Dobie Moore

This article was written by John Holway

This article was published in the 1982 Baseball Research Journal


“Has anybody else told you about Dobie Moore? Well, I’ll tell you something about him. That Moore was one of the best shortstops that will ever live! That fella could stand up to the plate and hit right-handed, he could hit line drives out there just as far as you want to see.” — Casey Stengel

 

Casey Stengel should know what he was talking about. He discovered Dobie Moore, along with Bullet Joe Rogan, Oscar “Heavy” Johnson, and several other black stars playing with the 25th Infantry team in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in 1919. If an untimely accident hadn’t abruptly ended Moore’s career seven years later, there are some who say he might have become the finest black shortstop of all time.

“I first saw Moore down below Albuquerque,” Casey recalled more than half a century later. “We were down near the Mexican border, and the army brought these buglers and made all the soldiers line up and march across the ball field and pick up pebbles and rocks so we could play.

“We had a big guy who pitched for St. Paul in the American Association who cheated. So before the game I went out behind home plate and I announced:

(Stentorian voice): “`Ladies and gentlemen’ but there were no ladies there — `ladies and gentlemen, we’re now going to have a young man that pitches this game today that throws that new, mysterious ball known as the Tequila Pitch! It’s taken from the tequila plant.’ And he was spitting all over the ball and everything else, you know, and cheating. So we won the game.”

No box score has ever been preserved of that historic encounter. But Casey was mightily impressed with the “Black Buffaloes,” as the Indians called the dark-skinned soldiers. When he got home to Kansas City he looked up J. L. Wilkinson, a white man who was forming a new club in the new Negro National league, and told him where he could find practically a whole ball team. Wilkinson promptly signed five of them Moore, Rogan, Johnson, Lemuel Hawkins, and Bob Fagin. The famous Kansas City Monarchs were born.

That winter, 1919-20, Moore traveled to California for the winter league season. In his first game, against Lee Meadows, who was 16-14 for the Phils that year, Dobie drilled two doubles. The first, a line drive over second, scored Rogan. The second came ahead of Jaybird Ray’s triple, as Moore’s club, the White Sox, won 6-4.

A week later Moore smacked a home run off Chicago’s Speed Martin and a single and triple off Walter “The Great” Mails, who was 7-0 with the Indians that summer.

Finally Frank Shellenback, former Chicago White Socker, held Moore to two singles in the fourth game. But his record against big league pitching that winter was 6-for-12, an even .500. “He was the best hitting shortstop I ever saw,” says outfielder George “Never” Sweatt, Moore’s teammate on the Kansas City Monarchs.

Like Roberto Clemente and Yogi Berra, Moore was a notorious bad-ball hitter. “There were no bad pitches for him,” says Monarch second baseman Newt “Colt” Allen. All the Monarchs learned to hit bad balls, Allen says, because when they barnstormed the prairie towns, the hometown umpires would call practically everything a strike. Moore used a long bat, and he’d swing overhand, bat down on the high pitches,” Allen says. “I’d let them go, but he’d knock them two blocks. And a ball below his knees and outside was just right for him. The only way to get him out was to throw the ball right down the middle. Don’t pitch outside or inside.”

Says Monarch catcher Frank Duncan, later Jackie Robinson’s first professional manager: “I’ve seen them throw a curve ball to him and break in the ground, bounce up, and he hit it all up side the fence.”

Moore was a hard out. His lifetime average in the Negro leagues was .354, with a high of .471 in 1924, when he led the league in hitting. He also tied for first in home runs, although Kansas City’s Muehlebach Park was not an easy park for right-handed sluggers. In 14 games against white big league pitching, he hit .333.

In the field, Moore could go deep in the hole, knock the ball down, and still get his man. What of Moore and Allen as a double play combination?

“Wonderful,” says Duncan. “Couldn’t ask for anything better. When you see Newt Allen and Moore, you could take Charlie Gehringer, Frankie Frisch, and any of that bunch. Brother, you’re talking about a combination!”

Allen shrugs modestly. “In the World Series against Philadelphia in 1924, we made six double plays in one game,” he says. “Two of them came in the eighth and ninth innings. The last one ended the ball game with what would have been the winning run crossing the plate.”

