This is a crazy month for Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick. Februaries are always crazy for Bob. He's a busy guy all year long as he fulfills the legacy of our dear friend Buck O'Neil and goes around America and tells the story of the Negro Leagues. But February, being African-American History Month, yeah, he's barely keeping up.
Bob has told me more than once that he's glad February only has 28 days or he wouldn't make it. Leap Years about crush him.
But I was able to grab Bob on Monday to have our first Negro Leagues Baseball draft. We each drafted a sort of mini-team -- eight position players, one utility player and three pitchers. This is not unlike the makeup of some actual Negro Leagues team rosters. Teams had to be lean, players had to play every day (often two or three times every day), they had to play multiple positions and so on.
The only rule for our draft was that we were taking players based entirely on their performance in the Negro Leagues. That is to say we weren't interested in taking Henry Aaron or Willie Mays or Ernie Banks, men who did play for a short time in the Negro Leagues but who achieved their real success in the Majors.
Bob had the first pick, and I prepared with the certainty that he would take the most famous and successful Negro Leaguer of them all, pitcher Satchel Paige. He went a different way, blowing up my draft board and setting up a surprising and fun draft.
Bob: Bullet Joe Rogan, P/OF
Bullet Joe was the Shohei Ohtani of the Negro Leaguers. The Hall of Famer was both a dominant pitcher and a dominant hitter. Satchel Paige himself said of Bullet Joe, "He was the onliest pitcher I ever saw, I ever heard of in my life, was pitching and hitting cleanup." Rogan was the star of the first Black World Series in 1924 while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, winning two games as a pitcher and leading all batters with 13 hits.
Joe: Satchel Paige, P
He's by far the most famous player in the history of Negro Leagues baseball, and sometimes it seems his fame, his quotes and his legend make people miss just how good a pitcher he was. He almost exclusively threw fastballs, but he threw the ball so hard and with such pinpoint control (he would warm up by using a stick of gum as home plate) that hitters couldn't touch him for decades. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, among others, considered Ol' Satchel the greatest pitcher they ever faced.
Bob: Josh Gibson, C
Bob took Gibson to block me from having the dream battery of Paige-Gibson. It's possible that Josh Gibson was the most powerful hitter to ever swing a bat. The legends about him are fun -- including one that he hit a fly ball that did not come down -- but like with Satchel Paige they make it easy to miss that he was flesh and blood and extraordinary. He was a brilliant defensive catcher; Dizzy Dean called him one of the best he ever saw. And hitting: His power is famous but his bat control was equally impressive; he hardly ever struck out.
Joe: Oscar Charleston, OF
Buck O'Neil always said that Willie Mays was the greatest Major Leaguer he ever saw; but Oscar Charleston was the greatest baseball player he ever saw. He could do everything: Run, hit, slug, throw, play amazing defense. There's a wonderful scene in Lee Blessing's "Cobb" where Charleston -- who was often called the Black Ty Cobb -- gets to meet with Cobb in the afterlife.
Mr. Cobb: A ballplayer. Were you any good?
Charleston: Better'n you
Mr. Cobb: No one was better than me!
Charleston: To tell the truth, I was about the finest ever played. I could hit to all fields, hit with power -- run a fly ball down like it was a hundred dollar bill. Folks said it was a privilege to watch me play.
Mr. Cobb: If you're so good, why don't I remember you?
Charleston: You never would've played against me. Not back then.
Bob: Pop Lloyd, SS
He played at the same time as the legendary Honus Wagner, and many people who saw them both thought Lloyd to be Wagner's equal -- a comparison that Wagner himself, supposedly, enjoyed. Lloyd hit, he fielded, he ran. He was the player everyone on the team looked up to. Babe Ruth said Lloyd was the greatest baseball player ever.
Joe: Martin Dihigo P/All
Well, Bob got his own Shohei Ohtani, so I had to draft one, too. Martin Dihigo could do absolutely everything. They called him the Maestro. He was a hard-throwing pitcher who matched up batter for batter with Satchel Paige. He was one of the best hitters of his time, a slugger who was so admired that he hit third in the All-Star lineup. And he literally played every position on the field.
