William Nathaniel Rogers
Positions: rf, 1b, 3b, c
Teams: Brooklyn Royal Giants (1923), Philadelphia Giants (1924), Harrisburg Giants (1924-1925), Chicago American Giants (1927-1928, 1944), Memphis Red Sox (1924-1930, 1936-1946), Birmingham Black Barons (1930), Kansas City Monarchs (1931), Chicago Columbia Giants (1931), Cole's American Giants (1932-1934), Brooklyn Eagles (1935)
Height: 5' 11'' Weight: 160
Born: June 7, 1893, Spartanburg, South Carolina
This veteran outfielder joined the Chicago American Giants from the Memphis Red Sox in August 1927 and promptly hit in 31 consecutive games to provide the impetus for the Giants to capture the pennant, finishing the season with a composite .284 average. In the subsequent World Series victory over the Bacharach Giants he hit a team-leading .400.
After the World Series he and Larry Brown were ruled by Negro National League President Hueston to be the property of Memphis, but he was back with Chicago American Giants in 1928 despite the decree. However, he did return to the Memphis Red Sox in 1929-1930, hitting .287 and .366. When the Chicago American Giants' franchise collapsed soon after Rube Foster's death in 1930, David Malarcher organized the Chicago Columbia Giants in 1931, and Rogers played right field and batted third in the order for Malarcher, his manager from the 1927 season.
After Robert Cole bought the franchise in 1932, Rogers again found himself playing right field on the American Giants' championship teams of 1932 and 1933, batting in the cleanup spot both seasons, hitting .328 and .373 as the Giants won the 1932 Negro Southern League pennant and the 1933 Negro National League pennant.
He eventually did return to the Red Sox in 1936 and batted in the heart of the order for the next six season, including the 1938 season, when he was the regular right fielder for the Memphis Red Sox as they won the first-half Negro American League championship, and the 1939 season, when he won the league batting title.
He was one of nine baseball-playing brothers, but he was the only one who played professionally. A natural hitter, he began when he was fourteen years old, playing with teams while working at an assortment of jobs. In 1911 he played with a team in Norcross, Georgia, while working in Atlanta with the railroad as a water boy. The next year he played with the Cincinnati Colored Browns while working in a tannery, and in 1913 he played in Kentucky, where he was laying tracks for the railroad and developing his strong arms and shoulders by driving spikes.
The next season he joined a team located near Covington, Kentucky, called the Williams Giants, progressing to teams in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and Middletown, Ohio, in 1916. After playing with the Detroit Creamery ballclub in 1918, he went to Chicago for the following season. In 1920 he played with the Hugely Playground Stars and was given the nickname "Nat." In 1921 he played with the Illinois Giants in Spring Valley, and toured the Midwest playing a wide variety of ballclubs, including a team comprised of Joe Jackson and the other banned Chicago "Black Sox."
In 1925 he went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to work in a furniture factory, after having played with three different ballclubs (the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the Philadelphia Giants, and the Harrisburg Giants) during the interim. He was secured from Memphis by the Harrisburg Giants in midseason of 1924 to play third base after two other players had failed at the position. He was also unimpressive at the hot corner, but hit .273 in limited play, and also caught a few games to provide relief for an overburdened receiving corps. After returning to Memphis in May 1927, under manager Charles "Two Sides" Wilson, he was traded with Larry Brown to the Chicago American Giants.
Off the field the poker-faced player was characterized as "evil," and on the field he was a hard-nosed ballplayer. While an adequate fielder with a good arm and a good base runner, he was best known for his batting prowess. A dangerous line-drive hitter who sprayed shots to all fields, the eagle-eyed batter preferred fastballs to curves, and hit with a downward swing to generate good power despite a slender physique. He could also execute the hit-and-run and the drag bunt, and would slide his hands up or down the bat, depending on whether he was going for a single or the long ball.
His hitting dropped in the latter years of his career, as shown by his .174 and .229 batting averages for 1944-1945, and he closed out his career in 1946 after 24 years in the Negro Leagues. During the last several seasons with the Red Sox, he assumed a part-time role, but if his accepted birth date is correct, he continued to play until he was 53 years old. After retiring from baseball he worked as an elevator operator at a Memphis Hotel.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.