in 1920 and posted a .321 average, the seventh-best mark in the Negro National League. In 1921, he hit .392 for the ABCs, good for third-best among Negro National League hitters. By this time, Taylor had become a renowned Black baseball star who was praised in the press for his fielding and hitting. For example, on April 10, 1921, the Indianapolis Star wrote “Nobody has anything on Ben when it comes to covering first or cracking the apple.”19 A month and a half later, the Kansas City Times wrote of him “Ben Taylor, the big left hand first sacker, is considered one of the hardest hitters in baseball.”20
Taylor transitioned to a player/manager role with the ABCs in 1922 following C.I.’s death. He played in 94 games that year and batted .370, according to the Seamheads Negro Leagues database. On June 13, 1922, Taylor went 4-for-4 with a home run, a double, and two singles in the ABCs’ 8-2 win over the Keystones in Pittsburgh.21 Overall, Indianapolis finished 63-42-2, posting an 50-34-1 league record in Taylor’s first season managing, giving the ABCs the third-best winning percentage among Negro National League clubs. Oscar Charleston was the ABCs’ best player. Taylor called Charleston “The greatest outfielder that ever lived… greatest of all colors. He can cover more ground than any man I have ever seen. His judging of fly balls borders on the uncanny.”22
In 1923, Taylor founded the Washington Potomacs, an independent club that played at American League Park, the home ballpark of the American League’s Washington Senators.23 With the Potomacs scheduled to play against the Richmond Giants that season, Richmond’s Times Dispatch familiarized its readers with Taylor and his club by saying, “In Ben Taylor’s Washington Potomacs the fans will see a baseball club of big league ability,” and “In Ben Taylor the fans will see the race’s premier first baseman. He is said to be the equal of George Sisler of big-league fame.”24
A street parade was held before the Potomacs’ first home game on May 10, and after the parade Taylor was presented with a display of two hundred roses.25 More than 4,000 fans braved the cold weather that day and watched the Potomacs beat the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 5-2.26
In August, Potomacs pitcher Wayne Carr and infielder Morten Clark jumped their contracts to join the Baltimore Black Sox. The Potomacs had a working agreement with the Eastern Colored League, so Taylor filed a formal protest with the league when the players made their move.27
The Potomacs went 14-19 in their 1923 debut season. On December 15 that year, at league meetings in Philadelphia, the Potomacs were admitted into the Eastern Colored League.28 They went 21-38 in 1924, playing home games at both Griffith Stadium (American League Park’s new name after a major renovation) and Harlan Field in Wilmington, Delaware.
The Potomacs were without Taylor in 1925 when he moved on to play for the Harrisburg Giants. The Giants, managed by Charleston, went 48-24-1, finishing second to the Hilldale club among Eastern Colored League teams.
Taylor was back in the manager’s seat in 1926 with the Eastern Colored League’s Baltimore Black Sox. Hall of Famer Jud Wilson changed positions from first base to right field to make room for his new manager Taylor, who played first base for the team.29 Taylor’s Black Sox lineup also included power-hitting John “Black Bomber” Beckwith.
Taylor managed Baltimore in 1927 and 1928 before being part of a rare player-for-manager trade. Atlantic City sent shortstop Dick Lundy to Baltimore in exchange for Taylor before the 1929 season. Taylor was upset to leave Baltimore,30 where he lived year-round, but he reluctantly reported to Atlantic City and became the Bacharach Giants’ player/manager. The team struggled in Taylor’s only season at the helm, posting a 21-50-2 record. This would be his last season as a player.
Taylor was away from the game in any official capacity from 1930-1931, and was a part-time umpire in the East-West League and Negro National League in 1932 and 1934. In 1933, he operated a club named the Baltimore Stars. The Stars played a game in North Carolina and grew impressed with talented opposing hitter Buck Leonard. Taylor offered to increase Leonard’s pay to more than his $15 weekly salary to join the Stars, and Leonard accepted.31 Leonard became a Hall of Famer. “I got most of my learning from Ben Taylor,” Leonard said. “He had been the best first baseman in Negro baseball up until that time, and he was the one who really taught me to play first base.”32
It was around this time that Taylor publicly expressed his disappointment at Black baseball’s chronic financial problems. “Our big businessmen are afraid to invest in colored baseball. They say it will lose money,” Taylor said. “It’s about the only thing that we have that could be classed as all-colored and if properly handled in a business way, there is money to be made.”33
Taylor came back as a manager with the Brooklyn Eagles of the Negro National League in 1935 but was replaced on May 21 after only 10 games by George Giles. The Eagles were owned by Abe and Effa Manley. The team shared Ebbets Field with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935 and featured legendary players Leon Day, Rap Dixon, Fats Jenkins, and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe. The Manleys moved the team to Newark, New Jersey after the 1935 season.
After a two-year hiatus away from baseball, Taylor returned to the nation’s capital to manage the Washington Black Senators in 1938. The Black Senators played at Griffith Stadium and went 2-20. It was Taylor’s final season managing.
According to the Seamheads.com Negro Leagues database in May 2021, Taylor had a 211-304-12 career record as a manager. As a player, Taylor accumulated 1,250 hits in 21 seasons and hit .300 or better in 16 different years.
