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Redding, Johnson, and Lloyd led the Pittsburgh Colored Stars of Buffalo vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs

By: Brian Frank

In 1919, three of the greatest players in baseball history, Grant "Home Run" Johnson, Dick "Cannonball" Redding, and John Henry "Pop" Lloyd led the Pittsburgh Colored Stars of Buffalo (sometimes referred to as the Buffalo Stars) in a two-game series against the defending International League champion Toronto Maple Leafs. The Stars were a semi-pro team based in Buffalo, New York, during the teens and early twenties. Despite their name suggesting they were from Pittsburgh, the Stars were based solely in Buffalo.[1]

Johnson was player-manager of the Stars. His nickname, "Home Run," originated from when he reportedly hit 60 home runs for the 1894 Findlay Sluggers. Historian Gary Ashwill, founder of the Seamheads Negro League database, called Johnson “the best everyday player in Black baseball from 1895 to 1909.”[2] After a long career playing for and managing some of the great early Negro League teams in both the U.S. and Cuba, Johnson eventually settled in Buffalo in 1915 and became player-manager of the Stars. By 1919, he was still the leader of the Stars at 46-years-old, regularly playing shortstop and batting third.

Redding was one of the greatest pitchers in Negro League history. He's regarded by many as being the hardest throwing pitcher in Negro League history. In 1952, Cumberland Posey, owner of the Homestead Grays, named Redding and Smoky Joe Williams to his all-time Negro League All-Star team, ahead of the great Satchel Paige.[3] Redding had known Grant Johnson since Redding made his professional debut for the 1911 Philadelphia Giants, a team led by player-manager Johnson. By the spring of 1919, Redding was in his prime – a 29-year-old fireballer for the Brooklyn Royal Giants.

Lloyd was Redding’s manager with the Royal Giants. He is widely considered the greatest shortstop in Negro League history and one of the greatest players of all-time. Lloyd and Grant Johnson’s relationship went back to at least 1907, when the then 35-year-old Johnson paired with the 23-year-old Lloyd to form the middle infield for the Philadelphia Giants. Johnson, normally a shortstop, shifted to second base to allow Lloyd to play short. The duo would play together for numerous teams, with Johnson at second and Lloyd at short, including: with Habana in 1908-1909 and 1912; with the Chicago Leland Giants in 1910; and the New York Lincoln Giants in 1912 and 1913. In 1919, Lloyd was the 35-year-old manager and shortstop for the Royal Giants.

Dick "Cannonball" Redding, Grant "Home Run" Johnson, and John Henry "Pop" Lloyd.

Johnson employed the help of his old friends Redding and Lloyd when the Stars travelled to Toronto to play two exhibition games against the defending International League champion Toronto Maple Leafs in April 1919.[5] Redding started the first game against the Leafs and Lloyd played shortstop and batted third in both games. Johnson once again shifted over to second base to accommodate his former teammate.

The two-game set against the Leafs took place at Island Stadium (also called Hanlan’s Point Stadium), located at Hanlan’s Point in Toronto. The first game was played on Good Friday and the second game took place the next day. The games were played just prior to the start of the Stars semi-pro schedule and Lloyd and Redding’s Brooklyn Royal Giants’ season opener.

The Leafs were led by their new manager George “Mooney” Gibson, who caught both games against the Stars. Gibson, a native of London, Ontario, was coming off a 14-season major-league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants. He took over a Toronto team that had the best record in the I.L. the previous season going 88-39.

Hanlan's Point in 1919. Photo Credit: Special Collections Toronto Public Library.

The Leafs had been having trouble getting a game in due to cold, wet spring weather. The Toronto Star noted that the team was finally able to play the Stars “after a week’s active work dodging the municipality of rain storms…”[6]

The Stars took it to the Leafs in Friday’s game behind a great outing from Redding, winning 7-0. The Globe, a Toronto based newspaper, reported that the Leafs showed “unmistakable signs of poor condition…” [7] The paper added that, “The game, which was witnessed by 2,500 fans was better than expected, considering the difficulties the Leafs have been working under. The cold weather here hampered their training and the players were far from being in good condition.”[8] They also noted that “the visitors surprised the fans by showing marked ability.”[9]

The Toronto Star described the contest as “extremely well played on both sides considering all the circumstances,” and said that it “served to introduce the fans to the Toronto players of 1919 or at least to some of those who will constitute the team to go through the league season.”[10]

Redding, Lloyd, and Johnson all made big contributions to the Stars’ win.

Redding dominated on the mound, firing a five-hit shutout with six strikeouts. The Globe wrote that “the Leafs were helpless” against him and reported he “lived up to advance notices and held the Gibsonites at his mercy.”[11] It added that “for the most part, (Redding) relied on a fastball, but he also showed that when necessity demanded it, he could mix them up.”[12] The Toronto Star reported, “Redding, the giant pitcher, had fine speed and a good change of pace…”[13]

Cannonball Redding fired a five-hit shutout against the defending I.L. Champs.

The Toronto Star also raved about Lloyd’s play, writing, “shortstop Lloyd could have sent the rest of the team home and beaten the Leafs himself, as he played the ball everywhere but at first base and behind the bat.”[14] It went on to quote a popular saying at the time, which meant something was of the highest quality, writing, “Now we know what it means by ‘A1 at Lloyd's.’”[15]

The Globe gave a nod to Johnson’s play at second base, noting that he “handled everything in major league style.”[16]

All three stars also contributed at the plate. Johnson hit “a drive to deep left, scoring two runs,” while Redding “made the longest hit of the game,” a triple to deep right-center field.[17] Johnson finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs, a run scored, and a stolen base. Lloyd went 1-for-5. Redding went 2-for-4 with a triple and two runs scored.

