Pop Lloyd

This article was written by Thomas Kern

“Some people say he was the greatest African American player ever. That may be so — I don’t know — but what seems clear is that he was the best black player of his time.” — Monte Irvin

 

The story of John Henry “Pop” Lloyd has many facets. It is a story of communities that bookended Lloyd’s life: Palatka and Jacksonville in Florida and Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is the unfolding of a career in baseball, one team, one paycheck, one season at a time, around the calendar for over 25 years. And it is a character study of a man whose legacy was later taken up by Jackie Robinson, a player that an older Pop Lloyd and his wife, Nan, watched play with the same skill, style, and grace that Lloyd himself had embodied over his career.

Born on April 25, 1884 to Mary Jane and John Lloyd in Palatka, Florida, 55 miles south of Jacksonville, John Henry Lloyd experienced the early, unstable upbringing of many, black or white, who were poor. Lloyd’s father died when he was an infant and his mother soon remarried, leaving John Henry to the care of his maternal grandmother, Maria Jenkins. Grandmother Jenkins eventually returned with John Henry to the Negro neighborhood of Hansontown in Jacksonville. She and her late husband had previously lived there with their own family before Maria relocated for a time to Palatka to be with daughter Mary Jane. A wish to return to familiar ground probably influenced the return to Jacksonville, but so did two tragedies that afflicted Palatka after John Henry’s birth: A great fire in the autumn of 1884 and a yellow fever outbreak in 1888 made Palatka a less than desirable place for raising a child.

Despite Jim Crow laws, Jacksonville’s sizeable African-American community offered an environment where poor families could find enough support within their own neighborhoods, and sufficient economic opportunity, to subsist. The stories are told that young John Henry, perhaps influenced by his grandmother’s strong work ethic, had an early history of taking on jobs to help the family, even to the point of needing to drop out of elementary school in the process.  Records show that Jacksonville’s own great fire in 1901 led to restoration and rebirth for the city, creating more jobs and greater economic prosperity than before that catastrophe. Lloyd doubtless benefited from the demand for unskilled labor and found employment in citywide efforts to rebuild the city.

Like many southern cities, Jacksonville became the spring training site of a number of major league teams. The community’s exposure to baseball led to the creation of a number of amateur and semi-pro teams which the locals could join or at least support. In 1904, the South Atlantic League placed a team in Jacksonville. It was in this environment that Lloyd grew up and was first exposed to the game of baseball.

John Henry’s first extended baseball experience came with a semi-pro team called the Jacksonville Young Receivers. Doubtless he had been playing as a youth whenever he could, but his development and exposure with the Young Receivers likely hastened his chance to play in Macon, Georgia in 1905 with a semi-pro team called the Acmes. Lloyd played catcher for the Acmes, but his experience at that position was problematic and precipitated a move to the middle infield. The story as told by Robert Peterson (Only the Ball was White), from an interview with Cary B. Peterson of the Indianapolis Freeman, goes something like this:  Like most black semi-pro teams, the Acmes were quite poor financially and unable to afford much equipment, including catching masks and protectors, for their players. In one game in particular, catching with no protection, Lloyd “took such a beating from foul balls behind the plate that both of his eyes were swollen shut, forcing him to leave the field.”1  The next day he returned to the field with a wire paper basket to cover his face. Although he continued to catch for the Acmes that summer, he decided from then on to play elsewhere in the field, starting the following year.

Wes Singletary’s The Right Time: John Henry “Pop” Lloyd and Black Baseball suggests it is not clear how Lloyd became connected with the resort teams fielded by the Royal Poinciana and the Breakers resorts in Palm Beach, Florida. Was he a waiter at the Breakers or was he playing baseball locally and was spotted by the hotel professionals?  Regardless, his exposure gained the attention of the owner of the Philadelphia-based Cuban X Giants, E.B. Lamar Jr., whose team, along with other northern black squads, was the source of off-season recruitment of players for the Flagler-built hotels to provide games to entertain hotel guests.2

At the age of 22 in 1906, John Henry entered this uncertain world consisting of a beloved game immersed in a business community where the lines separating legitimate commerce and unsavory finances were blurred. No entrepreneurial field was more unstable than the African-American sporting world. Uneven financial backing, inadequate gate revenues, and the nexus with crime, organized and not, made for a shadow world segregated from its white counterpart. Its athletes — baseball players, boxers, basketball players — suffered the most; for while they were able to develop and showcase their skills, they were precluded from testing them against all competition and being paid a fair wage.

