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John Henry Lloyd

John Henry Lloyd

One of the greatest players deprived of an opportunity to perform in the major leagues because of the color of his skin, John Henry "Pop" Lloyd is generally considered to be the premier Negro League player of the Deadball Era.  Frequently referred to as the "Black Honus Wagner" during his playing days, Lloyd was a superb all-around player who was both an exceptional hitter and an outstanding defensive shortstop.  Commenting on the comparisons made between himself and Lloyd, Wagner suggested: "After I saw him play, I felt honored that they should name such a great ballplayer after me". 

Born on April 25, 1884 in Palatka, Florida, just outside Jacksonville, John Henry Lloyd had to drop out of grade school to help support his family after his father died when he was still just an infant.  Young John Henry took on numerous odd jobs, including working as a porter in a railroad terminal.  All the while, though, Lloyd continued to pursue his dream of eventually becoming a professional baseball player.   

Lloyd began his professional career as a catcher with the Acmes of Macon, Georgia in 1905.  He joined the Cuban X Giants the following year, playing second base for the Philadelphia-based team.  Signed by the X Giants' arch rivals, the Philadelphia Giants, prior to the start of the 1907 campaign, Lloyd moved to shortstop, where he gained his greatest claim to fame.  After posting modest offensive numbers in his first season with his new team, Lloyd soon developed into an outstanding hitter.  By the time he left Philadelphia to join Rube Foster's Chicago Leland Giants in 1910, the shortstop was generally recognized as the best all-around player in all of black baseball.

Possessing sure hands and exceptional range in the field, Lloyd earned the nickname in Cuba of "El Cuchara," Spanish for "The Tablespoon," for his ability to dig balls out of the dirt like a shovel.  An extremely intelligent player as well, the shortstop studied opposing batters and positioned himself wisely in the field.  Lloyd was also an outstanding baserunner and hitter who had excellent bat control and a superb eye at the plate.  Quite proficient at executing the hit-and-run play, the lefthanded-hitting Lloyd also had good power, smacking solid line drives to all fields from his typical cleanup spot in the batting order.  Employing a closed stance, Lloyd held the bat in the cradle of his left elbow, before uncoiling to unleash his powerful, yet controlled swing.          

Lloyd's extraordinary talents helped lead Rube Foster's Giants to a remarkable record of 123-6 in 1910.  Lloyd posted a .417 batting average during the campaign, before returning East at the end of the year to play for the New York Lincoln Giants.  The shortstop spent the next three seasons in New York, compiling batting averages of .475, .376, and .363 against all levels of competition, assuming the role of team manager midway through his first season, and leading his team to three straight Eastern League championships.  

Always willing to play for whatever team offered him the most money, Lloyd left New York at the end of the 1913 campaign to play for the Chicago American Giants.  He spent the next four years in Chicago, before splitting the next several years between numerous teams, serving both as his squad's starting shortstop and manager.  After taking over as player/manager for the Bacharach Giants in 1924, the 40-year-old Lloyd moved himself to second base, in favor of the team's brilliant young shortstop, Dick Lundy.  Lloyd ended up capturing the ECL (Eastern Colored League) batting title, with a mark of .444.  He spent eight more years managing and competing against much younger players, before finally retiring from the game as an active player in 1932.  He ended his playing career with a batting average of either .337 or .368, depending on the source.   

Lloyd played extensively in Cuba over the course of his career, compiling a lifetime .329 batting average in league play and topping the Cuban circuit in triples twice.  He was particularly effective during a 1910 series played between his Havana Reds and Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers.  Cobb batted .369 over the course of the 12 games, seven of which were won by Detroit.  But the Tiger great was outplayed by Lloyd, who batted .500 during the series and embarrassed his Detroit counterpart by tagging him out on three consecutive stolen base attempts.  Cobb subsequently proclaimed that he would never again play against black players.  In 29 recorded games against white major leaguers, Lloyd posted a .321 batting average.

Although Lloyd was a fierce competitor and an extremely aggressive player on the field, he was known for his gentlemanly conduct and even-tempered disposition away from the game.  He neither drank nor smoke, and he rarely cursed, providing support to the players he managed with his calm and reassuring manner.  

In discussing the somewhat nomadic nature of his playing career, Lloyd commented, "Wherever the money was, that's where I was."

While John Henry Lloyd has been widely overlooked over the years as one of baseball's truly great players, the men who saw him play were keenly aware of the tremendous skills he possessed.  Connie Mack, longtime owner and manager of the Philadelphia A's, stated, "Put Lloyd and (Honus) Wagner in the same bag and whichever one you pulled out, you couldn't go wrong."

When asked who he felt was the greatest player of all time, Babe Ruth responded by asking, "You mean major leaguers?"  When the questioner responded by saying, "No, the greatest player anywhere," Ruth replied, "In that case, I'd pick John Henry Lloyd."

A piece on Lloyd found at "http://www.negro-league.columbus.oh.us/" www.negro-league.columbus.oh.us sums up the Negro League legend by proclaiming, "Perhaps the greatest player ever to come out of the Negro Leagues is the beloved and venerable John Henry Lloyd.  'Pop' Lloyd played shortstop, and was a complete ballplayer who could hit, run, field, throw, and hit with power, especially in a clutch.  The tall, rangy superstar was the greatest shortstop of his day, black or white, and with the exception of Honus Wagner in his prime, no major leaguer could compare with him.    

Lloyd was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee in 1977.    

By Bob_Cohen

 

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