Jake Stephens (Courtesy of Gary Ashwill)

Jake Stephens

This article was written by Bob LeMoine

“You were a good man to have on a team. You kept the spirits up. You were the life of the party.”Ted Page, to Jake Stephens 1


Jake Stephens (Courtesy of Gary Ashwill)Jake Stephens may have been the greatest defensive shortstop of all time. He was on par with Modern Era defensive shortstops like Mark Belanger and Ozzie Smith, but they had the advantage of television highlight reels. Stephens, called “The Wizard of York,” after his Pennsylvania hometown, had none of those benefits since he toiled in the Negro Leagues from 1921 to 1937. A little guy at 5-feet-6 and 135 pounds, the crafty Stephens was called “the diminutive Rabbit Maranville of colored baseball” by Chester Washington in the Pittsburgh Courier, and “one of the dandiest little shortstops ever to wear a glove” by the York Dispatch. The Chicago Defender called him the “human jumping jack.”2 He was known as a great bunter and “spectacular” fielder with a “whiplash arm” who was “greased lightning on the basepaths.”3 His name was often misspelled “Stevens” in the local papers and his birth name, Paul, gave way to Jake. “You know how I got the name Jake?” Stephens told a sportswriter. “Those big guys from the city figured I was from a hick town, so they used to call me Country Jake. It stuck.”4

Stephens also stuck, earning his reputation as a “wonder shortstop” whom the Courier dubbed the “jackrabbit of York.”5 “Fans get a great kick out of seeing Jake Stevens,” wrote the Altoona Mirror in 1930. “He covers so much ground in the infield that he is what is called a triple threat man in football. One minute he gobbles up a scorcher over towards third base. On the next he is in deep short and again he may be found over near second base. Few ground balls get past him.”6 If Stephens had learned to hit the curveball, as he himself confessed, he might have been a more recognized name in Negro League history. “He couldn’t hit a bull in the ass,” Sam Bankhead joked. “But he could field!”7

Paul Eugene Stephens was born on February 10, 1900, in Pleasureville, an unincorporated community in Springettsbury Township in York County, Pennsylvania, to William Henry and Minnie (Bear) Stephens.8 The 1900 census was conducted when Paul was just a few weeks old. William was working as a laborer in a chain works to provide for his family, which included older brothers, William (known as Harry) and John. At the 1910 census, William Henry was working at the Frey Brothers Coal Yard and the family was living in a rented house at 706 King Street. That area of East York was called Bullfrog Alley, a low-lying, swampy area that attracted the croaking creatures. Willow trees were plenteous, and many residents made their living as basket makers. Germans populated the area, as did those labeled “gypsies” for their junk peddling, horse trading, and bootleg whiskey.9 “Let’s put it this way,” Stephens said, “you stayed in your own neighborhood, about three or four blocks.” Stephens claimed he developed a strong throwing arm from the snowballs he threw to protect other children crossing the alley.10

Young Paul was often dropped off with neighbors who essentially raised him. “I went to church with them every Sunday,” he remembered, “and there wasn’t any such thing as a color line. I guess I was 14 or 15 before I realized I was a Negro.”11

Stephens witnessed many tragedies in his young life. His little sister, Flora, died before her second birthday in 1904. His mother died two years later, at the age of 29. In 1917 his brother Harry died when his wagon was struck by a freight train.12

On his World War I draft card, Stephens listed his occupation as a self-employed peddler working out of the family home at 667 Edison Street. In the meantime, he also learned baseball on the sandlots of his hometown. In 1918 he played for at least two teams in Pleasureville, Twelfth Ward and the Colored Giants.13 In 1919 he played on the local Smith Athletic Colored club, one of four in the York Twilight League. He had the best fielding percentage (.910) of all league shortstops, and his brother John led the league in batting. Smith AC finished 4-8 in league play and 22-12 overall.14

In 1920 the Stephens brothers played for another all-Black team in York, the Ajax Colored Giants. “P. Stevens, the acrobatic shortstop of the Ajax, is playing a bang-up game again this season,” wrote the Daily Record, which hailed him as a “flashy fielder and a good hitter.”15 Ajax played the Midvale Steel workers team in a game Stephens recalled in his own two-edition column in the Philadelphia Tribune in 1926. Ajax held a 4-3 lead with one out and the bases loaded with Midvale up. “The stands were in an uproar,” Stephens wrote. “It seemed to us that all the mill hands in the world were up there yelling for our scalps.” The pitcher, full of nerves, threw three straight balls. His fourth pitch was a “mile high” but the batter didn’t want to walk so he swung. “I caught a glimpse of a white streak flashing through the pitcher’s box,” Stephens wrote, “and I hurled myself forward, my gloved hand outstretched.” Stephens came up with the ball and stepped on second to end the game. The mill workers swarmed the field and hoisted Stephens on their shoulders. “I wouldn’t have changed places for any man alive,” he said.16 Feeling cocky about his skills, Stephens joined the Pleasureville team the next week as they played Glen Rock for the county championship. His error cost Pleasureville the championship. “It was a great lesson (in humility),” Stephens wrote, “and I reckon it carries over into every other walk of life.”17

