30 Greatest Baseball Players Who Never Played Major League Baseball
Throughout the long and storied history of baseball, there have been hundreds of thousands of players who have lived their dream and played the game that they dreamed about playing on the grandest stage of all—Major League Baseball.
Each of these players worked long and hard to reach that ultimate goal, and while some of their stays were brief, it doesn't take away from the fact that they reached their final destination, albeit only for a short while.
However, there are just as many who worked tirelessly to achieve the dream of playing Major League Baseball as well, but for various reasons were unable to reach that goal.
Bleacher Report will take a look at 30 of the greatest players who never made it to the big show.
When the Negro Leagues were just forming, many young bright stars emerged as terrific baseball players. But one of the first great players was a legendary first baseman who would later go on to mentor the great Buck Leonard—Ben Taylor.
Taylor was a lifetime .333 hitter who only hit below .300 just once in his first 16 seasons. In a career that spanned 22 years, Taylor was one of the slickest fielding first basemen in any league, prompting Oscar Charleston of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin to name Taylor as his first baseman on his all-time All-Star team at the time.
Due to Major League Baseball not integrating until 1947, Taylor was far too old to finally live his dream of playing on the ultimate stage. However he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 2006.
The small island nation of Cuba has churned out hundreds of great baseball players, and one of its earliest stars may have been one of the greatest of all.
Alejandro Oms made his mark in the Cuban winter leagues, playing for 25 seasons between 1922 and 1946. Oms was a gifted defensive fielder who led the league in batting three times, hitting .432 in the 1928-1929 season, winning the Cuba League MVP award the same year.
Oms' career batting average of .345 ranks second in Cuba behind Cristobal Torriente, and he was elected to Cuba's baseball Hall of Fame in 1944.
When Major League Baseball created its annual first-year player draft in 1965, it gave teams an opportunity to draft the finest high school and college players in the United States based on their team's performance in the previous.
When the New York Mets had the first pick in the second-ever MLB draft in 1966, they opted to select young 18-year-old high school catcher Steve Chilcott over the much-heralded Reggie Jackson, who was selected by the Kansas City Athletics with the second pick.
Chilcott played for six seasons in the Mets farm system, but never got the call to the majors due to career-ending injuries.
When Barry Bonds broke the all-time MLB home run record with 73 homers in 2001, he didn't just break the major league record, he broke the all-time professional baseball record that had stood for 47 years.
In 1954, Joe Bauman, playing for the Roswell Rockets of the Class C Longhorn League, belted 72 home runs, setting the all-time professional record. During his career, Bauman hit 337 homers in nine minor league seasons, hitting .400 the same year he set the home run mark.
Oliver "The Ghost" Marcelle
Well known for his cat-like reflexes and incredible defensive abilities, many early baseball scholar believe that Negro League great Oliver "The Ghost" Marcelle was the greatest third baseman ever to play.
Marcelle excelled at third base for various teams for 14 years, hitting around .315 for his career. Teammates were constantly amazed at Marcelle's skill at the hot corner, often playing 10 feet off the third base bag and still being able to get to screaming balls hit down the line.
Oscar "The Hoosier Comet" Charleston
While Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were terrorizing pitchers in Major League Baseball, first baseman Oscar Charleston combined the skills of both players in the Negro National League.
Charleston had both prodigious power and great speed, and during his great career, he was a .348 hitter. Starting his career with the Indianapolis ABC's, Charleston was one the Negro National League's earliest stars, helping lift the fledgling league to prominence.
Charleston would later also become a great manager, becoming player-manager of the Pittsburgh Crawford, presiding over a team that featured Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Judy Johnson.
There are very few players in baseball who excelled at multiple positions, and other than Babe Ruth, only one other player can claim a great career as both a pitcher and position player—Cuban and Negro League player Martin Dihigo.
In 12 seasons in the Negro Leagues, Dihigo hit .307 in his career, and played all nine positions at some point during his career. While primarly a second baseman, Dihigo was just as talented on the pitchers' mound. Dihigo was 26-19 with a 2.92 ERA in Negro League play, and in 1938, while playing in the Mexican League, Dihigo was 18-2 with 0.90 ERA, and also won the batting title with a .387 average.
Raleigh "Biz" Mackey
When Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers great Roy Campanella had his career cut short by an auto accident that paralyzed him from the waist down, the Dodgers honored him with a day in his honor in 1959.
During his speech, Campanella credited one man who nurtured him and taught him how to play the game the right way—former Negro League catcher Raleigh "Biz" Mackey.
Mackey was considered the greatest defensive catcher ever to play in the Negro League. Mackey was adept at throwing out runners and framing pitches for strikes, and would often change the outcome of a game with his incredible defensive skills.
Mackey was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 2006.
