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Phil Cockrell

Phillip Cockrell
Nickname: Phil, Fish
a.k.a. Cockerell; Phillip Williams (real name)

Career: 1917-1934; 1935-1946
Positions: p, of, manager, umpire
Teams: Havana Red Sox (1913-1917), New York Lincoln Giants (1918-1919), Hilldale Daisies (1918-1932), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1921, 1932-1933), Philadelphia Stars (1934)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 5' 8''   Weight: 160
Born: 1898, Augusta, Georgia
Died: March 31, 1951, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A star spitballer for the Hilldale club during their pennant-winning years of 1923-1925, the right-hander had an excellent fastball and good control to complement his spitter. He registered a 24-8 record in 1923 against all competition and posted league ledgers of 10-1 and 14-2 the latter two years. In each of these seasons Hilldale played the Kansas City Monarchs in a World Series played between the Eastern Colored League and the Negro National League, and Cockrell started two games in each Series. In the 1924 Series he started the opening game but lost to Bullet Rogan for his only Series decision that year. The two teams were evenly matched and it took ten hard-fought games before the Monarchs could claim the title. In the 1925 World Series rematch Cockrell split two decisions but won the sixth and conclusive game to clinch the championship for Hilldale. In the two Series he compiled a composite ERA of 3.04.

He first joined Hilldale in 1918, after a stint with the Havana Red Sox, showing a 6-3 record for the season. In 1921, with the team still playing as an independent club, he registered a 14-11 season, pitching against all levels of opposition. After the string of three straight pennants, he followed with a 14-2 season in 1926, but dropped to losing marks the next two years with records of 11-13 and 8-12. After being with Hilldale as a player during their halcyon years, he replaced Oscar Charleston as manager in May 1929, when the team was in the American Negro League, and brought the team home with a strong second-place finish in the second half of the season, contributing his own 6-3 mark on the mound. However, the league folded after a single season and Hilldale returned to play as an independent team. Cockrell experienced a pair of flip-flop seasons in 1930-1931, with records of 1-5 and 8-1. The next year he split the season between Hilldale and the Bacharachs, finishing with a composite 2-7 record. He closed out his playing career in 1934 with the Negro National League champion Philadelphia Stars, but was not a factor in their success, managing only one win in five decisions.

The next season he was manager of the Bacharachs and later formed his own team for a short time. During his career he was credited with four no-hitters, including a 1922 gem against Rube Foster's champion Chicago American Giants. He was also a good-hitting pitcher and, although he struck out more than average, he was sometimes utilized in the outfield or as a pinch hitter. While with Hilldale he formed a close friendship with teammate George "Dibo" Johnson that extended beyond the baseball diamond, and he and Johnson roomed together after their playing careers ended.

At the same time, Cockrell began a second baseball career, as an umpire in the Negro National League; that lasted through the 1946 season. Umpiring in the Negro Leagues could be hazardous, and Cockrell once made a call on a close play that infuriated Jud Wilson. In the locker room after the game, the enraged Wilson grabbed him by the skin of his chest and lifted him off the floor. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Cockrell was rescued, and went on to complete a career that spanned thirty-four years in baseball. However, fewer than five years after his retirement, the ex-spitballer was the victim of a homicide in a case of mistaken identity, when he was shot by a jealous husband as he walked out of a bar.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.