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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

Pop
Lloyd greatest hitter in deadball era
By Bill Ladson/MLB.com


Pop Lloyd hit .368 during his years in the Negro Leagues.
Born: April 25, 1901, Palatka, Fla.
Died: March 19, 1965, Atlantic City, N.J.
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1977

During the first two decades of the 20th century, many believe that John Henry "Pop" Lloyd was the best player in the Negro Leagues, if not the Majors, and for good reason: No one could match him with the glove at shortstop. In fact, Lloyd earned the nickname, "The Shovel," because he could field tough groundballs out of the dirt. And there was no better hitter than Lloyd, for he has the highest career batting average (.368) in Negro League history.

Admired by many, Lloyd received perhaps the greatest compliment from Baseball Hall of Famer Honus Wagner, for whom Lloyd was often compared to. After watching Lloyd play in an exhibition game, Wagner was quoted in The Sporting News' Daguerreotypes as saying, "After I saw him, I felt honored that they should name such a great ballplayer after me."

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During his great career, Lloyd played for 12 Negro League team. At age 21, he started as a catcher for a semi-pro team called the Macon Ames in 1905. He was known to take a beating behind the plate, no thanks to the terrible equipment that he wore. The following season, he turned pro and joined the Cuban X-Giants, a team that had Rube Foster on the roster. Lloyd switched to second base that season, but stayed with the team for one year. He switched to shortstop by the time he signed with the Philadelphia Giants under mentor/manager Sol White and played for the team for three years.

But it wasn't until 1910, when he joined Rube Foster's Chicago Leland Giants, that Lloyd began to earn recognition as one of the best players that ever lived. It helped that the team won 123 games and Lloyd hit .417 that year.

He also found time that season to play in Cuba for the Havana Reds and it was there when they played five exhibition games against Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. And Lloyd proved that he could hit Major League pitching, batting .500 (11-for 22), 131 points higher than Cobb's. In fact, it was after that series that Cobb vowed that he would never play against African-Americans in the near future.

By the time Lloyd returned to the States, he jumped ship in 1911 and joined the New York Lincoln Giants. By this time, Lloyd admitted that he played for teams that paid the most money.

By midseason, he added manager to his duties, replacing White, but it was Lloyd's batting skills that overshadowed anything he did as a field boss, hitting no lower than .363 during the next three seasons. Lloyd's highlight as a manger came in 1913 when the Lincoln Giants went 101-6 (that's no typo) and defeated Foster's Chicago American Giants convincingly in the playoffs.

Foster, determined not to lose in the playoffs again, signed Lloyd the next year. Lloyd became their cleanup hitter and guided them to "unofficial colored championship honors" in 1914 and 1917.

From 1918 to the end of his career in 1931, he played for the Brooklyn Royal Giants (he also managed there), New York Bacharach Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Columbia Buckeyes, Hilldale Daisies and Harlem Stars. During that period Lloyd, who became known as "Pop" because of the young players he mentored and managed, switched from shortstop to first base and was still lethal with the bat. At the age of 44, after rejoining the New York Lincoln Giants in 1926, Lloyd won the batting title with a .564 average.

After his playing days were over, Lloyd played semi-pro ball, was a janitor for a post office and school system and served as a commissioner of the Little League, all taking place in Atlantic City, N.J.

Lloyd died in 1965, eight years before being inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Bill Ladson is an editor/producer for the MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.