In the early 20th century, a pitcher known as "The Black Diamond" would become one of the early stars of the Negro Leagues, and would later go on to manage his team to the first Negro League World Series.
Jose Mendez, born in Cardenas, Cuba in 1887, was without a doubt one of the elite pitchers of the early Negro Leagues, while also dominating in Cuban League play as well, going 53-17 during one six-year stretch.
In 1924, Mendez was the player/manager of the Kansas City Monarch, and he guided his team to victory in the first-ever Negro League World Series, also pitching in by winning two games during the series, including the deciding victory.
Mendez was one of the first players ever elected to Cuba's baseball Hall of Fame, and he was inducted in the US baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
It's not often that the New York Yankees have ever had a first overall pick in the MLB draft, but that was the position they found themselves in during 1991, and they used that pick to select North Carolina high school left-handed pitcher Brien Taylor.
Taylor, pitching for East Carteret High School in his senior season, struck out an amazing 213 batters in just 88 innings, walking just 28. After his selection by the Yankees, Taylor certainly pitched well enough in his first two years in professional baseball, striking out 337 batters in 324.1 innings. Despite a high walk rate, Taylor was projected to be starting for the Yankees in 1995.
However, in late 1993, Taylor tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder while trying to defend his brother in a bar fight in North Carolina. Taylor tried to return after taking a year off, however he never advanced farther than Single-A ball and was out of baseball by 2000.
Built in the mold of his contemporary, fellow Cuban baseball Martin Dihigo, Lazaro Salazar was also a man who excelled both as a pitcher and position player.
Salazar debuted in 1930 with the Cuban Stars, and would go on to play 21 years in three different leagues (Negro League, Cuban Winter League and Mexican League). During his career, Salazar would go on to lead at least one of the leagues in wins, runs, doubles, steals and triples at least once, and he was regularly among his league's top 10 in both batting average and ERA.
Salazar was also one of the most successful managers in Mexican League history, winning seven pennants with four different teams.
A baseball player is often defined by how teammates describe them.
When talking about former Negro League pitcher Leon Day, legendary New York Giants outfield Monte Irvin told ESPNNewYork.com in an interview:
"He was as good or better than Bob Gibson. When he pitched against Satchel [Paige], Satchel didn't have an edge. You thought Don Newcombe could pitch. You should have seen Day!"
Indeed, Day was a gifted pitcher. Between the years 1935-46, Day pitched in seven East-West Negro League All-Star games, striking out 14 batters in one All-Star game.
In 1942, Day set an all-time Negro League record, striking out 18 batters in one game, including the great Roy Campanella three times.
Day was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1995, just one week before he passed away.
The man who was called the "Babe Ruth of Mexico" hit 484 home runs during his illustrious career, yet not one of them were hit in the major leagues.
Hector Espino, considered by many to be the greatest player in Mexican history, had a career that spanned 25 seasons. From 1960 to 1984, Espino dominated throughout his career, winning 13 batting crowns, six home run titles and six Most Valuable Player awards before finally retiring at the age of 45.
George Washington Stovey
The greatest African-American player of the 19th century actually came within moments of being the first player to break baseball's color barrier, a full 60 years before Jackie Robinson finally broke down that barrier.
George Washington Stovey, considered by many to be one of the greatest pitchers of the late 19th century, was actually signed by the New York Giants in 1887. However, Chicago White Stockings star Cap Anson refused to play on the same field as Stovey, and his major league debut never happened.
Stovey won 34 games in 1887 for the Newark Little Giants, however, because of the racial climate at the time, Stovey was released by Newark, and he would go on to pitch nine more seasons for the Cuban Giants.
For many African-American baseball players, pitcher Rube Foster was their hero. In fact, Foster was called the "father of Black baseball."
Foster started his career as an outstanding right-handed pitcher, and in 1904 with the Philadelphia Giants, Foster was 20-6, including two no-hitters. Foster followed up the following year in 1905 with a 25-3 record, leading the Giants to their second consecutive black championship, defeating the Brooklyn Royal Giants.
After his playing career was over, Foster helped create the Negro National League, one of the longest-tenured professional black baseball leagues, operating from 1920-1931. Foster was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1981, becoming the first African-American player from the Negro leagues to be elected as an executive or pioneer.
For all of the great second baseman who played in the early days of Major League Baseball, such as Frankie Frisch, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby, there was also another player who was never seen playing on MLB fields, but his skill and style of play rivaled that of other major league greats—Bingo DeMoss.
DeMoss, whose playing career spanned 25 seasons between 1906 and 1930, was considered to be the finest second baseman during the early days of the Negro Leagues. Blessed with soft hands and incredible hitting, DeMoss made playing second base look artistic. James Riley, a noted historian of Negro League baseball, said that DeMoss also made bunting look like an art form.
