Of the more than 200 Negro League games played at Yankee Stadium in the 1930s and ’40s, one of the most memorable was a pitching duel between Satchel Paige and Stewart “Slim” Jones in September 1934 that ended not with a victory, but in a 1-1 tie. Black baseball’s fans could have been excused for thinking this was a matchup that would continue to thrill them for many seasons. But Fate – not the low-grade sort that influences bad-hop grounders and fly balls lost in the sun, but the kind that actually affects men’s lives – stepped in to ensure that this exciting face-off wouldn’t be repeated in future years.
Black major-league teams first played at Yankee Stadium in 1930. After two years of no action in the depths of the Depression, Negro League ball returned in 1934, courtesy of William A. “Gus” Greenlee, owner of the Negro National League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords and president of the Negro National League. A natural entrepreneur, Greenlee took responsibility for obtaining the Stadium for Black games when the New York Yankees were on the road.
The four-team doubleheader set up for Sunday, September 9, 1934, was a fundraiser for Harlem’s Colonel Charles Young American Legion Post. The Chicago American Giants beat the New York Black Yankees, 4-3, in the first game. Greenlee’s Crawfords, for whom Paige pitched, and the Philadelphia Stars, Jones’s team, would match up in the second game.
The most-quoted attendance estimate in the newspapers covering the doubleheader was 30,000 fans. This was far better than the numbers that same afternoon for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field (12,000) and New York Giants across the East River at the Polo Grounds (20,000). Such was the drawing power of the already-famous Paige.
His opponent, Slim Jones, a left-hander who at 6-feet-6 and 185 pounds lived up to his nickname, was at age 21 only in his third professional season. But he, like the 28-year-old Paige, already was a star.
Paige, reliably stellar (when not suffering from arm trouble), had a great season in 1934, with a 13-3 won-lost record and a 1.54 ERA. Jones, however, surpassed him – and everyone else. He logged a 20-4 record (in only 22 starts and eight relief appearances), with a 1.24 ERA. Jones’s Society for American Baseball Research biographer, Frederick C. Bush, declared that “his 1934 campaign still stands as one of the greatest seasons by any pitcher in any league and era.”1
The Crawfords and Stars were among the class of the Negro National League in 1934. Philadelphia, with a .684 won-lost percentage, won the league championship. The Crawfords had a .635 winning percentage, the second best in the league. The lineups at Yankee Stadium listed seven future members of the Hall of Fame – Paige, center fielder James “Cool Papa” Bell, first baseman (and manager) Oscar Charleston, catcher Josh Gibson, and third baseman Judy Johnson for Pittsburgh and first baseman Jud Wilson and catcher Raleigh “Biz” Mackey for Philadelphia.
But, even with all those feared bats in the lineups, this was a pitchers’ game. Slim dominated the first two-thirds of the contest before fading just a little toward the end. Satchel was in and out of jams until the late innings, but it was noted that he “always seemed to have something in reserve for the pinches.”2 Satch, in fact, got into hot water in the bottom of the first when he walked the Stars’ leadoff hitter, shortstop Jake Stephens, who immediately went to third on a hit-and-run single by third baseman Dewey Creacy, and scored one out later on Wilson’s groundout.
Meanwhile, for 6⅔ innings Jones was untouchable, with a perfect game until Charleston singled in the seventh. In the third and fourth innings, he struck out four Crawfords in a row, including Bell, Charleston, and Gibson.
Pittsburgh finally reached Jones for its sole run in the top of the eighth, aided by Jones’s mental miscue. Judy Johnson opened the inning with a double, which sportswriters implied could have been held to a single if right fielder Jake Dunn had pounced on it a little more quickly.3
The New York Daily News’s Edgar T. Rouzeau wrote that Slim then “grew nervous,” and when second baseman Chester Williams laid down an easy-to-field bunt, he automatically chose to throw him out at first, ignoring a chance to hold Johnson at second or catch him going to third. Jones then walked pinch-hitter Clarence “Spoony” Palm and gave up a single to shortstop Leroy Morney to let in Pittsburgh’s run.4
The game was tied after 8½ innings, but it was getting dark. The announced starting time for the first game was 1:30 P.M., and there had been four hours of actual baseball played, plus time between the two games. Sunset that day was at 7:17 P.M., and Black sportscaster Jocko Maxwell, who was there, reported that “the shades of night were falling fast.”5
But the game wasn’t over, and the Stars nearly won it, except for Paige again rising to the occasion. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Jud Wilson hit a sharp grounder back to the box that bounded off Satchel’s leg and toward Williams at second. Williams’s desperation throw to first was too late to nip Wilson, and it was wild and carried to the grandstand. The 38-year-old Wilson was no speedster, but he was extremely competitive, and he made it to third.
