J. Preston Hill
Positions: cf, lf, rf, 1b, 2b, manager, business manager
Teams: Pittsburgh Keystones (1899-1900), Cuban X-Giants (1901-1902), Philadelphia Giants (1903-1907), Leland Giants (1907-1910), Chicago American Giants (1911-1918), Detroit Stars (1919-1921), Milwaukee Bears (1923), Baltimore Black Sox (1924-1925)
Height: 6' 1'' Weight: 215
Born: October 12, 1880, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died: November 26, 1951, Buffalo, New York
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2006)
A left-handed batter, Hill was a great hitter, both for average and power. An amazingly consistent line-drive hitter who used the entire field and excelled at bunting for base hits, he was a superior contact hitter with a near perfect eye for the strike zone and seldom struck out. In 1911 he was credited with hitting safely in 115 of 116 games. As the first great outfielder in black baseball history, he was compared to Ty Cobb, and rightfully so. If an all-star team had been picked from the deadball era, Cobb and Hill would have flanked Tris Speaker to form the outfield constellation.
Hill was a complete ballplayer and, although slightly bowlegged, could field and run the bases as well as hit. The star center fielder was one of the fastest outfielders in the game, fielded flawlessly, and had a deadly arm. On the bases he was a very fast, graceful runner and a good base stealer. But more than that, he was a nervy base runner who upset pitchers and infielders like Jackie Robinson was to do a quarter decade later. He was described as a "restless type, always in motion, jumping back and forth, trying to draw a throw from the pitcher."
Reported by one source to be part Indian, Hill started his career with the Pittsburgh Keystones in 1899, leaving after two seasons to join the Cuban X-Giants, the dominant team of that time. In 1903 the outfield star moved to the newly organized Philadelphia Giants, where he first joined forces with Rube Foster. After helping the team win consecutive championships in 1905-1906, Hill accompanied Foster in a move to the Chicago Leland Giants. He also accompanied Foster, Home Run Johnson, and Bill Monroe to Cuba in 1907 to play with the Fe ballclub, and had little trouble making good, being described as having great range afield and being an excellent batter and a very fast runner.
When Foster and owner Frank C. Leland split in 1910, Hill yielded to Foster's persuasion and signed with his club. The transition proved to be a good one, as Foster assembled a cast that comprised the greatest talent in black baseball at the time. The aggregation of stars finished the season with a record of 106-7, and manager Foster called it the greatest team, black or white, of all time. Hill, a smart ballplayer whose studied approach to the game made him Foster's choice as team captain, smashed the ball for a .428 average, out-hitting teammate John Henry Lloyd. If an MVP award had been given that year, Hill would have been the choice for the honor.
The following season Foster's aggregation became known as the Chicago American Giants, and Hill remained with the team, providing solid hitting, outstanding fielding, superior baserunning, and responsible leadership to the ballclub for the next eight years. During this time he was the best hitter on the team, often hitting to the opposite field, and hitting left-handers equally well. Statistics extrapolated from existing box scores show averages of .400, .357, and .302 for the seasons 1911, 1912, and 1914.
In 1915, in a hotly contested game against the Indianapolis ABCs, with heavy betting on the outcome, he became engaged in an argument with the umpire, who pulled a gun and hit Hill in the nose. A riot ensued and the game was forfeited to the ABCs. The two teams were very evenly matched, but by the end of the season the American Giants won the playoff for the championship.
As captain of the American Giants, he continued to be a team leader and, being above draft age, remained a stabilizing presence when the team lost many younger players to military service during World War I. During his tenure with the organization, Foster often let Hill run the baliclub, and in 1919 the apprenticeship paid dividends when Hill assumed the reins of the Detroit Stars as playing manager. In late August he matched up with his mentor in a challenge series and connected with his 19th homer of the season as he led his team to victory over his ex-teammates.
Although entering the last phase of his career, the transition to the rabbit-ball era presented no problem for Pete as he rapped out a .391 average as the cleanup hitter in 1921, his last season with Detroit. Yielding the Stars' managerial reins to Bruce Petway, he made an interim stop with the Milwaukee Bears before moving East in 1924 to manage the Baltimore Black Sox.
As the year passed, Hill relegated himself to a role as part-time outfielder and pinch hitter but, even as he neared the end of his career, he remained a dangerous hitter. Ben Taylor, Hill's successor as manager of the Black Sox, said of the aging star, "The time was he was numbered among the greatest in the game, and will probably never have an equal as a hitter. I think he is the most dangerous man in a pinch in baseball."
In 1925 the popular, clutch-hitting "money player" closed out his brilliant 27-year career as one of black baseball's finest outfielders. Incomplete records indicate a lifetime .326 batting average in black baseball, and he proved his hitting ability in Cuba as well, compiling a .307 average for six winter seasons. Included was an unforgettable 1910-1911 winter when he won the batting title with a .365 average while also leading the league in hits and triples. That same winter, Hill played with Havana against the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics, who were touring the island after a successful baseball season, and batted a cool .333 in 11 games against the American League's finest. In one game against the Tigers, with Ed Summers on the mound, he had 2 hits and knocked in all 3 runs in the 3-2 win. Altogether he is credited with a .354 average against major-league opposition in his lifetime.
A hitting master, Hill could hit both left-handers and right-handers equally well and was the backbone of the great Chicago American Giants' teams for almost twenty years. After leaving the black major leagues, he formed the Buffalo Red Caps, a team of lesser distinction, and later worked for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. In 1944 Cum Posey, in selecting Hill to his All-Time All-Star team, called him the "most consistent hitter of his lifetime'' and, in 1952, he was picked on the Pittsburgh Courier's second team All Time All-Star team, losing to Monte Irvin by one vote.
Hill was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.