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John Henry "Pop" Lloyd

John Henry Lloyd
Nickname: Pop, El Cuchara ("The Tablespoon")

Career: 1906-1932
Positions: ss, 2b, 1b, c, manager
Teams: Macon Acmes (1905), Cuban X-Giants (1906), Philadelphia Giants (1907-1909), Leland Giants (1910), New York Lincoln Giants (1911-1915, 1926-1930), Chicago American Giants (1914-1917), New York Lincoln Stars (1915), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1918-1920), New York Bacharach Giants (1919), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1922, 1924-1925, 1931-1932), Columbus Buckeyes (1921), Hilldale Daisies (1923), Harlem Stars (1931)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 5' 11''  Weight: 180
Born: April 25, 1884, Palatka, Florida
Died: March 19, 1965, Atlantic City, New Jersey
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1977)

Essential to any team's success during the deadball era was the presence of John Henry Lloyd, the greatest black baseball player during the first two decades of the century. The tall, rangy superstar was the greatest shortstop of his day, black or white, and with the exception of Honus Wagner in his prime, no major leaguer could compare with him. Wagner is reported to have said that he considered it a privilege to be compared to Lloyd.

He was a complete ballplayer who could hit, run, field, throw, and hit with power, especially in the clutch. A superior hitter and a dangerous base runner, his knowledge and application of inside baseball as defined in the era allowed him to generate runs with a variety of skills. In the field he was a superlative fielder who studied batters and positioned himself wisely, got a good jump on the ball, and possessed exceptional range and sure hands with which he dug balls out of the dirt like a shovel. Lloyd's play afield earned him the nickname in Cuba of "El Cuchara," Spanish for "The Tablespoon."

Left fatherless as an infant, Lloyd left school at an early age to work as a delivery boy to help meet the family's financial needs. The youngster gravitated toward baseball and played in Jacksonville with a team called the "Old Receivers" and earned the nickname "just in time" because he would field the ball and time his throws so he would get the players out "just in time" and stand at his shortstop position and laugh at them. He was discovered in 1905 on the sandlots of Jacksonville, Florida, by Rube Foster, Harry Buckner, and Sol White, who were traveling south with the Cuban X-Giants.

A year later, when the team's owner, Ed LeMarc, decided to let several of his best players go and replace them with talented youngsters, he sent for Lloyd, who was playing second base with the Macon Acmes, a semi-pro team in Georgia. Lloyd, who had joined the impoverished team as a catcher and had to resort to using a wire basket for a catcher's mask, was glad to get a chance with a top team. From the time he joined the Cuban X-Giants in 1906 until he became player manager of the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1918, the presence of his all-around ability assured a team of being a big winner. The teams on which he played during this period was a roll call of the great teams of the era.

Leaving the X-Giants, who were ending a decade of dominance, the superstar shortstop played for Sol White's champion Philadelphia Giants in 1907-1909. In his first year with Philadelphia he is credited with a modest .250 batting average. After three years he left Philly to join former teammate Rube Foster's Chicago Leland Giants. Always one to go where the most money was available, after finishing the 1910 season with a .417 batting average, Lloyd returned East to play with the newly organized New York Lincoln Giants. At midseason he assumed the managerial reins, replacing Sol White at the helm for the McMahon brothers' team. During his three year tenure he recorded batting averages of .475, .376, and .363, and under his leadership the Lincoln Giants became champions of the East. In 1912 he and Spot Poles had a disagreement, and Poles left the team and joined the Brooklyn Royal Giants, but returned later in the season. In 1913 his team compiled a phenomenal 101-6 record and soundly defeated Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants in the playoffs. The Series victory resulted in Foster pirating Lloyd back to the American Giants for the 1914 season.

Lloyd was a smart player who easily fit into the Foster-style of play. In the deadball era, when pitching dominated and teams played for a single run, Lloyd excelled at getting the run. He was an exceptional bunter and base stealer and, with good bat control and an excellent eye at the plate, he was expert at playing hit-and-run. Indicative of Lloyd's batting ability is that with all the talent on Foster's team, he batted in the fourth spot in the lineup. With Lloyd starring, the American Giants reigned as western champions three times during his four-year tenure with the team, and defeated the eastern champions in playoffs in 1914 and 1917.

Lloyd had returned East to the Lincoln Giants at the beginning of the 1915 season, but played most of the year with the Lincoln Stars. In a summer series billed as being for the championship, Lloyd batted .390 as the Stars and American Giants deadlocked at 5 games apiece. With the American Giants engaged in a hot battle with the Indianapolis ABCs for the West title, he was induced to rejoin Foster's club in late August. After making the jump, the star shortstop's presence made the difference, and he was there in time to lead Chicago to the title over the ABCs.