In 1921 Stephens joined the professional Hilldale club of Darby, Pennsylvania, a small, mostly Black suburb of Philadelphia. He sent a series of anonymous letters to team owner Ed Bolden, boasting of the talents of this young shortstop. Bolden was oblivious, but the fake letters drew his attention to the real skills of Stephens. He impressed Bolden at a tryout and became a candidate for starting shortstop.18

Hilldale began as an amateur youth club in 1910, became semipro, then turned professional in 1917. Bolden was “a tireless and brash promoter,” wrote Michael Haupert, and “one of the greatest hustlers in the history of the Negro Leagues.” He was responsible for putting Hilldale on the map. Bolden was a master publicist and drew lucrative exhibitions to Darby Field (Hilldale Park) against well-known Eastern Black or White teams.19 Bolden also had a strict set of rules, Stephens recalled. “Only gentlemen got on the team – gambling and women chasing were out.”20

There were 30 Black baseball teams in the Philadelphia area by 1920, with Hilldale the top drawing card, especially for weeknight games. Bolden capitalized on the mass migration of African Americans fleeing deteriorating circumstances in the South who sought Philadelphia’s manufacturing jobs in the post-World War I years. Bolden had a tempestuous relationship with Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League in 1920. Bolden and other Eastern club owners considered forming a rival league. Foster prohibited NNL clubs from playing Hilldale and other Eastern independent clubs like the Bacharach Giants, Lincoln Giants, and Brooklyn Royal Giants. The NNL was a success in 1920 and Bolden decided to join with Foster, paying $1,000 for Hilldale to become an associate member of the NNL.21

Stephens made the club and remained with Hilldale for most of the decade. His name (Stevens) appears in many box scores, but player-manager Bill Francis played the majority of league games at short. In July 1921 Bolden acquired another defensive stalwart, future Hall of Famer Judy Johnson, who occupied third base. Hilldale had an amazingly strong infield. In a July 30 contest against the Indianapolis ABCs, “Stevens and J. Johnson cut off scores with plays that seemed impossible,” praised the Philadelphia Inquirer.22

Hilldale dominated the 1921 season, finishing 107-40, according to the Philadelphia Tribune, counting all exhibitions and other various games with amateur clubs. Hilldale was 28-18-1 among major Eastern independent clubs.23 “The twelfth year has rolled around,” the Tribune wrote of Hilldale, “and finds Ed Bolden president of a thriving corporation and one of the best baseball managers east, west, north or south.”24 Stephens played in just six league games and broke his leg in August.25

In early 1922 Bolden and other NNL owners soured on their association with Foster. Bolden lost revenue since Hilldale could not play teams outlawed by Foster. He wanted to leave the NNL and get his $1,000 back, but Foster threatened to raid his team if he did so. Bolden relented and faced more financial losses from a Western trip and when Western clubs refused to travel to Darby. Hilldale fell to 20-26-2 against Eastern clubs.26 Stephens played just a few league games. He was just 22 and in the shadow of veteran stars Louis Santop, Otto Briggs, Chaney White, Toussaint Allen, and Phil Cockrell.27

Bolden resigned from the NNL at the end of 1922 and Foster refused to issue a refund. Bolden formed the Eastern Colored League, which included Hilldale and the Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Lincoln Giants, Cuban Stars, and Atlantic City Bacharachs. “The formation of the Eastern Colored League,” wrote Neil Lanctot, “was an inevitable reaction to Foster’s domination of the Midwest, revealing conclusively that Black baseball had grown beyond the control of one man.”28 While the ECL was being formed, Paul (Jake) and his brother John (known as Frank) Stephens helped establish an all-Black team known as the York Colored Giants or the Monarch Giants. Frank played for this club in 1923 after two seasons with the Indianapolis ABCs of the NNL.29

Stephens was demoted to a backup role as Bolden signed one of the all-time greats of the Negro Leagues, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, as player-manager. Pop could still hit, but at 39 he had lost more than just one step in his fielding. “They brought him over to replace me,” Stephens said, “but the old man couldn’t do it. He was washed up. He could hit that ball, but you’ve got to cover territory.” Lloyd was later released.30 They needed Stephens’ glove. He was “the smallest man on the club and the best glove man I know,” said teammate Script Lee. “If the ball hopped bad, he’d hop with it.”31 Hilldale easily won the ECL pennant with a 37-21-1 record. They won five games against two groups of barnstormers from Connie Mack’s (White) Philadelphia Athletics, but Stephens didn’t factor in the series.32