The uncertainty of when the next paycheck would come, and Lloyd’s own upbringing in poverty forcing reliance on a patchwork of jobs lumped together, must have shaped and solidified his persistently mercenary approach to the game (“wherever the money was, that’s where I was”).3  It was not that he wasn’t committed to the teammates, owners, and fans in the cities where he played; it was that he needed to pay the rent.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia in the spring of 1906, having been recruited by Lamar the previous winter, John Henry launched a professional baseball career that would be defined by two norms: First was his movement from team to team until the year he retired in 1932 — a total of 17 changes of scenery in 27 years across 12 different teams. Although money was a predominant factor, other considerations such as opportunism, principle and fraternity factored into his decisions to shift from team to team. In virtually every setting, he excelled as a player (statistics don’t lie, however sketchy Negro League information is). From every venue came praises from players who played alongside him and often, once he became a manager, for him. Interviews of contemporaries and with Lloyd himself, along with a study of the overall trajectory of his career, all point to character traits that enabled him to transition successfully from one team, one city, and one set of relationships, to another for the next 25 years. John Henry Lloyd’s character and comfort level with others bespoke a person who was accepted, trusted, and willingly followed.

The second norm that featured in nearly every year of John Henry’s baseball life was the triad into which each baseball season was divided. There was the regular season and occasional “championship series,” if they could be called that, between equally talented squads from the East and Midwest; the post-season spent barnstorming around the country taking on local teams and, sometimes, major league all-star teams; and winter ball either in Florida or the Caribbean, most often Cuba. Baseball was John Henry’s life, as it was for most Blackball players. It was a job to make money and a family with which to stay connected. Although offseason jobs were an alternative, the better players like Lloyd throve on playing ball all the time. No pitch counts, no days off.

Lloyd’s first team, Lamar’s Cuban X Giants, was a storied franchise, having been the premier team in the East for a number of years. Lloyd, 5’11”, who threw right and batted left, did not play a great deal in 1906. The X Giants ended the year playing the crosstown Philadelphia Giants, led by Rube Foster, in a one-game “series” for what was dubbed the Eastern Championship. The Giants beat the X Giants 4-1.

After the regular season came to a close, the Cuban X Giants played an exhibition game with the Philadelphia Athletics, winners of the American League pennant in 1905. The box score shows Lloyd leading off and getting four hits in five at-bats in a losing cause. This would be the first of many games that Lloyd’s teams, whether Cuban or Negro, would play against major league sides and the only true measure, in many peoples’ eyes, of the prowess of Negro-league players like Lloyd.

The strong run of the Cuban X Giants over the prior ten years was upended that offseason by 27-year old star Rube Foster’s move from the Philadelphia Giants to Frank Leland’s Chicago Giants. In the process, Foster poached players from a number of teams including the Cuban X Giants. The X Giants collapsed and Lloyd moved crosstown for the 1907 season to the Philadelphia Giants managed by Sol White. It was White who taught Lloyd the shortstop position, sending him on his way to becoming the foremost shortstop of his era.

In his first years as a player, Lloyd forged relationships with two icons of early Negro-League baseball: Rube Foster and Sol White. One must assume that these relationships shaped not just Lloyd’s mastering the position of shortstop thanks to White, but also his hitting skills, tactical sense of the game, and a broader appreciation for the sport and its nexus with the African-American and business communities.  

It was in the winter of 1906-1907 that Lloyd made his first trip to Cuba along with players from the Philadelphia Giants, Leland Chicago Giants, and Brooklyn Royal Giants. Afterwards, the 1907 season marked the first of three straight years Lloyd played for White’s Philadelphia Giants. Records for this period are sparse, but it is known that Lloyd played in the infield alongside second basemen Charlie Grant, first baseman (formerly shortstop) Sol White, and third baseman Bill Francis.

In 1908 the Giants’ schedule comprised games with its rivals (Brooklyn Royal Giants and Cuban Stars) and a host of semi-pro teams.   It traveled to Chicago to face Foster’s Lelands and split the six games they played. The story goes that Foster, perhaps afraid of losing the series, refused to play a deciding game because of his concerns about the quality of umpiring. Lloyd batted .500 in the series, getting ten hits in twenty at bats (for which John Holway awarded Lloyd the mythical Rube Foster MVP award for the series)4  The Giants then played the Philadelphia Athletics in the autumn of 1908, losing a one-game exhibition 5-2 with Lloyd getting two hits in the loss.

The 1909 season was by all accounts Lloyd’s breakout year as a hitter. He batted .439 against all comers and was equally lauded for his defensive skill.5  The Giants played well against the usual array of eastern competitors and lesser teams, and once again traveled west, this time to Detroit to play and defeat the Lelands 2-1.