Box score of the Stars 7-0 win from The Globe.

Maple Leafs manager Gibson was “not at all cast down by the defeat or the unexpected turn of events” but instead, challenged the Stars to a game the next day, which the Star noted “will either give the Leafs a chance to get even or enable them to get the old alibi stuff in action for use later in the season.”[18]

On Saturday, the Globe reported that “the visitors, minus pitcher Redding, did not look as effective as in their initial appearance.” [19] The Leafs, on the other hand, got “gilt-edged” pitching, helping them defeat the Stars 5-2 in front of 1,500 fans “under ideal weather conditions.”[20]

John Emory started on the mound for the Stars against Leafs hurler Alex Peterson. Emory was solid for the Stars through seven innings, allowing only one run in both the third and fifth inning. But Toronto broke through against him in the eighth inning, plating three runs. Meanwhile, Peterson allowed two runs in five innings for the Leafs. Aichele replaced him in the sixth and finished the game with four hitless innings.[21]

Lloyd and Johnson contributed to the Stars only rally of the game. In the third inning, Phil Bradley singled and advanced to third when Lloyd hit a double that went to the right-center field fence. Johnson brought them both home with a single to left field. Unfortunately for the Stars, those were all the runs they could muster for the afternoon.

Johnson finished the game 1-for-4 with two RBIs. Lloyd went 1-for-4 with a double. Redding pinch-hit for Emory in the ninth and went 0-for-1.

Box score of the Leafs 5-2 win from The Globe.

The next day, Easter Sunday, both the Brooklyn Royal Giants and Pittsburgh Colored Stars of Buffalo were scheduled to open their respective seasons. Unfortunately for Grant Johnson’s Stars, their season opener against the Polish Nationals was washed out. The Royal Giants, however, were able to get two games in, playing a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Bushwicks at Dexter Park in Queens, New York. Both Cannonball Redding and Pop Lloyd were in the Royal Giants lineup. In their write up on the games, the Brooklyn Citizen called Redding “the greatest negro pitcher in the country today” and referred to Lloyd as “the black Ty Cobb.”[22] Redding fired a complete game in the opener, a 5-2 Brooklyn win, and Lloyd played shortstop and batted cleanup in both games.

The Leafs didn’t open the I.L. season until May 1 at Newark. They’d go on to win four more games than they had during their league championship season of 1918, finishing 92-57. However, they ended the ’19 campaign in second place, eight games behind the 100-win Baltimore Orioles.

Grant Johnson played for and managed the Stars until 1921, when he was 49 years old. He continued to play semi-pro ball in Buffalo until he was 58 years old. He died in Buffalo in 1963 and is buried in Hamburg’s Lakeside Cemetery. Pop Lloyd and Cannonball Redding continued to star in the Negro Leagues, including playing together for many years with the Bacharach Giants. Redding returned to Buffalo to pitch for Johnson’s Stars on a number of occasions, but I’ve yet to find evidence that Lloyd played for the Stars again.

Lloyd was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Johnson and Redding were both considered for the Hall by the Special Committee for the Negro Leagues in 2006 and by the Early Baseball Era Committee in 2021 – though neither was elected. However, as more box scores and game stories are uncovered documenting their brilliant careers, it seems it’s only a matter of time before each is given his rightful place in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls.

[1] Having the word Pittsburgh in the team name was likely an attempt to associate themselves with the Homestead Grays, who were based in the Steel City and popular at the time. [2] Jay Jaffe, "2022 Early Baseball Hall of Fame Committee Candidate: Grant 'Home Run' Johnson," Fangraphs website, [3] Jay Jaffe, "2022 Early Baseball Hall of Fame Candidate: Dick 'Cannonball' Redding,' Fangraphs website, [4] Jaffe, "2022 Early Baseball Hall of Fame Candidate: Dick 'Cannonball' Redding." [5] It’s worth noting that the newspapers never use Lloyd’s first name. Leaving out a player's first name in a write-up about a game was common at the time (see endnote 21). It’s apparent that it’s Pop Lloyd though, due to: his relationship with Johnson; the fact his presence moved Johnson to second base and that Lloyd batted third in the lineup ahead of Johnson; the description the newspapers gave about his play in the field; and also the fact Lloyd's best player, Redding, was with the Stars, and that both were back in the Royal Giants lineup the day after the second game in Toronto. [6] “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game,” Toronto Star, April 19, 1919. [7] “First Glimpse of High Speed,” The Globe, April 19, 1919. [8] “First Glimpse of High Speed.” [9] “First Glimpse of High Speed." [10] “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game." [11] “First Glimpse of High." (Title of article is illegible.), The Globe, April 21, 1919. [12] “First Glimpse of High." [13] “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game." [14] “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game." [15] “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game." [16] “First Glimpse of High Speed,” The Globe." [17] “Pittsburgh Stars Shut Out Maple Leafs in Exhibition Game,” Buffalo Enquirer, April 19, 1919. “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game,” Toronto Star, April 19, 1919. [18] “Leafs Whitewashed in their First Game." [19] (Title of article is illegible.), The Globe, April 21, 1919. [20] (Title of article is illegible.), The Globe, April 21, 1919. [21] The newspaper accounts don’t give a first name for Aichele. [22] “Royal Giants Win Opener; Second is a Peculiar Tie,” Brooklyn Citizen, April 21, 1919.


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