Stephens spent the first half of the 1924 season with Dan McClellan’s Philadelphia Colored Giants, a Black minor-league barnstorming club. “We played up in New England,” remembered teammate Webster McDonald. “When Hilldale needed somebody, they’d call us. We covered the waterfront up there, all down east, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine.”33 Stephens needed more experience and McClelland’s tutelage paid dividends when he returned to Hilldale at the end of July. “The methods of Dan, the Ancient, got results,” wrote W. Rollo Wilson in the Pittsburgh Courier. “He stuck Steve in and told him to go to it. Steve knew that he was to play day after day no matter how many errors he made or how few hits he garnered. It had its effect. The kid’s confidence was established, his nerve was strengthened and here he is saving games for Hilldale.”34 When he returned, Stephens became the regular shortstop and joined second baseman Frank Warfield in a “stalwart defense,” which lasted through 1928 despite the fact that the two didn’t get along.35

Stephens’s return was cut short on September 14; he was carried off the field with a sprained ankle after sliding into second base. Stephens missed most of the rest of the season as Hilldale (47-26) won another ECL pennant. Stephens batted .183 over 28 games. With many NNL clubs struggling financially, Foster realized an ECL-NNL Colored World Series would be a boost to the game. Hilldale played the Kansas City Monarchs. Stephens, still noticeably limping, started only Game Seven of the best-of-nine series and left in pain after three innings. Kansas City won the series five games to four, with one tie.36

Stephens was Hilldale’s starting shortstop in 1925, batting .217 in 54 games. Hilldale again dominated the ECL, finishing 53-18-1. They faced the Monarchs (59-23-2) in a rematch for the Colored World Series. Stephens batted .250 (5-for-20) and Hilldale prevailed, five games to one. In a postseason banquet for the champions, Stephens joined Script Lee, George Carr, and Clint Thomas in a “Hilldale Quartet.”37

The 1925-26 seasons were financial disappointments for most NNL and ECL clubs. Attendance and ticket prices couldn’t keep pace with expenses. Issues with umpiring, scheduling, statistical tracking, and poor administration plagued the ECL in 1926. In the NNL, Foster’s physical and mental health declined, and he was admitted to an institution. The winner of three straight ECL pennants, Hilldale finished second to the Atlantic Bacharach Giants in 1926. Stephens batted a solid .271 in 66 games.38

In 1927 Hilldale fell to fifth place (38-48-1) and Stephens batted .234 in 82 games. But his defense still garnered attention. “Although he was charged with two errors,” the Courier reported in a June game against the Cuban Stars, “Stevens brought the fans to their feet time and again in accepting 10 of his 12 chances.”39

Bolden, like Foster, suffered a breakdown and resigned from both the ECL and Hilldale. He was away for several months. When he returned to Hilldale in early 1928, he announced he was pulling the team out of the ECL, the league he had created, after losing $18,000. The ECL itself would soon collapse. Hilldale finished 35-28-1 as an independent club, and Stephens batted a meager .152 in 54 games.

Many Negro League players were able to survive financially by playing winter league ball in California, Puerto Rico, and Cuba (where a player could make $400-$500 per month). Stephens played in Puerto Rico in the winter of 1926-27. The following year he joined the Philadelphia Royal Giants in the California Winter League, batting .250 in 14 games. He spent the 1928-29 winter in Cuba.40 “We were playing in Cuba one winter,” remembered Clint Thomas, “and Jake had trouble hitting the curveball. So, when pitchers started curveballing him, he sent himself a wire saying his father had died and he had to go home.” Jake pulled the same trick in California. “I used to tease him, wondering how his father could have died twice.”41

In 1929 Bolden formed the American Negro League (ANL) with Hilldale and five other clubs. Stephens had a falling-out with Hilldale management and his days were numbered. “They started me with $150 a month,” he recalled in 1979, “and after eight years I was making $200. But I knew I was worth more than that. I was a halfway decent shortstop, and I knew I could get a job with another club. We had the best Negro ball team in America, and I knew they could afford it. I told them if they didn’t pay me more money, I would go back to York County and farm.”42 Stephens was involved in a blockbuster trade with the Homestead Grays of the ANL. The Grays sent the legendary slugger Martín Dihigo and pitcher George Britt to Hilldale for Stephens and infielder Walter Cannady.43 The excitement of the trade was soon gone, however, as for unknown reasons Stephens deserted the Grays in early May. The issue had to have been related to his relationship with Grays manager Cumberland Posey, who suspended Stephens. Posey traded Stephens back to Hilldale and reacquired Britt. “As this is written,” Wilson of the Courier noted in his July 13 column, “Stevens is still out, and wires and letters have failed to bring him to the Hilldale club.”44 Stephens played in just 15 games.