The end of 1909 was punctuated by Lloyd’s travel to Cuba with several of his teammates to play in the winter baseball season for the Havana Reds. As was often the case, winter ball in Cuba made for a good offseason barnstorming swing against local Cuban teams, mostly intact major league teams, or an all-star assemblage from a number of stateside clubs. To term the Cuban teams “local” competition was not always accurate; often they were made up of their own array of all-star talent, infused with Negro players from stateside. In the winter of 1909, the Havana Reds took on the Detroit Tigers, American League pennant winners that year.  The Tigers were without Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford but were formidable nonetheless. This extended competition against a strong American League opponent yielded four wins in six games for the Havana Reds. Lloyd had five hits in two dozen at-bats for an average of .208, but the experience for the 25-year old must have been priceless. After the Tigers came a pick-up squad of major leaguers with both sides winning two games each.

In 1910, Rube Foster’s Chicago Leland Giants signed John Henry Lloyd and several others from eastern teams to come to the Midwest. While the team still sported the name “Leland,” there had been a falling out between Foster, the manager and star player, and Frank Leland, the original owner and president of the team. They went their separate ways and Leland formed a new club, called simply the Chicago Giants. But for some reason Foster was permitted to retain the name “Leland” for a year before he changed the team name to the Chicago American Giants in in 1911. Regardless, the Lelands’ 1910 performance bore witness to Foster’s acumen for finding and managing talent. The team achieved one of the best single seasons of any Blackball team; according to assembled records, with the likes of Foster, Lloyd (who batted .371), Bruce Petway, and Pete Hill, the Lelands won 123 and lost only six for the entire year.

That winter marked the return to Cuba of the Detroit Tigers, this time third-place finishers in the American League. Crawford and Cobb opted to join the club on its tour and both hit well, Cobb at .368 in five games he played, Crawford at .360 in those he appeared in. Lloyd batted .500 and was said to have performed superlatively at shortstop, resisting multiple attempts by Tiger runners to take him out at second when he covered that base. The Tigers won the series seven games to four with one tie. The Philadelphia A’s followed the Tigers to Cuba, and in a ten-game series the Cuban teams (the Reds and the Blues) won six games.   The Indianapolis Freeman acknowledged John Henry Lloyd’s role in these games, citing that his “work at the bat and in the field defeated Detroit’s American League club, champions of the American League, and an all-star National League club.”6

One might have thought that Lloyd would have happily remained in Chicago in 1911, but Sol White offered him the role of captain with the New York Lincoln Giants, and John Henry accepted. Well into the season, the New York Age noted that “Sol White…is no longer managing the Lincoln Giants. He has been succeeded by Lloyd, the heavy hitting shortstop who is also acting as captain…The selection of Lloyd as manager is said to have been a popular one. He is one of the most brilliant players on the diamond today and is well liked by players and fans.”7  This was Lloyd’s first stint as manager and he would remain at the Lincoln Giants for three years in that role. In fact, except for his time at the Chicago American Giants later that decade, where Rube Foster was the fixture as manager, Lloyd would manage all his remaining teams except for his last, abbreviated, year in the game.

The 1911 Lincoln Giants were well stocked with talent — Lloyd, Bill Buckner, Pete Booker, Judy Gans, Louis Santop, and George Wright all hit over .333 and Dick Redding pitched superlatively. The year was marked by rivalry games with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the Philadelphia Giants, the Cuban Stars, and out west the St. Louis Giants and Chicago American Giants. In between was the endless parade of games against semi-pro teams to fill out the schedule, pay the bills, and often, pad the win totals. The year culminated with a depleted Lincolns team playing one game against a major league all-star team with the likes of Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner. Johnson pitched and won a 5-3 game, but the highlight was seeing Wagner and Lloyd — the two best shortstops of their era-- on the same field.

Fellow Negro Leaguer and future Hall of Famer Judy Johnson told the story of Connie Mack recounting to him that Lloyd and Honus Wagner were on par as shortstops. “He said the two best shortstops he had ever seen were Honus Wagner and John Henry Lloyd. He said you could put them in a bag and shake them up and either one you’d pull out, you wouldn’t go wrong.”8  Aware of the comparison being made, Honus Wagner said, “I am honored to have John Lloyd called the black Wagner. It is a privilege to be compared to him.”9

John Henry Lloyd’s first year as a manager was a rough one, and at the end of the season he initially decided to resign as manager and commit only to playing, either with the Lincolns or elsewhere. He then journeyed south, as was now his custom, and played for the Havana Reds.