Taylor “was meticulous in his approach to hitting, known for his ability to hit the ball to all fields and for his execution of the hit-and-run,” a present-day writer notes.34 Taylor was also regarded as a smooth fielder who scooped low throws from infielders.35
Taylor lived in Baltimore after his baseball career ended. He owned and operated a poolroom, a shoeshine parlor, and a cleaning and pressing business.36 He also stayed connected to baseball by printing and distributing game programs and scorecards at Bugle Field for Baltimore Elite Giants games.37
Taylor died of pneumonia on January 24, 1953, in Baltimore. He is buried at Arbutus Cemetery in Arbutus, Maryland, where his gravestone reads “A Graceful Player. A Superb Teacher, & A True Gentleman.”38 He left behind his wife Mary and sons Ben Jr., and Charles.39 The Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues described Taylor this way: “Modest, easygoing, and soft-spoken, Taylor was a true gentleman who maintained a fair and professional demeanor.”40
In July of 2000, Major League Baseball gave the Baseball Hall of Fame a $250,000 grant to study the history of Black baseball from 1860-1960. That process led to a Special Committee on the Negro Leagues to discuss and vote on 39 Hall of Fame candidates. On February 27, 2006, in Tampa, Florida,41 Taylor was one of the 17 players, managers, and executives that the committee elected to the Hall of Fame.
“In terms of Black baseball, I think it’s been acknowledged for generations among Black players and historians that (Taylor) was the greatest first baseman in the first part of the 20th century,” said Todd Bolton, one of the committee members that elected Taylor.42
Taylor’s brothers C.I. and James were both among the 39 finalists for the committee’s vote, but neither one was elected.
This biography was reviewed by Phil Williams and Joe DeSantis and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used Baseball-Reference.com, FamilySearch.org, Newspapers.com, and the Seamheads.com Negro Leagues database in March 2021.
1 US Census Bureau, 1900 US Census.
2 US Census Bureau, 1880 US Census.
3 US Census Bureau, 1900 US Census.
4 “‘Steel Arm’ Taylor, Who Struck Out Three Men with The Bases Full, Winning Game, To Act as ‘Trainer-Coach’ For Brother Ben,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 12, 1924: 11.
5 Isabelle Minasian, The Taylors, Including Hall of Famer Ben Taylor, Helped Define A Generation of Baseball in The Negro Leagues, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://baseballhall.org/discover/family-rules-taylor-brothers-negro-leagues.
6 Ben Taylor, Seamheads Negro Leagues Database, https://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=taylo01ben.
7 Minasian, The Taylors.
8 Harold C. McGath, “In the Field of Sport,” Indianapolis Freeman, June 4, 1910: 7.
9 “West Baden Beats French Lick.,” Louisville Courier-Journal, June 25, 1910: 8.
10 “Chicago Giants, 3; West Baden, 1., Chicago Tribune, September 9, 1910: 12.
11 James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994), 789.
12 “St. Louis Giants Win from West Baden, 8-4.,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 5, 1912: 11.
13 “Training Camp Gossip,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 17, 1912: 22.
14 “Freeman’s Sport News from Pole to Pole,” The Indianapolis Freeman, February 6, 1915: 7.
15 “A.B.C. Team to Play Talladega,” Birmingham Reporter, March 20, 1915: 1.
16 “Ben Taylor Hits Home Run with Bases Full,” Indianapolis Freeman, August 14, 1915: 4.
17 Dieta Johnson, “A.B.C.s Beat All-Stars – Big Leaguers Held to Four Hits,” Indianapolis Freeman, August 23, 1915: 7.
18 Van, “Cuban All-Stars Lose to A.B.C.’s,” Muncie, Indiana Star Press, July 11, 1918: 7.
19 “New Shortstop,” Indianapolis Star, April 10, 1921: 35.
20 “Indianapolis A.B.C. to Meet Local Negro Club.,” Kansas City Times, May 27, 1921: 14.
21 “League Leaders Trounce Keystones,” Richmond Planet, June 24, 1922: 6.
22 Riley, Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues, 168.
23 Riley, Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues, 339.
24 “Colored Baseball Opens Wednesday,” Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch, April 16, 1923: 11.
25 Gary Ashwill, “Ben Taylor & The 1923 Washington Potomacs,” Agate Type, June 1, 2016, https://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/ben-taylor/.
26 “Taylor’s Potomacs Open D.C. Season,” Baltimore Afro-American, May 18, 1923: 15.
27 “Carr and Clarke Jump Potomacs for Black Sox,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 11, 1923: 6.
28 “Eastern League Takes in Harrisburg and Washington,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 15, 1923: 6.
29 Gary Ashwill, “The Mystery of Jud Wilson,” Agate Type, May 28, 2006, https://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2006/05/for_some_reason.html.
30 James Overmyer, Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916-1929 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2014), 181.
31 Walter (Buck) Leonard with John Holway, “Lost Stars in Baseball’s Firmament,” Washington Star Sportsweek, August 30, 1970: 5-7.
32 “Ben Taylor,” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/taylor-ben.
33 Lawrence Hogan, Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball (Washington: National Geographic, 2006), 242.
34 Minasian, The Taylors.
35 Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues, 789.
36 Keith Farmer, “Negro League Ballplayer Still Remembered as Talent,” Greenville News, August 16, 2006: 4B.
37 Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues, 791.
38 Benjamin Taylor, Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/20713/benjamin-taylor.
39 Paul Debono, The Indianapolis ABCs: History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Books, 1997), 95.
40 Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues, 789.
41 “Hall to Consider 39 Negro, Pre-Negro Leaguers,” Associated Press, November 21, 2005.
42 Keith Farmer, “Negro League Ballplayer Still Remembered as Talent,” Greenville News, August 16, 2006: 4B.