It was a short reunion with Hilldale, as the survival of the franchise was in doubt when the ANL folded. Stephens, Oscar Charleston, and Judy Johnson all defected to the Grays, now an independent club. “Posey in agreeing to bury the hatchet and use the player whose desertion probably cost him the gonfalon in the Eastern League last year,” wrote the Courier, “shows that he’s trying hard to provide a real winner.”45 Combined with George Scales, a solid veteran second baseman, the Grays infield “looms as one of the best in Negro baseball,” the same newspaper noted. “Charleston, Scales and Johnson are three of the best all-around infielders in the game and Stevens is generally considered to be about the classiest fielding shortstop in the East.”46 One of the greatest pitching duels of all time occurred in Kansas City on August 2 as the Grays’ Smokey Joe Williams faced Chet Brewer of the Monarchs. Williams fanned 27 batters in a 1-0, 12-inning win while Brewer fanned 19. The game was on the line in the bottom of the eighth with a runner at second and a blooper hit to center. Stephens “went back and made a spectacular catch to rob the Monarchs of a probable victory,” enthused the Courier.47

The club finished the season 45-15-1 and defeated the Lincoln Giants in a 10-game postseason tournament, declaring itself the best in the East. Stephens was “in splendid form for the series,” wrote the New York Age.48 He batted .271 in 55 games and was considered the best defensive shortstop in the Negro Leagues.49

After success with the Grays, Stephens and Judy Johnson were persuaded to return to Hilldale for a few games to close the season. Johnson remained with Hilldale, becoming their manager for two seasons as the club was rebranded the Hilldale Daisies under new ownership.50 The NNL folded after the 1931 season. Stephens re-signed with the Grays for $350 a month. “I hated to go to bed at night,” he said, “afraid I was going to miss something. You know, the country boy in the big city. Depression? I didn’t know what the Depression was. I lived high off the hog. You could get a haircut for 35 cents, a shave for 15 and a pack of cigarettes for a dime then.”51

Days before leaving for spring training in 1931, Stephens suffered a freak mishap at home when he fell down the stairs and broke two ribs. He missed several weeks.52 He was limited to a reserve role, batting .250 in 17 games while also battling a stomach ailment.53

Stephens returned as the starting shortstop for the Grays, who belonged to Posey’s new East-West League in 1932. He had his best year at the plate, batting .327 in 28 games. With the East-West League struggling to survive, the Detroit club was merged with Homestead, creating an abundance of players. Stephens was traded to the Pittsburgh Crawfords, where he rejoined Judy Johnson (Hilldale had folded). Stephens batted .193 in 46 games.54

Stephens and several teammates moved east in 1933. “A gang of us then jumped the Crawfords,” Stephens recalled in 1963, “and joined up with Eddie Gottlieb to form the Philadelphia Stars.”55 Gottlieb was a White Philadelphia booking agent who is more remembered for his legacy in basketball. He had a 50 percent share in the Stars and provided the financial backing for the franchise. He brought Ed Bolden back into professional baseball to handle the administrative tasks of the club. Gottlieb and Bolden attended a meeting of the new Negro National League (known as Negro National League 2) formed by Gus Greenlee. Bolden again had issues with the cost of belonging to a league and kept the Stars independent in 1933. He found financial success booking exhibition games against White teams and even marketed his club as Hilldale, renting Hilldale Park to attract patrons in Philadelphia.56

Bolden signed former Hilldale players, including Stephens, Biz Mackey, Chaney White, and Eggie Dallard, and other stars such as Jud Wilson and Dick Lundy. “We had a cracking good team,” Stephens said. “What a gang!”57 The independent club in 1933 had a successful 22-13 run with Stephens as the starting second baseman, batting .310 in 28 games. “‘Steve’ thrilled the fans here again,” wrote the Courier, “by his sparkling and peppery playing.”58 Manager Webster McDonald said, “Stephens and (Dick) Seay were the best double play combination in baseball. I called them ‘the acrobats.’ Stephens was fast, aggressive. He could jump like a cat.”59 The Stars benefited from new laws allowing Sunday ball, more economic optimism, and the prevalence of night games. By 1934, both Greenlee, seeing monetary potential in the Philadelphia market, and Bolden, with his new Passon Field and increased attendance, put their differences aside and the Stars joined the NNL2.

