Philadelphia Stuns Chicago To Capture NL Pennant

It was a hotly contested seven-game series. The upstart Philadelphia club, led by a young left-handed pitcher overcame an early season injury to their star catcher to defeat the favored Chicago squad four games to three. It was perhaps the most controversial of any championship series ever played, complete with ejected players and protests, and a pitching dominated 2-0 victory in game seven. The year was 1934, and this is the true story of the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Stars defeat of the Chicago American Giants to win their only Negro National League pennant, but Philadelphia had a long history of producing great Negro League ball clubs. In fact, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has traced the city's Negro League history as far back as 1867, with the Philadelphia Pythians. From the early 1900's to the late 1920's, the Hilldale ball club from Darby - at times known as the Giants, the Daisies, or simply the Hilldale's - dominated the eastern Negro Leagues, winning three consecutive Eastern Colored League titles from 1923-1925.

Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, left, talks to former members of the Philadelphia Stars before the start of ceremonies held for the unveiling of a Negro Leagues Memorial Statue honoring the Stars Wednesday, June 18, 2003, outside Veterans Stadium. Some of the Stars players attending were, from right, Wilmer Harris, Mahlon Duckett, Harold Gould and Bill Cash. (AP Photo/George Widman)
However, in the early years of the Great Depression, the various leagues and clubs that made up what is now collectively called "The Negro Leagues" struggled with financial difficulties. Compounding the problem was the loss of Negro League pioneer Andrew "Rube" Foster, who was reportedly committed to a mental hospital before passing away in 1930. Lacking Foster's leadership to keep leagues together, many teams, including the Hilldale club, had to cease operations in 1931.

Ed Bolden, the general manager of those great Hilldale teams (and a man who reportedly struggled with his own mental demons), received financial backing from racketeer Ed Gottlieb and entered a team in the newly formed Negro National League. The formation of the Negro National League in 1933, followed shortly by the Negro American League in 1937, ushered in what is generally regarded as the Golden Age of the Negro Leagues. The Philadelphia Stars began play in 1934 when Bolden brought many of the stars from his great Hilldale clubs to the Stars, including third baseman Jud Wilson and catcher Raleigh "Biz" Mackey.

Mackey had already established himself as one of the true elite players in the Negro Leagues, winning the Eastern Colored League home run title in 1926. Pitchers Porter Charleston and Webster McDonald were brought on board, with McDonald also handling the duties as manager. Nevertheless, Bolden was most interested in a young southpaw from the Baltimore Black Sox, named Stuart Jones. Bolden signed Jones away from the Black Sox and crowned him the ace of the Stars staff.

It was a bold move, since Jones had not yet established himself as a star pitcher. The move paid huge dividends though, as the 6-foot-6, 180 pound kid nicknamed "Slim" led the league that year with a record of 22-3. The 21-year old Slim Jones was truly dominating in 1934, contrasting a blazing fastball with a wicked curve. Jones battled legendary Satchel Paige at Yankee Stadium that year in what some call the greatest black baseball game ever played. According to Major League Baseball records, the game ended in a 1-1 tie, unfortunately called due to darkness. Slim Jones allowed three hits and struckout nine batters, while the great Paige gave up six hits and whiffed 12 men.

Jones was the starting pitcher in the East-West All-Star Game that season, played before 30,000 fans in Chicago's Comiskey Park. Jones gave up no runs and struckout four while facing a lineup that included future Hall-of-Famers Willie Wells and Norman "Turkey" Stearnes. Satchel Paige was Slim Jones' teammate that day and won the game 1-0 when Stars third baseman Jud Wilson knocked in Pittsburgh's James "Cool Papa" Bell with the winning run in the top of the eighth inning.

Perennial All-Star Biz Mackey missed the game that year due to injury, but rejoined the team later in the season, leading them to an 11-4 record and the second-half championship. The Chicago American Giants, led by Wells, Stearnes, and five other all-stars, had cruised to the first half championship. Philadelphia's second half surge set up the seven game showdown between the two teams.

Behind the arm of Slim Jones and the leadership of Biz Mackey, the Stars fought their way in the series. The series culminated with Jones masterful shutout, and Mackey's game winning hit gave the Stars a 2-0 victory in game seven. According to Negro League historian Dick Clark, the Chicago American Giants protested one of the games of the series because a Stars player stayed in the game after reportedly being ejected. The protest was never heard and the Philadelphia Stars won the Negro National League pennant.

Slim Jones star burned brightly for a very short time. He never again came close to repeating the dominant performance of 1934, and died of pneumonia in 1938 at the age of 25. Biz Mackey, despite being widely regarded as the best catcher in Negro League history, has repeatedly taken a back seat to Hall-of-Famers Josh Gibson and Roy Campanella, who Mackey taught and mentored. But for one brilliant moment, seventy years ago, these two Stars aligned and brought a pennant to the City of Brotherly Love.

Columnist's note: Statistical and background information for this article was researched through MLB.com and The Negro Leagues Book, edited by Dick Clark and Larry Lester. I welcome any feedback, please send your comments to dncurry@comcast.net.

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