© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
02/14/06 8:41 PM ET
Taylor showed his talents early on
First baseman went 11-for-18 in 1916 championship series
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
Oscar Charleston didn't hesitate when he told the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin
in a 1949 article whom he thought was the best first baseman in the long history of black baseball.
He had plenty of people to pick from, including legendary slugger Buck Leonard. But Charleston, considered the greatest all-around player in the history of black baseball, didn't pick Leonard; he picked Ben Taylor.
Charleston's choice wasn't a bad one. Taylor, the brightest in a legendary family of black baseball stars, had a splendid career, a career that might now have Taylor on the verge of joining Charleston and Leonard in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Taylor is one of 39 players and executives from black baseball that the Hall of Fame is considering for induction. A panel of 12 historians and Negro League experts will review the credentials of people like Taylor and announce its decision Feb. 27 in Tampa.
People who chronicle black baseball say the panel would not make a mistake to include Taylor as one of its inductees.
Starting his career as a pitcher for the Birmingham Giants in 1908, Taylor showed how gifted he was early. After playing for the St. Louis Giants, New York Lincoln Giants and Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants, Taylor joined the Indianapolis ABCs in a 1914 and played for his brother, C.I., who owned and managed the club.
Ben Taylor built most of his baseball reputation with the ABCs, a team sponsored by the American Brewing Co.
C.I. filled the ABCs with Taylors. The team included C.I. and Ben's brothers "Candy Jim" and "Steel Arm" Johnny Taylor. In their first season together, Ben Taylor, the cleanup hitter, batted .333.
He hit .308 in 1915. After the season, Ben Taylor went to Cuba and played Winter Ball; he hit .500 there. Nothing seemed to cool his sizzling bat, which stayed white hot for the 1916 championship. Taylor went 11-for-18 in the World Series.
From 1914 to 1922, he spent most of those years with the ABCs. He even managed the team in 1922 after his brother's death.
One year later, Taylor formed the Washington Potomacs in the inaugural season of the Eastern Colored League, and he got his brother Johnny Taylor to join him as the team's pitching coach.
Ben Taylor served as player/manager of the Potomacs until he left to join Harrisburg in 1925. In 1926, '27 and '28, he played for the Baltimore Black Sox. Before the start of the '29 season, the Black Sox traded Taylor to the Bacharach Giants, where he spent his final season as a player. He continued to coach and manage until 1940, building a solid reputation among his contemporaries.
In an article by baseball historian Todd Bolton, Leonard remembered this about Taylor: "I got most of my learning from Ben Taylor. He helped me when I first broke in with his team. He had been the best first baseman in Negro baseball up until that time, and he was the one who really taught me to play first base."
His ability to play the game well, perhaps more than his ability to teach it, is what got Ben Taylor's name on the Hall of Fame ballot.
"Throughout his career, Taylor was one of the most productive players offensively, ending with a .334 lifetime average," baseball historian James A. Riley wrote in "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues."
"He was good on ground balls and could make all the plays at first. ... Always a heads-up player, Taylor was an ideal man to have on a ballclub."
Riley said Taylor, who died of pneumonia Jan. 24, 1953, turned to business after he left baseball. He operated a pool hall, and he acquired the rights to print and sell game programs at Baltimore Elite Giants games.
"Highly regarded by his peers, smooth in the field, and with no weakness at the plate," Riley wrote, "Ben Taylor is well deserving of his niche among the greats in black baseball history."