Stephens, often batting leadoff for the Stars, batted .264 (on-base percentage of .325) and “still play[ed] one of the best games at shortstop and [was] considered by many as one of the leading infielders in colored ranks,” wrote the York Gazette and Daily.60 He finished second in voting for the starting shortstop for the East in the East-West Game, losing to Dick Lundy 5,515 to 4,840. “Both shortstops have been playing a whale of a game,” wrote the Courier, “and the letters coming in from the fans indicated that Lundy’s ability to hit harder than ‘Steve,’ although no more consistently, gave the Newark manager a margin.”61 The Stars defeated the Chicago American Giants four games to three (with one tie) to win the NNL2 championship, their only title. Stephens called Bolden the greatest all-time manager in the Negro Leagues. “Ed knew all the answers on how to get the best out of a winning combination,” Stephens said.62

On January 7, 1935, Stephens wed Vivian Segrow, the daughter of Andrew and Ida (Carroll) Segrow. The Segrows were residents of New Orleans, where Andrew worked as a ship steward. 

Jake spent 1935 with the Stars, batting .242 in 40 games. He was voted the top shortstop (14,028) for the East in the East-West all-star game on August 11 at Comiskey Park in Chicago before a crowd of 25,000.63 He singled off Ray Brown to lead off the game, moved to second on a passed ball, reached third on an error, and scored on Dihigo’s single. The West won a thriller, 11-8, on a walk-off home run by Mule Suttles. Stephens had some fun in the Windy City that night and went back to his hotel at 2:00 A.M. “half juiced up,” he said. He bothered his often-irritable roommate, Jud Wilson, who grabbed little Jake and held him by one leg out the window, 16 stories up. Stephens had little memory of the event the next morning. The two were lifelong friends despite the very odd story. “A very sincere man,” Stephens said of Wilson. “But when he put that uniform on, he played for keeps. He was a little like me, he hated umpires.”64

Stephens left the Stars to play for the New York Black Yankees in his final seasons of 1936-37. The Black Yankees were loaded with veteran players, most of them north of 30 years old, including Jake, who was 36 in 1936. The well-traveled Walter Cannady (34) manned second base and with Stephens “loom[ed] as the best double-play combination in the league,” according to the Courier.65 Stephens was called the “sparkplug” of the club by the New York Age. The team finished 22-16-1 in the NNL2, second to the Crawfords. Stephens batted .212 in 31 games but had not lost his argumentative nature. In a game against the New York Cubans, he “tried to get (Neck) Stanley’s goat,” wrote the Age, “by accusing Stanley of cutting the ball. Umpire (Mo) Harris took his arguments seriously and then Stevens began helping his argument out by cutting a few balls himself. Every time he asked to see a ball, he would dig his long fingernails into the ball and cut the cover himself.”66

By the spring of 1937, Stephens was not “in condition to play regularly,” wrote the Brooklyn Times-Union. “His job is coaching now.”67 He batted a strong .284 in 24 games for the sub-500 team but was hampered by a twisted ankle. He and several other players were fined by Greenlee for unruly conduct against umpires. “If patrons want to see fist-fights,” the commissioner stated, “they’ll go to prize fights. But I believe patrons of the Negro League want to see baseball.”68

In 1943 Stephens was asked by the Pittsburgh Courier for his all-time Negro League all-star team. Many of them were his former teammates: Mackey (C), Wilson (1B), Warfield (2B), Judy Johnson (3B), Vic Harris (LF), Charleston (CF), Rap Dixon (RF), and pitchers Willie Foster, Nip Winters, and Bill Holland. The other two players were Dobie Moore (SS) and Rats Henderson (P). Notably absent, even from Stephens’ list of his second team, was Satchel Paige, who received only an honorable mention. One writer recalled Stephens once saying Paige was “the most overrated player ever God put breath into.”69

Stephens finished his career as a .236 hitter. He often batted leadoff, however, so one has to wonder about his accredited .307 on-base-percentage. Stephens found creative ways to get on base. “Our uniform shirts were puffy,” he said, “and when I would go to the plate, I would pull part of the shirt from under the back of my belt, and it would stick out slightly. The pitchers worked me closely and I pulled back to avoid being hit. I twisted my body so the ball would hit the shirt. I got free rides to first.”70

“I knew Father Time was catching up with me,” he recalled in 1979. “I knew I was washed up. Nobody has to tell you that. When you can’t do the things you used to do, it’s time to quit. So I folded up my tent and headed back to York.” The exhausting travel had much to do with it. “We would play seven games over a weekend,” he remembered, “say a twi-night in Pittsburgh on Friday, then an afternoon game in Baltimore, a twi-nighter there on Saturday, and a doubleheader in New York on Sunday. It was just too much, and we went everywhere by bus.”71

Stephens opened a café in York upon retiring but sold it after a couple of years. At the time of the 1940 census, Jake and Vivian (still spelled “Stevens”) were renting a house for $25 a week at 410 East King Street in York. Jake worked at the Department of Revenue and made $1,600 in 1939. He developed a messenger service that he ran for 12 years until it “got so big I couldn’t handle it anymore,” he said. It is laughable, considering the misspellings of his last name over the years, that the enumerator collecting data for the 1950 census wrote “Stevens” and crossed it out and wrote “Stephens.” Someone finally got it right. Stephens worked as an “analyzer” for the State of Pennsylvania in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He officially retired at age 67, then took a part-time job as a deputy sheriff at the county courthouse and also worked as a notary public.72