In 1917 Lloyd missed a little playing time when Frank Warfield's spikes opened a gash (requiring two stitches to close) on Lloyd's knee after the shortstop had applied the tag in a successful pickoff play at second base. The setback was temporary and the Chicago American Giants easily won the western title and defeated the Lincoln Giants in the playoff. But after the 1917 playoffs he jumped again and became the playing manager of Nat Strong's Brooklyn Royal Giants for two years, sandwiched around a season with the New York-based Bacharach Giants in 1919. During World War I he worked in the Army Quartermaster Depot in Chicago in 1918.

In 1921 Lloyd left the New York City baseball scene to become playing manager of the Negro National League Columbus Buckeyes and hit .336, but stayed only a single season when owner Connors brought him back to New York to replace Dick Redding as manager of the New York Bacharachs. Before the season started the Bacharachs decided to return to Atlantic City as their home base for the season, and although he hit .387, his stay there was only a season as he left when Hilldale beckoned. Later in life Lloyd was to say, "Wherever the money was, that's where I was."

When the Eastern Colored League was organized in 1923, Lloyd, serving as playing manager, hit .418 to lead Hilldale to the inaugural pennant. Despite their winning the pennant, Lloyd was not in good graces with the owner and was fired because of alleged dissension on the team. Joining the Bacharach Giants the following year as manager, he left Dick Lundy at shortstop and placed himself at second base, his first year at the position after twenty years at shortstop, and responded to his new position by continuing his hitting heroics, winning the batting title with a .444 average. The next season he hit a solid .330, but after two years with the Bacharachs, Lloyd again returned to New York in 1926 to take the reins of the Lincoln Giants, recording batting averages of .349 and .375 in his first two seasons while continuing to play at second base until 1928, when he made a further concession to age and moved himself to first base. The change must have been a good one, as he led the league in both batting (.564) and home runs (11.) While that season was a good one for Lloyd personally, it was disastrous for the Eastern Colored League, which collapsed early in the season despite the individual teams trying to complete the schedules.

After the collapse of the Eastern Colored League, Lloyd entered his hard-hitting Lincoln Giants in the replacement American Negro League in 1929 and hit for a .362 average while forming a formidable slugging triad with John Beckwith and Chino Smith. Unfortunately, the American Negro League survived only one season, and in 1930, Lloyd's last season at the helm, the Lincolns played as an independent team and fielded their strongest team since Lloyd's 1913 powerhouse. Lloyd batted .312 during the regular season, but the Lincolns lost a hard-fought series for the eastern championship to a strong Homestead Grays' team, who had strengthened themselves with the late-season acquisition of a young catcher named Josh Gibson. During the 1930 season, his Lincolns were the host team for the first game ever played by black teams in Yankee Stadium.

The last two years of his playing career were spent with the Bacharach Giants, and following the 1932 seasons, his last year as an active player, he settled in Atlantic City after his retirement from the game. A rugged competitor as a player, his aggressive play on the field contrasted with his easygoing nature off the field. He neither drank nor smoked and seldom used coarse language.

In his managerial capacity Lloyd was a master at instilling confidence in younger players. In these latter years he became known affectionately as "Pop" and was considered the elder statesman of black baseball even after he retired as an active player. Newspapers of 1910 referred to Lloyd's good nature by saying that he was "one comical man off the diamond," and indicated that when he quit baseball he could make good on the stage as a comedian. However, after closing out his professional baseball career, he continued as manager and first baseman of sandlot teams, the Johnson Stars and the Farley Stars, until age sixty. Residing in Atlantic City, he worked as a custodian for the post office and school system. In addition to his work he served as the city's Little League commissioner, and in recognition of his involvement with youngsters, in 1949 the John Henry Lloyd Park for baseball was dedicated in his honor.

The left-handed place hitter who batted out of a slightly closed stance had an easy, powerful swing that produced a lifetime .368 average over a phenomenal twenty seven year career in black baseball. Twelve winter seasons in Cuba, interspersed between the years 1908 and 1930, show a .321 lifetime average. During his prime, island records of the 1912 and 1913 seasons show a composite .361 batting average, and in one reknowned series in 1910, against Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers, he hit .500 to lead all hitters. John McGraw assessed the country's sociological climate while appraising his ability: "If we could bleach this Lloyd boy, we would show the National League a new phenomenon." Some historians say that he was born too soon. But in 1949 at the dedication of the Atlantic City ballpark in his honor, Lloyd expressed his thoughts. "I do not consider that I was born at the wrong time. I felt it was the right time, for I had a chance to prove the ability of our race in this sport... and we have given the Negro a greater opportunity now to be accepted into the major leagues with other Americans."

Baseball historians concur that Lloyd was one of the greatest black players ever, but Babe Ruth, in response to a question by announcer Graham McNamee, eliminated the color distinction when he stated that Lloyd was his choice as the greatest baseball player of all time. In 1977 John Henry Lloyd was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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

John Henry "Pop" Lloyd photo

John Henry "Pop" Lloyd