Despite his earlier avowed intention, Lloyd came back as player-captain and manager of the New York Lincoln Giants in 1912 and led it through another season, besting its competition more often than not. And once again the end of the year offered up games for the Lincolns against major-league all-stars, one led by Larry Doyle from the New York Giants, National League pennant winners, and one against another team captained by Hal Chase. The Lincolns defeated both by 6-0 scores with Smokey Joe Williams pitching both games for Lloyd’s team.

The Lincolns were again an exemplar team in 1913, and John Henry hit an outstanding .379. The highlight of the season was an extended series against the Chicago American Giants. Newspaper accounts show that the two teams played 15 games against each other. Most were highly contested and at times contentious, what with the sometimes mysterious movement of players among teams to replace injured players or gain a tactical advantage. At the end of the season the Lincolns proved their mettle in several games against major league all-stars and one against the Philadelphia Phillies, who had finished second in the National League that year. The Lincolns won all but one of the games.

The year 1914 found Lloyd back with Foster’s Chicago American Giants, the change in scenery driven by the blatant financial double-dealing of the McMahon brothers, owners of the New York Lincoln Giants. Most of the Negro team owners had multiple financial interests and, depending on how their various enterprises were doing, would unhesitatingly keep the proceeds from the gate, filling their own pockets rather than paying their players. As John Holway told it, “According to pitcher Doc Sykes, Lincoln owner Jess McMahon drank up the gate receipts. Lloyd was so mad he stomped off the team and back into the happy arms of his old boss, Foster.”10

The players knew they could assert some control by their own movement from team to team, either as individuals or in concert, to field formidable sides and earn commensurate wages. Gans and Francis joined Lloyd (hitting .323) in Chicago and in a novel scenario, the team traveled to the west coast for games before the beginning of the season. The trip boded well for the American Giants; in an end-of-season series between the two best teams in the east and west they swept the Brooklyn Royal Giants to retain bragging rights as 1914’s Negro champions.

Lloyd was on the move again in 1915.With assurances of better pay, he rejoined the McMahon brothers with their new team, the New York Lincoln Stars, as player-manager in charge. Including the likes of Judy Gans, Louis Santop, and Dick Redding, the team was strong. The Stars traveled west to play a series of games that included several against Foster’s Chicago American Giants, Lloyd’s former team. The Stars won more than they lost with Lloyd hitting a torrid .354. But the Stars returned east in August only to witness Lloyd and Gans quit the team for lack of getting paid and return to their former squad for the rest of the year. Lloyd’s combined play for the two teams, both at bat and in the field, garnered him the first of four of John Holway’s mythical season MVP awards (the Fleet Walker Award).

The 2016 season would be John Henry Lloyd’s eleventh year playing pro ball. In the ever-fluid marketplace for ball players to fill out the more preeminent Negro teams of the day, he was now highly sought after as a hitter and fielder as well as a manager. Now 32, he was nearly always on the move for the next decade:  from 1916 to 1925 he would play for six different teams and make seven moves in that ten-year period.

Lloyd played the next two seasons (1916 and 1917) with the Chicago American Giants who were still managed by Foster. They were clearly the best team in Negro baseball. But with no formal league structure surfacing until 1920, teams like the American Giants had to prove their superiority by racking up wins against any and all competition. And that they did. End-of-season “championship” series were played both of those years; the ABCs defeated the Giants four games to one in 1916, but the American Giants bested the Lincoln Giants four games to three in 1917 with Lloyd hitting .359 in the seven games. At the age of 33, Lloyd’s hitting now gained much of the press’s attention, but after one series against the other Chicago Giants (the Lelands), the Chicago Defender’s sportswriter wrote, “Lloyd is still without peer at shortstop…”11 

After the 1916 season, for which Lloyd won his second Fleet Walker award, neither he nor any of his fellow Negro leaguers played in Cuba. According to Singletary, one of the teams in the Cuban league (Almendares) objected to Havana’s use of Africa-American ball players. “Almendares, which had narrowly lost the 1908-1909 championship to Havana, demanded that the league ban foreign players.” Lloyd and the others traveled to Florida instead to play at the Palm Beach resorts even though the ban was later lifted.12

In the winter of 1917-1918, rather than continue to barnstorm for the Chicago American Giants, “Lloyd joined the working force at the Army Quartermasters depot in Chicago, Illinois.”13   A  story has it that his leaving the squad upset Rube Foster, who found a replacement for him, Bobby Williams. That in turn may or may not have led to Lloyd’s joining the Brooklyn Royal Giants in the spring of 1918 as player and then manager (some records show that Frank Earle managed the team for at least a portion of the season). Lloyd played first purportedly due to the presence of a younger, more agile middle infielder, Joe Hewitt. The Royal Giants were owned by Nat Strong, a white businessman whose multifaceted business interests paid him well financially but not necessarily his players. The autumn included games against a major league squad led by Rube Marquard.