Stephens was active in local and state politics. He served as the county chairman of the Republican Bureau of Negro Affairs and was secretary for the Republican Negro State Council. In 1939 Stephens spoke out against communism and Nazism. In 1944 he conducted a survey of African American soldiers in Pennsylvania and found their strong support for the Thomas Dewey-John Bricker Republican ticket, which was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth term as president. In 1947 Stephens considered a run for mayor of York but later withdrew.73 In 1952 he was outspoken against the Democrats selecting Alabama Senator John Sparkman as Adlai Stevenson’s running mate. Stephens called Sparkman, known for his pro-segregationist and anti-civil rights policies, “an insult to the Negroes of this country. A man so antagonistic to colored people should not be placed in such a high position of responsibility.”74 Stephens supported the eventual winning Republican ticket of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.

Stephens was inducted into the York Sports Hall of Fame in 1977. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on York Night when the Orioles faced the Royals on August 16, 1979.75

Jake Stephens died on February 5, 1981, just shy of his 81st birthday. He was buried at Mount Zion Cemetery. He and Vivian had divorced in 1963, and he had remarried a White woman named Grace who bore him his only son in his late 60s, Paul E. Stephens Jr. Jake and Grace also were divorced a year before Jake’s death.76

In 2017 SABR members in Pennsylvania sparked a grass-roots fundraising campaign for a new plaque to recognize Stephens, whose gravestone had no such recognition. “The ‘Wizard of York,’” the inscription, written by Negro Leagues historian Larry Lester reads, “was black baseball’s greatest fielding shortstop. Outstanding on the basepaths and considered an excellent bunter.” “A lot of guys compare him to Ozzie Smith,” Ted Knorr said of baseball’s other “wizard.” “I compare him to Mark Belanger of the Orioles. Belanger was on five pennant-winning clubs and won many Gold Gloves. Jake Stephens was on four or five championship teams in the Negro Leagues, and he’d have as many Gold Gloves as Belanger if they had the award.”77


Photo credit

Courtesy of Gary Ashwill.



Special thanks to Ted Knorr and Ike Rollins for assistance in writing this biography. In addition to the sources in the Notes, the author was assisted by the following:



“John S. Stephens,” York (Pennsylvania Daily Record, March 4, 1991: 10.


“Sports Hall of Fame Names Three,” York Daily Record, January 13, 1977: 15.

York County Historical Society



1 John B. Holway, “Country Jake: Paul ‘Jake’ Stephens,” in Black Diamonds: Life in the Negro Leagues from the Men Who Lived It” (New York: Stadium Books, 1991), 1.

2 Cited in Holway, Black Diamonds, 1.

3 Chester L. Washington, “Ches’ Sez: Adding Color to Baseball,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 7, 1936: 15.

4 “Paul Stevens – York Shortstop Was Ranked with the Best,” York Dispatch, February 12, 1963: 16.

5 “Yancey to Play With Darby, Say,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 21, 1931: 15; “Charl’ston Johnson, Stevens Sign,” Pittsburgh Courier, February 14, 1931: 14; W. Rollo Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, February 15, 1930: 15.

6 “Homestead Grays Promise Real Battle Against Works,” Altoona Mirror, August 15, 1930: 19.

7 Holway, Black Diamonds, 1.

8 Alternate spellings are Baer and Bair.

9 June Lloyd, “The Basket Makers of York’s Bullfrog Alley,” York Daily Record, July 8, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2022. ydr.com/story/opinion/2019/07/08/basket-makers-yorks-bullfrog-alley/1674955001; June Lloyd, “York Had Its Own Unique Gypsy Community,” York Daily Record, September 9, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2022. ydr.com/story/opinion/2019/09/09/york-had-its-own-unique-gypsy-community/2264973001; Lori Snyder, “Baseball Historians Pull Back Curtain on Wizard of York.” Fox43. Retrieved May 25, 2022. fox43.com/article/news/local/contests/baseball-historians-pull-back-curtain-on-wizard-of-york/521-7af2a238-15e2-43ae-8851-0f0324dc60fc.

10 Holway, Black Diamonds, 4.

11 Holway, Black Diamonds, 4.

12 “Died,” York Gazette, April 26, 1904: 1; “Deaths and Burials,” York Dispatch, August 11, 1906: 7; “Negro Killed by Train,” York Dispatch, August 17, 1917: 2; “Knocked Down by Horse,” York Dispatch, May 13, 1918: 6.

