The summer of 1934 was a scorcher in Chicago. It was one of the hottest summers in Chicago on record. But for Negro League All-Stars like Alex Radcliffe and Satchel Paige, who both grew up in Mobile, Alabama, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Luckily for them, and for the fans attending the matchup of the best black baseball had to offer that season, the temperatures cooled slightly from the record-setting 105 of July 24, or the 100 on August 8.
The date August 26, 1934, didn’t show up on any Chicago weather records. As one observer put it, “Sunday was one of those perfect baseball days. Not a cloud in the sky to mar the perfect azure-blue of the heavens.”1
We know, however, that what the weather may have lacked in heat, the Negro League All-Star Game played at Comiskey Park made up for. That is to say, it was hotly contested.
Negro League All-Star Games weren’t played like the modern midsummer classic. Yes, it was an exhibition. Yet both teams wanted nothing more than to win. And the score showed it.
A pitcher’s duel if there ever was one. The East team won 1-0 on a run that crossed the plate in the next to last inning. The teams would have been willing and able to play extra innings if the score required it.
Cool Papa Bell made sure it was unnecessary, scoring the game’s only run in the top half of the eighth inning. Bell was known throughout the Negro Leagues as an excellent baserunner.
According to Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Bell was “so fast, he’d run out of sight.”2 (Double Duty was the brother of Alex Radcliffe, who started at third base for the West team.)
Just how did Bell score? The way he often did. More specifically the way he was instructed to. In an interview at the Hall of Fame in 1996, Bell told journalists, “I was a long-ball hitter too. But they didn’t want me to hit no long balls. They wanted me to get on base.”
He was a reach-base artist extraordinaire, working counts, being a pest. But the pesky ways only got more annoying for opposing pitchers, catchers, and managers when Bell got on base. And that was most certainly the case in the eighth inning of this game.
Bell used that legendary speed to steal second on a swinging strikeout by Pittsburgh Crawfords catcher Cy Perkins. The pitcher who secured the strikeout was hometown pitcher Willie Foster of the Chicago American Giants.
As the third and final pitcher (following Ted Trent and Chet Brewer) used by West manager Dave Malarcher, Foster would take the loss in the contest. The man who drove Bell in and pinned the loss on Foster was Philadelphia Stars third baseman Jud Wilson, one of the least recognizable All-Stars in the game.
Wilson’s Philadelphia Stars would go on to win the 1934 Negro League championship, defeating the Chicago American Giants, the team’s only championship. Perhaps the way he collected the winning hit in this game was a hint of what was to come.
With Bell attracting so much attention at second base, Wilson looped a ball into a Bermuda Triangle made up of West shortstop Willie Wells, second baseman Sammy T. Hughes, and center fielder Turkey Stearnes.
There were two outs when Wilson put wood on the ball, after Pittsburgh first baseman Oscar Charleston lined out. Thus Bell was running at the crack of the bat, making his successfully crossing home plate a certainty, bordering on an afterthought.
The big news was that Wilson would play the role of hero in a game with stars like the aforementioned Wells, Charleston, Stearnes, and Josh Gibson. But it should be noted that Wilson was batting cleanup for the East. If anyone was to bring in the run, Wilson was responsible, hitting in the game’s traditional power spot in the batting order.
Though the Negro Leagues played a slightly different style of baseball than the white professional leagues, it still held to traditional lineup construction and overall roster composition. Wilson was second in vote-getting among East position players, so he was not quite as unlikely a hero as his name recognition, or lack thereof, might suggest.
Then again, it is not as if Wilson was the only hero in the East team’s victory. Credit must also be shared by the three pitchers used by East manager Dick Lundy (who doubled as the starting shortstop). Slim Jones from Philadelphia was the starter.
His day got off to an inauspicious start as he walked the leadoff hitter Wells, and then balked him to second. He quickly settled down, though, retiring Alex Radcliffe, Turkey Stearnes, and Chicago first baseman Mule Suttles.