Lloyd began the 1919 season with Brooklyn, but jumped quickly to the Bacharach Royals to manage and play shortstop again, hitting a combined .372. The team was augmented by Dick Redding and rostered by a number of players recruited from Jacksonville by sports organizers in Atlantic City (the name Bacharach came from Atlantic City’s mayor at the time). At the end of the season, the second place Bacharachs played games against the Hilldale Daisies, Chicago American Giants, and a team of major league all-stars led by Carl Mays.

The year 1920 saw Lloyd back with the Brooklyn Royal Giants while his former team, the Bacharachs, replaced Lloyd at short with Dick Lundy. Ted Hooks in the Age claimed, “only one thing keeps Lundy from being rated over Lloyd now and that is his youth.”14   The ‘age’ thing was becoming a storyline on Lloyd; at 36, he was now getting called “Pop.”  In the first year of the formally created Eastern League, Lloyd would bat .333, (winning his third league MVP thanks to Holway), and lead his team to the championship series, losing to Hilldale two games to none with two ties.

The formation of leagues shaped the playing field for Negro teams in the 1920s. Under Rube Foster’s influence, the Negro National League first saw action in 1920. In 1921 Foster convinced Lloyd to become player-manager for the team in Columbus — the Buckeyes. The team, however, was not very good and although Pop batted .348 in his time there, the league owners disbanded the team and Lloyd moved back to Bacharach for the 1922 season.

That year saw two separate versions of the Bacharach Giants, with owner John Connors setting up a team in New York that had Lloyd replacing Dick Redding as manager so that Redding- could concentrate on pitching. The season was marked by the famous 20-inning, 1-0 game (Bacharach’s Harold Treadwell pitched all 20 innings) that the Chicago American Giants won to take an August five-game series three games to two.

In 1923 Ed Bolden formed the Eastern Colored League and as owner of the Hilldale Daisies, lured a number of players to the team including Lloyd as player-manager.  It was emblematic of this stage in Lloyd’s career that even though he could still hit, he was now valued more as a manager than a player. According to Bill Yancey, “I was just a kid and he was the great Lloyd I had heard so much about, and he’s the one who taught me to play shortstop.”15

Despite leading Hilldale to the Eastern Colored League championship and batting .349, Lloyd was suspended by owner Bolden over a disagreement the two had about whether to raise Clint Thomas’s salary. The Pittsburgh Courier confirmed soon after that “the ten-day suspension to Manager John Henry Lloyd of Hilldale has been extended to include the balance of the season and forever, according to a statement made to the writer by the veteran star.”16  

Lloyd moved on to play winter ball in Cuba and then came back the next season (1924) in Atlantic City for Bacharach. Once again he was manager, but with Dick Lundy a fixture at shortstop, Lloyd moved to second base. Along with Chance Cummings at first and Ambrose Reid at third, the Bacharach Giants had a stellar infield, but a mediocre year, finishing in fifth place in the league. Lloyd’s hitting was still sharp and records indicate he batted .357. Most impressive was his 11 straight hits accomplished from June 29th to July 4th.17

Lloyd remained with Bacharach in 1925 as the team continued to play in the Eastern Colored League. Despite its attempt to formalize its schedule and improve its umpiring, the league suffered financially and its weaker teams held it back.  Bacharach finished in fourth place with Lloyd batting .331 at the age of 41. Then his perennial trip to Cuba saw him hit .371 in 126 at- bats.

The years 1926-1930 were defined by Pop Lloyd’s tenure as player-manager of New York’s Lincoln Giants. He moved to the Giants from Bacharach where he had established roots that would take him back to Atlantic City after his retirement from the game.   The move to the Giants was precipitated by Lincoln Giants owner Jim Keenan’s overhaul of a previously lackluster team. The rebuild included the removal of its manager Judy Gans to open the door for Lloyd’s proven leadership skills. The New York Age noted, “Lloyd is to be given complete control of the team for at least two years.”18    The acquisition of some proven talent along with a youth movement created a setting in which a manager like Lloyd (who while in his early 40s could still hit) could shine. However, Lloyd’s move to the Lincoln Giants was not without controversy. As written in the New York Age, “his [Lloyd’s] contract expired with the Bacharachs on October 15th last. The Bacharachs are alleged to have broken this contract during the past season and although owner Daniels sought to have Lloyd remain with the Atlantic City team until officially released, the Commissioners of the Eastern League decided he was a free agent in view of his contract having been voided.”19    

According to W.E. Clark of the Age, “The Lincolns now have a wealth of young material who, under the guidance of an experienced leader and player such as Lloyd might develop into the championship combination that New York fans have dreamed of.”20 

