PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have long honored the Negro Leagues’ Philadelphia Stars, who returned to the spotlight recently when Major League Baseball announced seven Negro Leagues that operated from 1920-48 earned “Major League” status.
It means about 3,400 Negro Leagues players will have their statistics and records become part of MLB history, so this is a good time to learn more (or refresh your knowledge) about the Stars.
• After one season as a barnstorming independent team in 1933, the Stars played in the Negro National League from 1934-48. They played from 1949-52 in the Negro American League.
• The Stars beat the Chicago American Giants to win the 1934 championship, their best season in franchise history.
• The Stars played at Passon Field (48th and Spruce Streets) in Philadelphia from 1933-35. They moved to Penmar Park (44th Street and Parkside Park) after that before playing games at Shibe Park (21st Street and Lehigh Avenue) in 1943. The Phillies and A’s still played at Shibe (later renamed Connie Mack Stadium), so the Stars only played there Monday evenings.
• Jud Wilson and Frank Austin are probably the two greatest hitters in Stars history. According to Seamheads.com, Wilson, who played in the Negro Leagues for 23 years, slashed .336/.418/.506 with 28 home runs, 215 RBIs and a .924 OPS from 1933-39. According to SABR.org, Josh Gibson said Wilson was the greatest hitter he ever saw. Wilson died in 1963, but he was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. Austin slashed .344/.409/.436 with three home runs, 135 RBIs and an .844 OPS from 1944-48.
• Catcher Biz Mackey played for the Stars. Gibson is considered the greatest catcher in Negro League history and one of the greatest players in baseball history, but Cool Papa Bell once said Mackey was the best catcher he saw. Mackey, who died in 1965, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. “In my opinion, Biz Mackey was the master of defense of all catchers,” Hall of Fame catcher and Philadelphia native Roy Campanella said. “When I was a kid in Philadelphia, I saw both Mackey and Mickey Cochrane in their primes, but for real catching skills, I don’t think Cochrane was the master of defense that Mackey was.”
• Gene Benson is the Stars' all-time hits leader (597).
• Henry McHenry is the Stars' all-time wins leader (58).
• One of the most fascinating and tragic stories in Stars history is the brief career of pitcher Stuart “Slim” Jones, who went 21-6 with a 1.24 ERA and 295 ERA+ as a 21-year-old in 1934. According to Seamheads.com, Jones’ 7.4 WAR in `34 is the seventh-best by a pitcher in Negro Leagues history. Jones soon developed arm problems, and by 1938, he could no longer pitch in Puerto Rico over the winter to make money. Broke, he reportedly sold his winter coat for a bottle of whiskey and died of pneumonia in Baltimore that year. He was 25.
• Anybody interested in the Philadelphia Stars should watch the documentary “They Said We Couldn’t Play,” produced by longtime Phillies videographer “Video Dan” Stephenson.