13 Dave Gulden, “‘Country Jake’ Stephens,” York Sunday News, February 7, 1999: C1; The Twelfth Ward was the section of York where Stephens lived (667 Edison Street), based on the 1910 census; “Twelfth Ward Suffer at Wrightsville,” York Gazette, June 17, 1918: 6; “Colored Giants Lose to 12th Ward,” York Daily Record, September 9, 1918: 7.

14 “Form City League for Twilight Ball,” York Daily Record, June 18, 1918: 7; “Official Averages of Twilight League,” York Daily Record, October 31, 1919: 7; “Colored Athletics Made a Fine Record,” York Daily Record, September 29, 1919: 7.

15 “Fast Colored Ball Club Organized,” York Daily Record, April 23, 1920: 9; “Twilight League Starts Play Tonight,” York Daily Record, May 24, 1920: 3; “Dope for Twilight League Fandom,” York Daily Record, June 18, 1920: 10; “Stevens May Join Hilldale,” York Daily Record, April 19, 1921: 7.

16 Paul Stevens [sic], “Did Success Ever Go to Your Head? ‘It Once Went to Mine,’ Says Stevens,” Philadelphia Tribune, January 30, 1926.

17 “’It Took a Glaring Error to Knock the Conceit Out of Me,’ Says Paul Stevens,” Philadelphia Tribune, February 6, 1926.

18 “Opening Game at Hilldale Base Ball Park, Saturday, April 30,” Philadelphia Tribune, April 23, 1921: 7.

19 Michael Haupert, “Hilldale (Daisies) Club Team Ownership History,” SABR Team Ownership History Project. Retrieved May 15, 2022. sabr.org/bioproj/topic/hilldale-daisies-team-ownership-history.

20 “Paul Stevens – York Shortstop, Was Ranked with the Best,” =

21 Haupert; Neil Lanctot, Fair Dealing & Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and the Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1932 (Syracuse: University of Syracuse Press, 2007), 58, 84-87, 127.

22 “Hilldale Bows to ABC in Thirteenth,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 1921: 21.

23 From Baseball-reference.com and Seamheads.com respectively. Lanctot writes that Hilldale won 75 percent of its games against White teams (68-23-2) and had a 37-18-1 record against Black teams for a total record of 105-41-3. See Lanctot, Fair Dealing & Clean Playing, 63, 232.

24 “Hilldale Continues to Win as Biggest Season of Baseball Slowly Ends,” Philadelphia Tribune, November 5, 1921: 7.

25 “Hilldale’s Injured List,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 20, 1921: 7.

26 Haupert; Lanctot, 91-92, 232.

27 “Hilldale Club Meets Allentown Pros Today,” Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call, July 9, 1922: 13.

28 Lanctot, 94.

29 “York to Have Fast Colored Ball Team,” York Daily Record, March 5, 1923: 7.

30 “John Henry Lloyd Deposed as Captain of Hilldale Team,” New York Age, September 29, 1923: 6.

31 Holway, Black Diamonds, 1.

32 Lanctot (p. 102) suggests the 32-17 record, which is used by the Baseball Hall of Fame. See Cassidy Lent, “The Hilldale ECL Champions,” baseballhall.org/discover/short-stops/hilldale-giants, retrieved June 1, 2022; Lanctot, 104.

33 John Holway, Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, Revised edition. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1992), 76.

34 “Paul Stevens Back with Hilldale Club,” York Daily Record, July 25, 1924: 8; W. Rollo Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 9, 1924: 7; Lanctot, 109.

35 “Lincoln Giants Humbled by Hilldale Lads, 9 to 2,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 28, 1927: 17.

36 “Hilldale Beaten, But Comes Back,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 15, 1924: 18; Larry Lester, Baseball’s First Colored World Series (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2006), 106, 153-154; Lanctot, 109-110.

37 Lanctot, 140-141.

38 Lanctot, 142, 146.

39 “‘Nip’ Zips ’Em, Hilldale Is Ahead,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 4, 1927: 16.

40 “Macks Coming Here,” York Dispatch, March 12, 1927: 12; Gary Ashwill, “Negro Leaguers in Puerto Rico,” Agate Type blog. Retrieved May 29, 2022. agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2017/01/negro-leaguers-in-puerto-rico.html; William McNeil, The California Winter League: America’s First Integrated Professional Baseball League. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2002), 127; Rollo Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 5, 1929: 13.

41 Holway, Black Diamonds, 2.

42 Curt W. Nix, “Orioles’ ‘York Night’ Honors Jake Stephens,” York Daily Record, August 15, 1979: 1B.

43 W. Rollo Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 5, 1929: 13; W. Rollo Wilson, “Grays and Hilldale Figure in Big Trade,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 9, 1929: 13.

44 “Grays Open Series With Hilldale Foe,” Pittsburgh Press, May 17, 1929: 51; “Britt Returns to Hilldale in Trade; Second Half Schedule Released,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 6, 1929: 17; W. Rollo Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 13, 1929: 16.