Clark’s prediction of the Lincoln Giants’ greatness would not come to pass. After a lackluster 1926 season when the Giants came in fifth in the Eastern League, 1927 saw Keenan remove his team from a struggling Eastern League in mid-season and play a freelance schedule. Despite an age of 42, Lloyd batted .350. He was still a draw around the league, “Local fandom has already become ‘het up’ over the series between the Grays and the Lincoln Giants, which looms as the biggest in the city this year. The New Yorkers are bringing to the city, some of greatest stars in the country. Notable among these is the veteran John Henry Lloyd, who has been ranked as the greatest colored shortstop of all times. Lloyd, in the heyday of his career, resembled the one and only Honus Wagner in action.”   

Lloyd did even better in 1928 for the Lincoln Giants, when he moved to first base and hit .383 (winning Holway’s mythical Fleet Walker league MVP award for the fourth time) in a season marked by the collapse of the Eastern League. The League’s collapse might have been averted had it listened to the wisdom of Lloyd who the year before had said, “a new Eastern League, properly supervised and properly controlled, with a high commissioner, not directly interested in any club, would be the proper move for next year [1928].”21   

The 1929 season, with Lloyd turning 45 that April, allowed him to reflect on “a bigger and better season this year.”22   In fact, the team would have its best season under Lloyd, with a league leading 38-18 record with Lloyd hitting .369.

In 1930, the Giants now played in the newly formed American League of Negro Baseball Clubs (which replaced the Eastern League after its collapse in 1928) alongside the Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Cuban Stars, Homestead Grays, and Hilldale Daisies. However, the American League was short-lived with an insufficient number of teams opting to remain affiliated, and so the Giants again played mostly an independent schedule.

With support from the New York Yankees front office, the Lincoln Giants and Baltimore Black Sox organized a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on July 5th to benefit the local Porters Union. “This will not only be the first time any colored teams have ever played at Yankee Stadium but it is also expected to attract the biggest crowd that ever saw two colored teams clash.”23   The teams split the doubleheader with the Giants winning the first game 13-4 and losing the second 5-3. From September 14th, Yankee Stadium became the home ground for the Lincolns. Lloyd had a strong season batting .434 and the year culminated with a pick-up Grays-Giants championship series that Homestead won six games to four. “Lloyd, the veteran manager of the Lincoln Giants, went down fighting. Old timers who have watched him play for years, say they never saw him play better than in this series.”  In addition to batting .375 in the ten-game series, “He was also a tower of strength for his team on the defensive.”24 

At the end of the 1930 season, Lloyd was informed that he would not be the Lincolns manager in 1931. On or about the time he traveled to Cuba for winter games on the island, he stepped down from the team completely, proud of his performance and resentful of the accusation that the team had not played its best.

It was that December that news came to Lloyd in Cuba that Rube Foster had passed away at the age of 52. Lloyd himself, at the age of 46, must have pondered Foster’s legacy to Black baseball and to him personally, mindful that his own career was nearing an end. The spring of 1931 witnessed the retirement of Jim Keenan, the owner of the Lincoln club. A protégé, Marty Forkins, whose career was primarily as a business entertainment entrepreneur, took over the team. With backing from New York Yankees’ business manager Ed Barrow, Forkins repositioned it alternately as the New York All-Stars, Harlem Stars, and New York Black Yankees. Ostensible support from the Yankees notwithstanding, the team struggled and was further handicapped when Major League teams announced in mid-season that their ballparks would no longer be available to for Negro League games. Stop-gap measures to finance the team allowed it to struggle into September and end the season, but for Lloyd, the team’s woes were overshadowed by the news of his wife Lizzie’s death on September 15th in Atlantic City.

Although Lloyd would play briefly in 1932 for Bacharach (no longer in a league and just playing an independent schedule) back in his adopted home of Atlantic City, it would mark the end of his career in the Negro Leagues. That spring, he recounted to W. Rolle Wilson of the Pittsburgh Courier, “Otto Briggs (had) asked me to join his Bacharach Giants, but I told him I was too old for the game. However, he insisted and so I have been in action with his outfit a few times [records show Lloyd played four games and went 5 for 15]. I guess I can still hold my own, though and Otto must feel the same about it.”25  

After his wife’s death and his final year playing for Bacharach, Lloyd began the transition to life after baseball.  Records show he managed and played first base for a while in the 1930s for the semi-pro Johnson Stars and Farley Stars, but he refused offers to manage a Negro league team and instead became a janitor at the local post office and then later in the school district. Lloyd’s ties to baseball remained by virtue of his janitorial job at the school. He doubtless served as a coach, mentor, and advisor for many an Atlantic City youngster, whether or not he or she aspired to play baseball. According to the Atlantic City Press, “everybody called him Pop.”  Now, however, the moniker carried richer meaning than intended by players recognizing him as an old timer. Now, Lloyd was father and mentor to the youth of Atlantic City.26     