Jones pitched two more innings, allowing just one more baserunner. He struck out four West All-Stars in his three innings.
Jones was followed by Pittsburgh Crawfords right-hander Harry “Tin Can” Kincannon. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound curveball artist was not as sharp for the East squad as his predecessor and successor. In two innings of relief, he gave up four hits. But he bridged the gap to the most dominant Negro Leagues pitcher of the era, Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
Paige received the nickname “Satchel” back home in Mobile working alongside many of his baseball teammates literally carrying satchels. As “Double Duty” Radcliffe explained in a SABR interview, Paige “was so big and tall, he could carry five satchels.”
Pitching in this contest against the best competition he could face in the Negro Leagues, Paige powered through with his blazing, heavy fastball for four shutout innings to record the win for the East squad.
According to both Bell and Double Duty Radcliffe, Paige threw his fastball as fast as anyone in the Negro Leagues. Radcliffe caught him when they were teammates with the Crawfords in 1932. He recalled a doubleheader in New York in which he caught Paige in game one, then took the mound in the second game. Both pitched shutouts.
Was Paige fast? Radcliffe said, “When I had to catch Satchel, I’d go to the store to get a wrap.”3
Paige was strong and nasty, much like his stuff. He used his fastball, curveball, changeup, and even occasional knuckleball to confuse and keep West hitters off balance. The usual starting pitcher came in as a reliever and dominated.
The lineup Paige mowed down over four innings included players of whom Radcliffe used such superlatives as “greatest ballplayer I ever saw (Wells),” and “hit some balls so far, it’s a shame (Stearnes).” It also included Double Duty’s brother Alex, whom he referred to as “a good .380 hitter,” who could hit the ball out of any ballpark.
Similarly, the East team was built on all-time hitting talent. Aside from Cool Papa Bell and Wilson, Oscar Charleston was one of the best players Double Duty ever saw as a player and manager. Josh Gibson wasn’t shabby either.
In other words, the 1934 Negro League All-Star Game featured much of the best talent the Negro Leagues ever produced. In the midst of that conglomeration of talent, the individual standouts, who did not necessarily affect the final outcome of the game, were Pittsburgh second baseman Chester Williams for the East and Chicago first baseman Mule Suttles for the West, who collected three hits apiece.
For the 25,000 fans in attendance at Comiskey Park, the second annual East-West game did not disappoint. They got every bit of their money’s worth. The East avenged an 11-7 loss in the inaugural East-West All-Star Game from the year before. This contest was played close to the vest in comparison to the prior year’s contest.
The newspaper coverage of the game was apropos of the times. The day after, August 27, the Pittsburgh Press had just a brief blurb in a column of sports items.5 The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh’s largest paper had nothing on the game in its August 27 issue.
The Pittsburgh Courier, the newspaper for African-American readers, ran two pieces on the game in its Saturday, September 1, issue. Writer William G. Nunn described the game thusly: “No diamond masterpiece was this game! No baseball classic! Those words are relegated into the limbo of forgotten things in describing the titanic struggle for supremacy…”6
“East-West All Star Game: Summaries,” cnlbr.org/Portals/0/RL/East-West%20All%20Star%20Game%20Summaries.pdf.
Mandel, Ken, MLB.com. Slim Pitcher: Jones Dominated Negro League Baseball for a Short Time. mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_negro_leagues_profile.jsp?player=jones_stuart.
Thorn, John, Black Ball, Part 2. “Our Game,” ourgame.mlblogs.com/black-ball-part-2-1dcade51cdf6.
1 William G. Nunn,“’Satch’ Stops ‘Big Bad Men’ of West Team,” Pittsburgh Courier: 15.
2 Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, interviewed by Fay Vincent, Society of American Baseball Research, July 5, 2002. oralhistory.sabr.org/interviews/radcliffe-ted-double-duty-2002/.
5 “East Beats West,” Pittsburgh Press, August 27, 1934. news.google.com/newspapers?nid=djft3U1LymYC&dat=19340827&printsec=frontpage&hl=en.