Moore — round-faced, chubby and cherubic — hardly looked the part of a great shortstop. But he had big hands, Allen says, as big as Honus Wagner’s; he could grab the ball out of the air barehanded, palm down.

“Dobie may not have been as agile as some of them,” Sweatt says, “but he had a rifle arm and made good plays. His thinking wasn’t too good at times. It was that liquor, see? But as far as fielding his position, and throwing and hitting, you couldn’t beat him.”

Dobie Moore — his real name was Walter — was born in Georgia, probably about 1893. He liked to brag about his home state. His favorite song, says Sweatt, was “Georgia on my Mind.” Moore was illiterate,” adds Sweatt, a school teacher in the off-season, “but, of course, most of the players were illiterate at that time. They couldn’t help that.”

In 1911 Moore was serving in the all-black 25th Infantry regiment at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, teaming with Rogan and first baseman Lemuel Hawkins on perhaps the finest service team in the country.

“He was a sensation even then,” remembers Joe Taylor, an outfielder (who years later would marry the widow of Smoky Joe Williams). “He was a great hitter, base runner, and a sensational shortstop. I don’t ever recall seeing Moore make an error. I never saw Honus Wagner play, but I don’t think Wagner could have been any better than Moore.”

Dobie was “a likeable kind of fellow,” Taylor continues. “Not much of a mixer; he kept to himself. Moore was a neat soldier and was always bucking for orderly for the commanding officer.

From Hawaii, Moore, Rogan, and Hawkins transferred to Fort Huachuca, the sun-baked former Indian post on the Mexico-Arizona border. Private Moore was assigned to the calvary, and a scorecard of July 1919 lists him as competing in an all-army track meet in the running broad jump and the 440-yard relay.

With Fagin and Heavy Johnson on the regimental baseball team, the soldiers had one of the strongest non-professional teams in the country. That’s when Casey Stengel found them and sent them on to fame as the Kansas City Monarchs.

The soldiers detoured via Los Angeles, where Moore hit so strongly against the big leaguers wintering there. In the spring of 1920 they reported to Kansas City. Moore was probably about 27 years old.

No statistics were kept that year and boxscores are incomplete, especially for the Monarchs, since neither the black nor white papers there carried accounts of the black games. SABR’s Paul Doherty and Terry Baxter have uncovered 14 games Moore appeared in during 1920. He hit a disappointing .198.

The next year, 1921, in about three times as many games, Moore raised his average to .280; again, however, many of his home games are not included. Presumably he hit better at home than on the road. If the missing games are ever found, his batting average may go up somewhat.

Dobie wasn’t popular with all the Monarchs. “Some fellows on the team didn’t care too much for him,” says utility-man Carroll “Dink” Mothell. “He was outspoken. If you were doing something he didn’t like, he’d tell you about it. If you resented it, he didn’t stop at that, he’d keep on telling you your faults. The way he talked to you, a person might resent it.”

In 1923 Dobie slugged the black pitchers for a .367 mark, though many home games are still unknown. That year the Monarchs won their first pennant, beating Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants, the defending champs.

In Cuba in the winter of 1923-24 Moore hit .381 against some of the game’s best black pitchers, as well as white big leaguers like Adolfo Luque, Fred Fitzsimmons, Jake Petty, and Jakie May. Dobie’s average against the whites was .280.

Back home in 1924 Moore erupted with a sensational year at bat. Figures compiled by SABR’s Negro Leagues committee show Moore hitting .471. He hit eight home runs in 56 games, to tie for the league lead with teammate Newt Joseph. Dobie’s army pals, Rogan and Johnson, hit .462 and .423, and the Monarchs won their second pennant in a row. This gave them the right to meet the Philadelphia Hilldales, champions of the new Eastern Colored League, in the first modern black world championship series. It was one of the most exciting series ever played, going a marathon ten games, including a tie. And Moore was in the middle of all the key action.

“I never will forget that series against Kansas City,” says Hilldale third baseman Judy Johnson. “I was getting ready to steal, and Moore just blocked me. When I went to make my slide, he had his backside right in me. I couldn’t get into the base. He blocked me off and just put his foot in my stomach. And that was the end of me. He just outsmarted me.”