Lloyd’s legacy was underscored by the naming of Atlantic City’s municipal baseball park as Pop Lloyd Field in October 1949. At its dedication in recognition of his contribution to Atlantic City’s youth, Lloyd said, “I gave my best when I was playing ball, and today I mean to give the best that I have in expressing appreciation of the honor that has been given to me this day. I hope the young men, not only of Atlantic City but of the entire nation, will benefit from what I have tried to give the youth of America.”27

Also that day, in response to a reporter’s question regarding Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier and whether or not Lloyd wished he had lived later in the century to have been able to play in the Major Leagues, he said, “I do not consider that I was born at the wrong time. I felt it was the right time, for I had a chance to prove the ability of our race in this sport and because many of us did our very best to uphold the traditions of the game. We have given the Negro a greater opportunity now to be accepted into the major leagues with other Americans.”28

Lloyd briefly married again and then divorced, after which he married his third wife, Nan, in 1942. Their marriage would last until he died on March 19, 1964.  Nan would remain one of his fiercest advocates and would call for his induction into the Hall of Fame. Her call was successful but she would not witness his induction, passing away two years before it happened in 1977.

To say that John Henry Lloyd was “the next great black shortstop” after Grant Johnson and then handed the baton to a Dick Lundy, and then to a Willie Wells, would at best offer sketchy perspective and insight to even the most earnest of baseball fans. However, being compared to Honus Wagner and drawing from the very limited head-to-head competitions with major leaguers that post-season barnstorming allowed, affirm the truth about Lloyd: playing in the shadow leagues of the first third of the 20th Century may have hidden his talents, but it could not mask the consensus that he was, alongside Rube Foster, the best of the early Negro baseball players. Wagner and Lloyd both had hands “as big as a telephone book,” Ted Page said. “He’d come up with dirt and everything when he’d field ground balls. Honus Wagner did the same way.”29  “He looked like he was gliding over the ball,” said Judy Johnson.30  “You could hardly see his feet move,” said George Scales.31

On hitting, again according to Page, “I thought Lloyd was one of the scientific hitters. He hit the ball where it was pitched. He would hold the bat on his arm and he could just lay it out that way or over here, hit to this field or that. I never say Lloyd hit ‘skyrockets [long home runs], although he must have. But he hit line drives. He could lay that bat on his shoulder and just lean on it.”32

And then there was his perceived skill as a manager. Barely in his mid-20s, Lloyd’s being sought after by many teams was not just about his coveted middle infield play and his skill with a bat; it spoke to his leadership skills.  Surely Lloyd led by example in the field and at the plate, but “Pop” was also considered wise beyond his years, perhaps by virtue of his maturity, but also thanks to a commitment to the game, playing it the right way, all out, win or lose. Max Manning who played for Lloyd, remarked about Lloyd’s consistency and the tone he set. “Don’t jump up and down when you win or cry when you lose. Determine why you lost and then correct it.”33

According to Judy Johnson, “Lloyd was the kind of manager who would soft sell you into doing what you had to do — he made us feel that anything that had to be done, you just did it. It helped me in my career in clutch situations. John Henry was soft spoken and kind off the field as a player and a manager, but on the field, he was all business and no one got in his way. They were sorry if they tried.”34 

John Holway’s exhaustive compilation of Negro League statistics in The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History, provided him the basis as the book’s editor from which to choose a Most Valuable Player from each league, called the Fleet Walker Award.  Holway named Lloyd season MVP four times:  1915, 1916, 1920, and 1928. According to Holway, Lloyd’s “post season” play in 1908 deserved MVP status as well.35

Finally, there was his high character, to which all attested. Cum Posey said, “Lloyd is the Jekyll and Hyde of baseball — a fierce competitor on the field and as a manager against the opposition, but a gentle considerate man off the field and always kind to his own players.”36

In Holway’s Blackball Stars Napoleon Chance Cummings was quoted to have said, “Everybody who knew him liked him. He was a man practically everybody could get along with.”37

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd passed away on March 19, 1964. The headstone of Lloyd’s grave speaks volumes: “Served to uphold the dignity of the game and to advance the opportunities of African Americans in the Major Leagues. Humanitarian, Mentor and Role Model to the youth of Atlantic City.”38   It was in 1971 that a special selection committee led by Monte Irvin, Judy Johnson, and Roy Campanella was formed to remedy the absence of Negro League players in the Hall of Fame. The first nine were selected and inducted from 1971 to 1977. The nine were Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Monte Irvin, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Martin Dihigo, and Pop Lloyd.39  

