Oscar Charleston vs. Buck O’Neil Game Five (Best of Nine)

Just like game one of the best of nine series, both Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith pitched well; just like game one, Smith outdueled his former teammate; just like game one, Hilton even rubbed it in against Satch by doubling in one of his three at-bats; and just like game one, both bullpens melted down, and neither ace factored into the decision.

Paige and Smith traded zeroes until the bottom of the 6th when Bullet Rogan doubled in Tubby Scales and John Beckwith to give the Oscar Charleston All Stars a 2-0 lead. Paige was lifted for a pinch-hitter to lead off the 8th, ending his day after seven innings in which he gave up four hits, two runs, and struck out eight. Hilton Smith looked to be cruising after a 1-2-3 7th inning, but fatigue settled in after Josh Gibson singled in Willie Wells to cut the lead in half, and Oscar Charleston had to remove his ace early for the second straight time. Smith gave up six hits and one run over seven and a third innings, striking out five.

Left in the hands of the bullpens, the game became a battle of attrition. Max Manning couldn’t finish an inning before being replaced; Leroy Matlock and Leon Day both put five men on base and allowed a run in two innings; Dave Brown cleaned up the inning left to him by Smith, but couldn’t survive his next inning. All told the bullpens combined for 11 hits, seven walks, and eight runs allowed in seven innings pitched.

Down three runs going into the 9th inning, the Buck O’Neil All Stars needed some magic. After an Alejandro Oms single and a Rev Cannady walk, it looked like they might just have some brewing. But hoping for a big blast from the next batter Judy Johnson might have been too much to hope for. Through the series, the superb defensive third basemen was just three for 14 with one extra base hit, and was 0 for 3 with a strikeout in the game. Just 150 pounds, the line-drive hitter was not known for his home run power, being credited with just 39 official home runs in his Negro Leagues career. Perhaps it was because he always performed best in big situations, hitting .364 in the very first Negro Leagues World Series, hitting an inside the park home run in the same series, winning game six of the 1935 World Series with a clutch single; perhaps it was due to his baseball know-how that led people to call him a “scientific hitter” who would study opponents, crowd the plate to get hit by pitches, or take advantage of holes in defenses; or perhaps it was all the years playing in Hilldale Park for the Hilldale clubs; but whatever the cause, Johnson took the pitch from lefty Dave Brown well over the left field fence to tie the game at four in the 9th, sending a game into extra innings for the first time in the series.

Judy Johnson was born in Maryland and grew up in Delware. His father was a boxing coach and good friend of heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, after whom the elder Johnson named two of his children. While Judy was trained in boxing at an early age, he knew his size and talents were better suited for the diamond. He began his professional career at just 18 and was mentored as a young player by John Henry “Pop” Lloyd. Johnson would later say, “He’s the man I give credit to for polishing my skills… John taught me more baseball than anyone else.” Over the course of 17 seasons Judy would use those lessons to become one of the greatest third basemen in Negro Leagues history and earn induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. After his playing career, Johnson served briefly as a coach with the Philadelphia Athletics, then as a scout for the Athletics, Braves, Brewers, Phillies, and Dodgers. As a scout he signed Dick Allen and Bill Bruton and tried to convince the Athletics to sign Henry Aaron and Minnie Minoso. He served on the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues responsible for inducting Negro League players into the Hall of Fame, stepping down in 1975 to accept his own nomination.

“Mule” Suttles swings his 50 oz bat

Extra innings belonged to George “Mule” Suttles. In the bottom of the 10th, Suttles lead off with a double, only to have a great view from 2nd base while Leroy Matlock struck out Rogan, Charleston, and Biz Mackey in order. But “Mule” would get another chance. Rev Cannady scored on a Willie Wells single in the top of the 11th to put the Buck O’Neil All Stars on top 5-4. “Charlie’s” squad answered right back in their half of the 11th, tying the game at five on a Chino Smith single, then loading the bases to bring Suttles to the plate with a chance to win the game.

“Mule” Suttles grew up in Alabama and began his career with the Birmingham Black Barons at age 22. By age 24 he was a force, and at age 25 he broke out. In 1926, playing for the St. Louis Stars, Suttles slashed .425/.472/.877, with 90 runs, 130 RBI’s, 28 doubles, 19 triples, and 32 home runs… in less than 400 plate appearances. He would never stop. Over the course of a 22 year career, “Mule” slashed .338/.407/.614 and is variously credited with either the first, second, or third highest home run total in Negro Leagues history. His 162 game average has him at 127 runs, 154 RBI’s, 38 doubles, 13 triples, and 31 home runs, all done with a 50 ounce bat!!! (For comparison, many fans have been shocked to find out Babe Ruth swung a 42 ounce bat in his prime). Bill James ranks Suttles as the 43rd greatest baseball player of all time.

Over the first three games of the series Suttles went just two for 12 without an extra base hit. Seeing his big bopper struggling, Oscar Charleston sat the first basemen in game four. The benching woke up the giant. He went two for four with a double and a walk leading up to the 11th inning, and when he got his chance he didn’t miss. Suttles lined a single up the middle to score Tubby Scales and give the Oscar Charleston All Stars a three games to two lead in the best of nine series.

Game six will see a rematch of game two between Slim Jones and Smokey Joe Williams. Buck O’Neil will be hoping Slim Jones can spin another masterpiece and even the series at three games apiece. For Oscar Charleston, Smokey Joe Williams will be looking to avenge his game two loss and give his team the first back to back wins of the series and momentum going into the final three games at Yankee Stadium.

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