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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

Man of leather
Dandridge was best defensive third baseman ever
By Ken Mandel/MLB.com


Ray Dandridge was never given a chance to play with the New York Giants even though he played well in the minor leagues.
Born: Aug. 31, 1913
Died: Feb. 12, 1994
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Hall-of-Fame Induction: 1987

It has often been said that a train could pass through bowlegged third baseman Ray Dandridge, but a baseball never could. So goes the legend of the man often called "the best third baseman never to make the Major Leagues."

Masterful, spectacular and smooth could have described Dandridge's fielding. While his legs may have wobbled, they didn't affect his speed, as he routinely challenged James "Cool Papa" Bell for the league lead in stolen bases.

Moving up his 5-foot-7, 175-pound body were a soft pair of fielding hands attached to a powerful, accurate throwing arm. While he mostly played third base, Dandridge, better known as "Squatty," was versatile enough to play second base and shortstop.

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"He was a born third baseman but could play second and short equally as well," wrote Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, for James A. Riley's book Dandy Day and the Devil. "He had the quickest reflexes and the surest hands of any infielder I've ever seen. In a season, he had a bad year if he made four errors. As a third baseman, he could field the swinging bunt and get the runner at first better than anyone. It was a thing of beauty and worth the price of admission just to see him make that one particular play."

Those same sure hands and powerful arms wielded a potent bat that compiled a .355 career average in Negro League play -- including a .370 mark in 1944 -- and three All-Star appearances.

The Richmond, Virginia native began his professional career hitting .333 in 1933 with Jim Taylor's Detroit Stars. He was loaned briefly to the Nashville Elite Giants that season, but returned to Detroit just as financial problems were destroying the franchise. Dandridge then defected to Dick Lundy's Newark Dodgers in 1934 where he hit .436 and .368 in two seasons there. In 1936, Dodgers owner Abe Manley merged with the Brooklyn Eagles to form the Newark Eagles.

A star player in New Jersey, Dandridge combined with Willie Wells, Dick Seay and Mule Suttles to form the "million-dollar infield" in the late '30s. Dandridge then hit .354 and .305 in his first two seasons with the Eagles.

"Most of his career he batted in the number two position because he made real good contact and could hit the ball like a shot to right field on a hit and run situation," Irvin wrote in Dandy Day and the Devil. "Throughout his illustrious career he batted .300 or better."

Dandridge left the Eagles in August 1939 for Latin America, spending most of the next 11 seasons in Mexico, and beginning a long association with Mexican millionaire Jorge Pasquel. Playing for Veracruz, he teamed with greats Josh Gibson, Wells and Leon Day.

The superstar third sacker was so good that Eagles' owner Manley orchestrated a coup for Dandridge and Wells to return to the U.S. in 1944. Manley he pried them back by revoking their draft exemptions. The plot ultimately failed, with Dandridge returning to Mexico in 1945 and resuming his torrid pace.

In Mexico, Dandridge became a legend and forged his way into the Mexican Hall of Fame. At age 35, he returned to the U.S. in 1949, signing with the New York Giants and playing with their Triple-A affiliate Minneapolis. He played four years there, batting .318 overall and winning the American Association MVP in 1950.

Those accomplishments didn't earn Dandridge a promotion to the parent club - where he could have followed Hank Thompson, the first African-American representative of the Giants - and the team wouldn't sell his contract. He is recognized as one of the greatest third basemen in baseball history and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

He worked as a bartender and as a recreation director for the city of Newark before retiring to Florida. He died Feb. 12, 1994, at the age of 80.

Ken Mandel is an editor/writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.