Biz Mackey was the next hitter, and Paige walked him after going to a full count. Philadelphia manager Webster McDonald then ran out a trio of left-handed pinch-hitters, including himself, to try to get the platoon advantage in the gathering dusk that must have favored a pitcher like Paige. Satchel intentionally walked the first one, Mickey Casey, to set up a force at any base. The move worked. McDonald went down on called strikes, and Ameal Brooks swung heartily at Paige’s offerings but didn’t hit any of them. Then the umpires called the game for darkness.
Brooks’s strikeout was Paige’s 12th. He walked three batters and gave up six hits. Jones struck out nine, gave up three hits, and walked one. Maxwell, in a year-end article for the Age, picked the game as his biggest sports thrill of the year. Veteran sportswriter W. Rollo Wilson of the Pittsburgh Courier wrote in 1943 that the game was his biggest thrill, period.6
Right after the game, popular music lyricist Andy Razaf, a devout baseball fan, penned a poem “To Judge Landis,” arguing that the doubleheader showed what White baseball was missing. The final stanza read:
“It’s time you and your crowd woke up
In this new and enlightened age
Oh, by the way, your ‘Schoolboy Rowe’
Should see these pitchers, Jones and Page [sic].”7
Paige and Jones had a rematch at Yankee Stadium on September 30. Again, both pitchers starred, although this time the Crawfords won, 3-1. The two hurlers had opposed each other twice in May, games that the Stars had won. They had appeared as teammates on August 26 for the East All Stars at the annual Negro Leagues East-West Game. Jones pitched three shutout innings as the East starter, and Paige got the win with four shutout frames at the end of the contest when the East scored the game’s only run in the eighth. So as the 1934 season came to an end, the chances of many more exciting Paige-Jones matchups in future seasons seemed bright.
But while Satchel pitched for decades longer and became more and more famous, 1934 was Slim Jones’s last good season. He started off well in 1935, but developed trouble with his left shoulder, as well as with Stars owner Edward Bolden, who became concerned that Jones was abusing alcohol to deal with the arm pain.8 When the season was over, Slim had compiled a subpar 4-5 won-lost record and a worse 5.88 ERA. After that his days as a Negro League starter were basically over. He hung with the Stars through 1938, but McDonald and his successor as manager, Jud Wilson, were mostly inclined to use him in relief, or as an occasional first baseman and outfielder.
In the fall of 1938, back in his hometown of Baltimore, Slim became gravely ill. He died in Bay View Hospital on November 19, at only 25 years of age. Bush, his biographer, cut through a lot of incorrect information about Jones’s death, and concluded from his research that Slim’s kidneys had failed. Jones was gone, but not forgotten by his opponent of that 1934 faceoff at Yankee Stadium. Paige told an interviewer 42 years later that Slim was one of the three best pitchers he had ever seen, along with Bob Feller and Dizzy Dean.9
Negro League player statistics were not always reliably and completely compiled at the time the games were actually played. But efforts have been made in recent years to use box scores and game stories to retroactively compile annual stats. The team won-lost records and pitching statistics cited here are from the Seamheads.com Negro Leagues Database, as of December 2021. The database is considered the most complete of the efforts to re-create Negro League statistics, but it is an ongoing project, and the numbers cited here may change in the future.
The author also relied on information from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
2 Bessye J. Bearden, “Giants, Trent Win All-Star Ball Game,” Chicago Defender, September 15, 1934: A5.
3 Edgar T. Rouzeau, “Chi Giants Top Black Yanks, 4-3; Crawfords, Stars Tie, 1-1,” New York Daily News, September 10, 1934: 171; Bearden, “Giants, Trent Win All-Star Ball Game.”
4 Rouzeau, “Chi Giants Top Black Yanks, 4-3; Crawfords, Stars Tie 1-1.”
5 Display advertisement for “The Stars of Colored Baseball in a Four (4) Team Double Header,” New York Amsterdam News, September 1, 1934: 10; “Daily Almanac,” New York Daily News, September 9, 1934: 2; Jocko Maxwell, “Sports Biggest Thrill in 1934,” New York Age, December 29, 1934: 7.
6 Maxwell, “Sports Biggest Thrill in 1934”; W. Rollo Wilson, “My Greatest Thrill!: Sportswriter Gets Biggest Thrill from 1-1 Game,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 3, 1943: 19.
7 Andy Razaf, “To Judge Landis,” New York Amsterdam News, September 15, 1934: 10.
8 Courtney Michelle Smith, Ed Bolden and Black Baseball in Philadelphia, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2017), 107.
9 Bush, “Slim Jones.”
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