“Moore was mean, and he was strong,” nods Hilldale shortstop Jake Stephens. And he had another little trick, Jake adds: He’d grab the belt of a runner rounding second. That half-stride the runner lost was often the difference between safe and out at third base or home.

In the fifth game, with the bases loaded and none out, Moore grabbed a sizzling grounder by George Johnson and nipped a run at the plate. In the ninth, however, he bobbled Joe Lewis’ grounder, setting the stage for Judy Johnson’s home run that beat Rogan and the Monarchs and gave the Hilldales a three-to-one lead in the series, plus one tie.

The next day Moore atoned for that with a nice catch of George Johnson’s foul, taking it over his shoulder with his back to the plate. Then in the eighth Moore singled to right — his third hit of the day — and rode home with the winning run on Sweatt’s triple as the Kansas City crowd went crazy.

In game seven the Monarchs were two runs behind against Hilldale Jesse “Nip” Winters, whom many call the greatest black left-hander of all time. Moore came up with Newt Joseph on base in the fourth inning and lined another single to right, sending Joseph to third. On the next pitch Moore dashed for second, drawing the catcher’s throw, while Joseph sped home on the classic double steal. Moore himself scored a moment later on Bill Drake’s single to tie the game. The Monarchs went on to win it in the 12th, and the series was all tied up.

In the eighth game Moore’s bad-hop single in the eighth inning helped load the bases for Duncan’s dramatic game-winning hit that put the Monarchs ahead at last, four games to three. Hilldale won the ninth game to tie the series up again.

The tenth and final game went down to the last of the eighth all tied 0-0, as Monarch manager Jose Mendez and Philadelphia submarine-baller Scrip Lee hurled almost perfect ball. Moore, first man up in the home eighth, smacked a 3-2 pitch to center for one base to touch off a five-run rally. Then in the ninth he raced into short left to snatch a Texas league pop-up for the final out that gave the Monarchs the first official world championship of black baseball.

Moore’s average dropped off to .318 in 1925, though he led the league in doubles. He also helped to lead the Monarchs to a play-off win over their arch-rivals, the American Giants. In the opening game he knocked in the first run with a triple and scored himself on a ground ball. In the eighth inning, with the score tied 6-6, Moore drove a two-run homer over the fence to win the game 8-6.

The Monarchs would face Hilldale again in the World Series, but just before the series opened, they received crushing news. Rogan suffered a freak accident and would be out for the series. Moore did his best to take up the slack. In the opening game he drilled three hits — a single, double, and triple — and stole a base against ex-Monarch Rube Currie, who had defected to the Hilldales. In all, he led both teams at bat in the Series with a .364 mark, though Philadelphia won in five games — all of them close.

Moore began the 1926 season with the most torrid batting of his life. By May 23 he had come to bat 42 times and cracked out 23 hits for an average of .548.

That evening in Kansas City, Moore started out for a night on the town, but it ended in disaster. He had a dispute with a woman and she shot him several times with a gun. He was rushed to a hospital, where doctors told him his leg was fractured in six places. He survived, but his playing career was over.

James Wilkenson, son of the Monarchs’ owner, shakes his head sadly. “Moore was in his prime,” he says. “Dad always said he would have been one of the great ones.” His career statistics, carried below, would support that contention.

 

Year

Team

Psu

G

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

SB

BA

1920

KC

SS

16

66

13

0

1

0

0

.198

1921

KC

SS

186

52

10

4

5

3

.280

1922

KC

SS

38

150

55

11

2

3

2

.367

1923

KC

SS

25

102

37

7

4

4

0

.363

Cuba

SS

281

100

9

6

1

1

.356

1924

KC

SS

56

221

104

17

5

8*

1

.471*

W. Series

SS

10

40

12

0

0

0

2

.300

1925

KC

SS

55

223

71

14*

7

3

7

.318

Playoff

SS

5

20

4

0

2

1

0

.200

W. Series

SS

6

22

8

1

1

0

1

.364

1926

KC

SS

42

23

7

1

0

0

.548

TOTALS

1358

479

79

33

25

17

.354

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