"He was known, I guess, for his bunting ability," Riley said. "The way they phrased it in the newspaper: 'He could bunt behind his back.' If you envision that, it was something that had to be exceptional anytime in history."
Riley also believes that DeMoss should have a place in baseball's Hall of Fame.
"Bingo DeMoss should be in the Hall of Fame," said Riley. "Matter of fact, the museum asked me to complete a list of (Negro League) players who should be in the Hall of Fame, and his name's on the list."
If there was ever a player who would have had cause to break the Major League Baseball color barrier before Jackie Robinson before 1947, that player very well could have been first baseman Buck Leonard.
Leonard, who played for the Homestead Grays for 17 seasons, was considered the "Black Lou Gehrig." Along with Josh Gibson, Leonard helped lead the Grays to nine consecutive Negro League pennants between 1937 and 1945, finishing his career with a lifetime batting average of .320.
Leonard and Gibson were a formidable 3-4 punch in the batting lineup that rivaled any other duo in professional baseball history, and Leonard often finished just behind or ahead of Gibson in the league lead for home runs throughout his career.
Cuban-born center Cristobal Torriente was considered one of the finest Latin American players ever in the first half of the 20th century. In a career that spanned 15 seasons, Torriente terrorized pitchers in both the Negro League and in Cuban winter leagues.
Torriente led the Negro National League in batting twice, posting a .411 average in both 1920 and then topping that with a .412 average in 1923. Torriente helped lead the Chicago American Giants to the Negro National League pennant three consecutive seasons between 1920 and 1922.
Indianapolis ABC's manager C.I. Taylor once said of Torriente, "If I see Torriente walking up the other side of the street, I would say, 'There walks a ballclub.'"
Torriente was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Few third basemen in baseball can call themselves great. Pie Traynor, Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt are often the subject of conversation when discussing some of the greatest defensive third basemen of all time, however, Judy Johnson deserves a spot on that list as well.
Johnson earned his reputation as a sure-handed fielder with a strong, accurate arm who could also hit for average. Johnson led the Negro National League with a .416 batting average in 1929. However it was Johnson's defensive abilities that captivated teammates and players alike.
As a player/coach for the Homestead Grays in 1930, it was Johnson who discovered the great talents of Josh Gibson, and together with Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell, Johnson would help lead the Pittsburgh Crawfords to the Negro National League championship in 1935.
Johnson was selected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1975, becoming just the sixth Negro League player to be inducted.
Much like his contemporaries, Martin Dihigo and Lazaro Salazar, Cuban-born player Silvio Garcia first starred as a multi-position player before becoming one of the great shortstops ever from the island of Cuba.
Garcia debuted in the Cuban Winter League in 1936, with a 10-2 record and quickly drawing comparisons to fellow Cuban pitcher Dihigo. After an injury to his arm in 1940, Garcia switched to shortstop full-time, playing regularly in the Cuban Winter League, Mexican League, Negro National League and later in his career with the Canadian Provincial League.
Famed Los Angeles Dodgers manager once said that Garcia was one of the toughest hitters he ever faced, and Leo Durocher once said that noted St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion "couldn't carry the glove" of Garcia.
Reference: Baseball Reference Bullpen
While Rube Foster was considered one of the greatest early Negro League right-handed pitchers and the architect of the Negro National League, his half-brother, Willie Foster, wasn't half-bad, either.
Willie Foster was considered one of the greatest left-handed pitchers ever to play in the Negro leagues. Blessed with a great repertoire of pitches in which Foster used the same exact motion, he helped lead the Chicago American Giants to Negro National League pennants in 1926, 1927, 1932 and 1933.
After winning the Negro National League pennant in 1926, Foster pitched against the Bacharach Giants in the Negro World Series, throwing three complete games and relieving in a fourth game, helping his American Giants win the series. The following season, Foster was 21-3 and again threw two complete game victories in helping the American Giants win the Negro World Series title.
Foster was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1996.
Smokey Joe Williams
There are many people who believe that Satchel Paige was the greatest Negro leagues pitcher ever, however there are just as many who also believe that Smokey Joe Williams was even better than Paige.
In a career that spanned 26 seasons, most notably with the Homestead Grays between 1925 and 1932, Williams excelled against barnstorming Major League Baseball teams who regularly played during the offseason against many Negro League teams. Williams was 20-7 against major league teams, beating the likes of Grover Cleveland Alexander, Walter Johnson, Chief Bender and Waite Hoyt, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Ty Cobb, who was a noted racist, once said that he thought Williams could have won 30 games in the majors had he been allowed to play.
Williams was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1999.
Had it not been for a fatal illness that took his life before the age of 30, many experts would have considered Negro leagues outfielder Chino Smith one of the finest hitters who ever lived.