Bob: Cool Papa Bell, OF
The fastest player in the history of baseball. Cool Papa Bell was so fast that … fill in your own punchline. So fast he hit a line drive up the middle and the ball hit him as he was sliding into second. So fast he bunted down the third-base line and was at third before the ball got there. So fast he could turn out the lights and be under the covers before the room got dark. Bob got his leadoff man and one of the greatest defensive center fielders ever.
Joe: Buck Leonard, 1B
One of the great gentlemen of the Negro Leagues and one of the greatest fastball hitters ever. Leonard was often called the Black Lou Gehrig -- the "Black Player X" comparisons were a constant for Negro Leaguers -- and there was something to that. Leonard was probably a better defensive first baseman (most who saw him say he was one of the smoothest defenders) and was a great hitter, though not quite as great as Gehrig. But they were both quiet and classy men, universally admired.
Bob: Turkey Stearnes, OF
He was a great slugger; Stearnes hit more home runs in the Negro Leagues than anyone, Josh Gibson included. He was also a quirky personality. He used to carry his bats in a violin case. And Buck O'Neil said that sometimes, especially when he was in a slump, Stearnes would talk to his bats, threatening them with replacement if they didn't pick things up.
Joe: Willie Wells, SS
They called him "The Devil" or "El Diablo," for the fury he displayed while playing. Wells was one of the great stars in the generation before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier; he stopped playing in 1946, one year before Robinson's breakthrough. He could do it all. He was an extraordinary defender at short. He stole bases. He hit for enormous power at a time when shortstops rarely did. He also was one of the first -- some say the first -- to use a batting helmet.
Bob: Ray Dandridge, 3B
Here's how good Ray Dandridge was: In 1951, he played in Minneapolis with a young outfielder named Willie Mays. A few weeks into the season, the Giants brought Mays to the big leagues -- well, he was hitting .477 at the time. The fans were fine with that. Soon after, there was an ad in the paper asking the Giants to leave Ray Dandridge alone. He was a defensive marvel and a very good hitter.
Joe: Monte Irvin, OF
If things had been just a little bit different, it would have been Monte Irvin and not Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier. Instead, Irvin stayed in the Negro Leagues for four more years. Before World War II, Irvin could do everything -- he was the ultimate five-tool player. When he returned from the war, he was pretty close to that five-tool star, though he would say, "I lost a little something." By the time he made it to the New York Giants he was worn down and his knees were in bad shape -- but he was STILL good enough at 32 to hit .312/.415/.514 with 19 doubles, 11 triples, 24 homers, 12 stolen bases and a league-leading 121 RBIs. "I wish people has seen me when I REALLY could play," he said.
Bob: Leon Day, P
Another two-way player (the Negro Leagues was filled with these), Day was mostly known for his pitching. He was a small man, but he threw hard and is the all-time leader in strikeouts for the Negro National League. When he wasn't pitching, he played second base or center field and was a fantastic defender in both places. He was a good hitter with great speed.
Joe: Biz Mackey, C
I wanted to take Double Duty Radcliffe here, in part because of the great nickname (given to him by the writer Damon Runyon, who saw Radcliffe pitch one game in a doubleheader and catch the other), but Mackey was a defensive wizard who taught Roy Campanella how to catch, and he was a terrific hitter who batted .300 basically every season.
Bob: Chino Smith, OF
Bob went a little off the board for this one -- the first selection not in the Hall of Fame. He was, in the words of Negro Leagues authority James Riley, a little dynamo. He was just 5-foot-6, but Satchel Paige called him one of the two best hitters he ever faced. The few numbers available for him show Smith to be a lifetime .398 hitter; they say he used to purposely take two strikes to give pitchers false hope.