45 William G. Nunn, “The 1930 Edition of the Grays,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 22, 1930: 15.

46 “Big Shakeup in Grays’ Ranks,” Pittsburgh Courier, February 22, 1930: 15.

47 “Smokey Joe Scores 27 Strikeouts,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 9, 1930: 15.

48 “Homestead Grays Win Title as Champions of the East in 10 Games With Lincolns,” New York Age, October 4, 1930: 6.

49 W. Rollo Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 20, 1930: 14.

50 “Camden Club Plays Hilldale 2 Scraps,” Camden (New Jersey) Courier-Post, September 27, 1930: 16; “Hilldale Club Braces to Win Windup Fray, 5-2,” Morning Post (Camden, New Jersey), October 13, 1930: 12.

51 “Grays ’31 Infield Problems Solved,” Pittsburgh Courier, February 14, 1931: 14; Nix, “Orioles’ ‘York Night’ Honors Jake Stephens.”

52 “Ball Player Injured,” York Dispatch, March 14, 1931: 11; “Yancey to Play With Darby, Say,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 21, 1931: 15.

53 W. Rollo Wilson, “Sports Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, November 12, 1931: 14.

54 “Grays, Detroit to Merge; League Shifts Loom,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 11, 1932: 15; “Rejuvenated Crawfords Crawfords and Grays to Clash,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 18, 1932: 15.

55 “Paul Stevens – York Shortstop,”

56 Haupert; Lanctot, 222-223.

57 “Paul Stevens – York Shortstop,”

58 “Smiling Steve,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 10, 1933: 15.

59 Holway, Voices, 83.

60 “Philadelphia Stars Face Birmingham Foe at Eagle Park Friday,” York Gazette and Daily, August 16, 1934: 10.

61 “Willie Foster, Brown, Satchell [sic] Paige, Jones Lead East-West Poll,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 25, 1934: 14.

62 Chester L. Washington, “The Scintillating Stevens Selects an All-Time All-Star Team,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 30, 1943: 17.

63 “The East,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 10, 1935: 15.

64 There are several accounts of this story. These details were taken from John Holway’s Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers. (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988), 203; Holway, Blackball Stars, 214.

65 W.R. Wilson, “National Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 22, 1936: 14.

66 William E. Clark, “Black Yanks & Cubans Split Twin Bill Before Big Crowd,” New York Age, July 11, 1936: 9.

67 Irwin N. Rosee, “Bushwicks Seek Ex-Big Leaguer to Bolster Club,” Brooklyn Times-Union, April 27, 1937: 12.

68 “Black Yanks Point to Injured Players in Explaining Slump,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 23, 1937: 17; “Greenlee Cracks Whip on Unruly Players; Charleston, Stevens, Wilson, Burnett Fined,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 19, 1937: 16.

69 W.M. Lee Smallwood, “Column Rekindles Memories of Negro League Star,” York Daily Record, August 26, 2007: B4.

70 Harry McLaughlin, “Yorker Played With Some of the Greats in Negro League,” York Dispatch, April 19, 1996: 2.

71 Nix, “Orioles’ ‘York Night’ Honors Jake Stephens,”

72 “Paul Stevens – York Shortstop”; Nix, 2B.

73 “Bureau of Negro Affairs Meeting,” York Daily Record, May 14, 1938: 7; “Franklin Republicans Hear Paul Stevens,” York Dispatch, October 26, 1939: 28; “Negro Soldiers Are Voting for Dewey,” York Dispatch, November 1, 1944: 18; “Paul E. Stephens Enters Republican Mayoral Contest,” York Dispatch, July 15, 1947: 18; “Snyder Unopposed for Renomination,” York Dispatch, July 22, 1947: 18; “John Sparkman: A Featured Biography,” United States Senate. Retrieved May 7, 2022. senate.gov/senators/FeaturedBios/Featured_Bio_SparkmanJohn.htm.

74 “Sparkman Is Target Among Negro Voters,” York Dispatch, November 1, 1952: 22.

75 “Sports Hall of Fame Names Three,” York Daily Record, January 13, 1977: 15; Smallwood, “Column Rekindles Memories”; “Local Sports Figure Dies,” York Dispatch, February 7, 1981: 30; Larry Shapiro, “KC Spoils ‘York Night,’” York Daily Record, August 17, 1979: 1B.

76 “Legal,” York Gazette and Daily, July 18, 1963:39; York Daily Record, January 31, 1980: 15.

77 Snyder, “Baseball Historians Pull Back Curtain on Wizard of York.”

Full Name

Paul Eugene Stephens


February 10, 1900 at Springettsbury Township, PA (USA)


February 5, 1981 at York, PA (USA)

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