Lloyd’s Hall of Fame plaque reads: “Regarded as finest shortstop to play in Negro Baseball. Scientific hitter batted over .400 several times during his 27-year career. Personified best qualities of athlete both on and off the field. Instrumental in helping open Yankee Stadium to Negro baseball in 1930. Managed more than ten seasons.”40

In Monte Irvin’s Few and Chosen: Defining Negro Leagues Chosen, Irvin recounts the story that “during a radio interview with the great broadcaster Graham McNamee, Babe Ruth was asked who he believed was the greatest player of all time. ‘You mean major leagues? Babe asked. ‘No’, said McNamee, ‘the greatest player anywhere.’  ‘In that case,’ Ruth replied, ‘I’d pick John Henry Lloyd.’”41

Whitey Gruhler, long time sportswriter for The Atlantic City Press, gets the last word.  In Only the Ball was White, Robert Peterson quotes Gruhler:

The youngsters cluster about him between sessions [at school where Lloyd was a custodian]. They call him “Pop” and love to listen while he spins baseball yarns of the past. Sometimes they refuse to break away from him and “Pop” has to pick them up bodily and carry them into their classrooms. He is their hero, this big, soft-hearted, soft-spoken, congenial man with a tired look into his eyes, but the bubbling spirit of youth in his heart.”42

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Joe DeSantis and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.

 

Notes

1 Robert Peterson, Only the Ball was White (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 75.

2 Wes Singletary, The Right Time: John Henry Lloyd and Black Baseball (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011), 13.

3 Peterson, 77. (This is an off-quoted Lloydism, its original provenance is unknown.)

4 John Holway. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History (Fern Park, Florida: Hastings House Publishers, 2001),58.

5 For consistency, all batting averages cited for Lloyd have been taken from the Negro Leagues Data Base at seamheads.com.

6 Leslie A. Heaphy, The Negro Leagues: 1869-1960 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003), 27.

7 New York Age, September 14, 1911, 6.

8 Thom Loverro, The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 20030, 180. This quote has seen various derivations; the Loverro attribution connects Johnson as the original recipient of Mack’s story.

9 Monte Irvin with Phil Pepe, Few and Chosen: Defining Negro Leagues Greatness (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2007), 56.

10  Holway, Blackball Stars, 43.

11  Defender, June 2, 1917, as quoted in Singletary, 103.

12  Singletary, 97.

13  Singletary, 111.

14  Ted Hooks, New York Age, May 22, 1920,6.

15  Lawrence Hogan, The Black Wagner (unpublished manuscript), 16., quoted in Singletary, 130.

16  W. Rollo Wilson, Suspension of Lloyd made Permanent by Darby Mogul, Pittsburgh Courier, October 6, 1923, 12.

17  Holway, Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, 189.

18  New York Age, January 2, 1926, 6.

19  New York Age, January 2, 1926, 6.

20  W.E. Clark, New York Age, August 12, 1925.

21  William G. Nunn, “Lloyd Believes That New Eastern League Would be a Success”, Pittsburgh Courier, August 20, 1927, 12

22  The Amsterdam News, March 20, 27, 1929.

23  Pittsburgh Courier, July 5, 1930, 12.

24  “Homestead Grays Win Title as Champions of the East in 10 Games with Lincolns”, New York Age, October 3, 1930, 6.

25  W. Rollo Wilson, Sports Shots, Pittsburgh Courier, May 14, 1932, 14.

26  Atlantic City Press, February 23, 1975.

27  Lawrence Hogan, ”The Mighty Gentle Giant Pop Lloyd: A Player for the Ages ” (The National Pastime Museum, November 21, 2012)

28  Peterson, 79.

29  Holway, Blackball Stars, 38.

30  Holway, 38.

31  Holway, 38.

32  Holway, 45.

33  Interview with Max Manning by Michael Everett, 1997 as quoted in Singletary, 21.

34  Paul MacFarlane, editor, Daguerreotypes of Great Stars of Baseball (St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1981), 172.

35  Holway, The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, 10, 58, 478-479.

36  Daguerreotypes,.172.

37  Holway, Blackball Stars, 36.

38  Larry Lester, “Pop Lloyd: Young at Heart” (The National Pastime Museum, February 17, 2014).

39  Holway, The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, 463-464.

40  John Henry “Pop” Lloyd Hall of Fame Plaque, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY. 1977.

41  Irvin, 56.

42  Peterson, 78.