Joe: Boojum Wilson, 3B
Here's the other hitter Satchel Paige called the best he ever faced. He was talented, fierce, temperamental and hit the ball as hard as anyone of his time. Really you only need to know one thing: They called him "Boojum" because that was the sound his hits made as they smashed into the wall.
Bob: Bingo DeMoss, 2B
Another player not in the Hall of Fame -- you might sense that Bob is trying to do something here -- DeMoss was the greatest second baseman of the early part of the 20th century. He was blazing fast and a fierce competitor. The umpire Jocko Conlan said that DeMoss was the best bunter he ever saw.
Joe: Cristobal Torriente, OF
It might be the most lyrical name in baseball history. Just say it out loud. Cristobal Torriente! He was probably the first player called the "Black Babe Ruth" -- this is even before the title was given to Josh Gibson -- and he hit with immense power even though he wasn't a big man (5-foot-9, 190 pounds). He enjoyed the nightlife, and would probably be something of a Twitter sensation today. The Negro Leagues manager C.I. Taylor said, "If I should see Torriente walking up the other side of the street, I should say, 'There walks a ballclub.'"
Bob: John Donaldson, P
He was a crafty lefty -- one of the first of that genre -- and has been overlooked by history. When J.L. Wilkinson owned the Kansas City Monarchs, he signed five pitchers who would go on to the Hall of Fame: Bullet Rogan, Andy Cooper, Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith and Jose Mendez. But Wilkinson said if he had one game to pitch, he would have started John Donaldson.
Joe: Smokey Joe Williams, P
In 1952, the Pittsburgh Courier had a poll to name the all-time Negro Leagues baseball team. At pitcher was not Satchel Paige but Smokey Joe Williams. I don't think that really means Williams was better than Paige -- in baseball the bias tends to be against modern players -- but he was the greatest pitcher pre-Satchel Paige, a pitcher with a fastball so good that he was called "Smokey Joe" AND "Cyclone Joe," and an absolute steal in the 10th round.
Bob: Buck O'Neil, 1B/Mgr.
You could argue that Bob is picking with his heart here -- even Ol' Buck would tell you that other first basemen like Mule Suttles were better than him -- but Bob has a method to his madness. Buck was a brilliant defensive first baseman and a very good hitter, but he was also one of the greatest thinkers ever about the game. So Bob picked Buck to be his player/manager.
Joe: Rube Foster, P/Mgr.
So, I matched Bob by taking Rube Foster, one of the great baseball minds ever, as my player/manager. Foster was the "Father of Black Baseball" -- he essentially founded the Negro Leagues. But he was also a brilliant baseball strategist who brought speed and daring into the game. He was a very good pitcher, too, though I'll mostly use him as manager and GM; I do have Satchel Paige and Smokey Joe to pitch.
Bob: Dick Lundy, SS
Speaking of Buck O'Neil, he used to carry a card around with the name of Dick Lundy on it. In Buck's mind, Lundy was the player who most deserved to go to the Hall of Fame. He was an extraordinary hitter who batted .484 one year.
Joe: Frank Grant, 2B
His real name was Ulysses Grant, but they called him Frank, and we are going all the way back to the 1880s to draft him. Grant often played on white teams then; it was before the color line was so staunchly drawn, and teammates marveled at his defensive abilities. He was a solid hitter as well. Many consider him the best black player of the 19th century.
So, in the end, here is Bob's team:
P: Bullet Rogan; Leon Day; John Donaldson
C: Josh Gibson
1B: Buck O'Neil
2B: Bingo DeMoss
3B: Ray Dandridge
SS: Pop Lloyd, Dick Lundy
OF: Cool Papa Bell; Turkey Stearnes; Chino Smith
P: Satchel Paige; Smokey Joe Williams; Rube Foster
C: Biz Mackey
1B: Buck Leonard
2B: Frank Grant
3B: Boojum Wilson
SS: Willie Wells
OF: Oscar Charleston; Martin Dihigo; Monte Irvin; Cristobal Torriente
Yeah, I'd pay to see that series.
Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.