Smith, just 5'6", had a lifetime batting average of .377, a full 10 points better than all-time MLB record-holder Ty Cobb. Smith, who debuted with the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1925, hit .439 in 1927, and just two years later, playing for the New York Lincoln Giants, Smith hit an astounding .464 to lead the league.
Smith was said to be so proficient with the bat that he could scream line drives right back at the pitcher if they dared to taunt him.
Smith contracted yellow fever and died in 1932, months before reaching his 30th birthday.
While there are many who believe that long-time St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith was the greatest defensive shortstop of all time, many believe that former Negro leagues star Willie Wells was even better.
Wells combined power with grace, leading the Negro National League in home runs several times, setting a record with 27 homers in 1926.
However, it was his defensive skills that amazed all who watched him. Legendary Negro leagues star Buck O'Neill said of Wells in his 1996 autobiography:
"If I had to pick a shortstop for my team, it would be Willie Wells," O'Neil said. "He could hit to all fields, hit with power, bunt and stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. But it was his glove that truly dazzled. ... Great as Ozzie Smith is, old-timers in St. Louis who saw Willie play for the St. Louis Stars still haven't seen his equal."
Wells was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1997.
Wilbur "Bullet" Rogan
Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel once said that Wilbur "Bullet" Rogan was "one of the best—if not the best—pitcher that ever pitched," and there are few that would argue the greatness of Rogan.
As great a pitcher as Rogan was (111-43 lifetime record in the Negro Leagues), he was also a multi-dimensional player, playing every position except catcher during his career. Playing with the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1920s, Rogan hit over .300 every year between 1922-1930, hitting over .400 twice during that span.
Rogan also led his time in home runs and stolen bases three times, showing off his skills as a five-tool pitcher as well as a deadly pitcher. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1998.
If there was ever a player who deserved to play in Major League Baseball, one would be hard-pressed to argue against legendary Negro Leagues third baseman Ray Dandridge.
Debuting in 1933 with the Detroit Stars, Dandridge quickly became known for his defensive prowess at the hot corner, and with his deadly bat, never hitting below .300 during his career.
While Dandridge never got the call to the majors, he did star in the American Association, hitting .362 for the Triple-A Minneapolis Millers and being named Rookie of the Year in 1949.
Dandridge was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1987.
Former Negro Leagues first baseman Buck O'Neil was certainly a great player during his heyday with the Kansas City Monarchs between 1938 and 1950, but it was his promotion and support of other former Negro Leagues stars for which he is most well-known.
O'Neil batted .288 during his career and played in four East-West All-Star games. After his retirement from the game in 1955, O'Neil worked for the Chicago Cubs, becoming the first-ever African-American coach in Major League Baseball. O'Neil is also largely credited with discovering and signing legendary left fielder Lou Brock.
Cool Papa Bell
If legend has it, former Negro Leagues star center fielder James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell may have been the fastest man ever to play the game of baseball.
Debuting in 1922 with the St. Louis Stars, Bell quickly developed a legion of followers who were captivated by the young outfielder's lightning-fast speed. Former pitcher Satchel Paige once said that Bell was "so fast you can turn off the light and be under the covers. before the room gets dark!"
During Bell's time with the Stars, he helped lead them to three pennants in 1928, 1930 and 1931. Later in his career, Bell joined up with the Kansas City Monarchs, joining other greats such as Paige and Josh Gibson. When Bell's career ended in 1950, he finished with a lifetime average of .337, and left behind a litany of stories boasting of his incredible feats on the basepaths.
Bell was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1974.
When legendary Japanese hitter Sadaharu Oh first broke into baseball in 1959 with the Yomiuri Giants, he started his career as a pitcher. However he was quickly converted to first base, and no would argue the merits of that move.
By the time Oh's career ended in 1980, he finished with an astonishing 868 home runs, 106 more than the all-time Major League Baseball mark set by Barry Bonds.
Oh's single-season home run record of 55, set in 1964, is still the standard in the Nippon Professional League, and Oh batted .301 with a record 2,170 RBI during his illustrious career as well.
While many will argue who the greatest baseball player of all-time was, usually the names mentioned are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron and a few others. However, there are many who believe that former Negro League catcher Josh Gibson may have been the best of them all.
In a career that spanned 17 seasons, mainly with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gibson had a lifetime batting average of .359, and it is believed that he hit nearly 800 home runs during his career, leading the league in home runs on nine separate occasions.
Legend has it that Gibson once hit a ball 580 feet at Yankee Stadium, a full 15 feet farther than the longest measure home run in MLB history, hit by Mickey Mantle.
Gibson was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1972, just the third player from the Negro Leagues who was inducted, behind just Satchel Paige and Buck Leonard.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.