Jun 5, 2024 - Sports

Meet Indy's Negro League legends

Negro League baseball players

Indianapolis baseball legend Oscar Charleston (far left), Josh Gibson, Ted Paige and Judy Johnson posing for a group photo during a Negro League baseball game. Photo: Clarence Gatson/Getty Images

The Indianapolis ABCs player occupying the most space at the top of the revamped MLB record books is Oscar Charleston, the newly minted third-greatest hitter of all time.

Why it matters: Even before his .363 career batting average earned him one of the top spots, there were debates about whether or not Charleston was the best to ever play the game.

Manager Oscar Charleston
Oscar Charleston as a manager in 1949. Photo: Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Zoom in: An Indy native and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Charleston became manager of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1954.

  • His MLB career stats include 1,207 hits, 143 home runs, 853 RBIs and 209 stolen bases.
  • He is in the top 10 for slugging percentage (.614), on-base percentage (.449) and on-base plus slugging (1.063).
  • As the manager of six different teams from 1924-1954, he had a record of 420–377–7.
This is a list chart that visualizes the baseball players with the top 10 all-time career batting averages. Josh Gibson, who played in the Negro Leagues, leads with an average of 0.372, followed by Ty Cobb at 0.367 and Oscar Charleston, a Negro League player, at 0.363. Ted Williams is in the 10th spot with 0.344.
Data: MLB. Chart: Axios Visuals

Here are a few other notable Indianapolis players from the Negro Leagues.

Dick "Cannonball" Redding: One season with the Indianapolis ABCs.

  • Nicknamed after his powerful fastball that knocked back catchers.
  • Threw at least 30 no-hitters.
  • Struck out Babe Ruth three times on just nine pitches in an exhibition.

Biz Mackey: Three seasons with the Indianapolis ABCs.

  • Hall of Famer considered one the greatest Negro Leagues catchers ever alongside Josh Gibson and Roy Campanella while also serving as a mentor to the latter.
  • Named to five Negro Leagues East-West All-Star Games.
  • MLB career stats of 1,008 hits and 603 RBIs on a .328 batting average.
Biz Mackey
Biz Mackey (right) and Frank Duncan in 1947. Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albert "Buster" Haywood: 10 seasons with the Indianapolis Clowns.

  • Worked as player/manager of the Clowns and was Hank Aaron's first professional manager.
  • Led the Clowns to three Negro American League championships.
  • Three-time all-star catcher.

Toni Stone: One season with the Indianapolis Clowns.

  • First woman to play professional baseball.
  • Replaced Hank Aaron at second base when the future MLB home run king had his Clowns contract sold to the Boston Braves in 1953.
  • Managed to get a hit off Satchel Paige.
  • "People couldn't get a hit against him. I stood there shaking, but I got a hit. Right out over second base. Happiest moment in my life, said Stone, per MLB.com.
Buster Haywood and Toni Stone of the Indy Clowns
Buster Haywood and Toni Stone. Photo: Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

How to honor them: Later this month, the Indianapolis Indians will pay tribute to the history of the Negro Leagues in Indianapolis through a partnership with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

  • The Indians will wear Clowns jerseys, and Clowns jerseys will be auctioned off until the end of the seventh inning to benefit Indianapolis Indians Charities.
  • Vanessa Rose, granddaughter of Hall of Famer Norman "Turkey" Stearnes, will be in attendance, and clips from her podcast "Reclaimed: The Forgotten League" will air throughout the game.

If you go: The Indians play the Iowa Cubs on "Negro Leagues Night" at 7:05pm June 22.

Go deeper: Indy's overlooked baseball icons finally get recognition

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