Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate

This week in North Philly Notes, Rich Westcott, author of Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate, honors the legacy of the Negro League star and Hall of Fame catcher.

One of best players ever to perform in Negro League baseball was James Raleigh (Biz) Mackey. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mackey spent 27 years as a professional player, starring in Philadelphia as well as Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Newark.

In addition to his accomplishments on the field, Mackey was a successful Negro League manager. He was also Roy Campanella’s mentor, teaching the youngster how to be a catcher. And he played a major role in elevating the interest in baseball in Japan to its present level.

“As a player, as a manager, and as a personality, he was in a class by himself,” Hall of Famer Monte Irvin said.

Satchel Paige, Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Oscar Charleston, and Cool Papa Bell, all are among the greats of the Negro leagues. All of them played an important part in the history of black baseball and the ultimate acceptance of black players into major league baseball. Mackey is a major part of that group.

WestcottRevised080717SMIt is generally acknowledged that Mackey was the greatest all-around catcher in Negro League history. Gibson was a better hitter, but Mackey was an outstanding hitter, too, and he could run, field, throw, handle pitchers, and run a game better than any other catcher who ever played in the Negro leagues.

Even though he never played major league baseball, Mackey is considered one of the greatest catchers of all time, ranking at the top with Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, and Campanella. Biz’s skills behind the plate were as highly regarded as any of those all-time greats.

Mackey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, some 41 years after his death. Currently, he is one of only 18 catchers who have been inducted into the baseball shrine.

The son of sharecroppers, Mackey was born in 1897 and raised near San Antonio, Texas in the first African American settlement in that state.

Possessor of a friendly person who was liked by virtually all with whom he came into contact, Mackey played professionally from 1920 until making his last at-bat in 1947 at the age of 50. According to black baseball historians Larry Lester and Dick Clark, his lifetime batting average was .327.

Biz spent nine years playing in Philadelphia, including six with the Hilldale Daisies and three with the Philadelphia Stars. He led both teams to victories in the Negro League World Series—the Daisies in 1925 and the Stars in 1934. In those days, Philadelphia was one of the major cities in Negro league baseball and games, including some played at Baker Bowl and Shibe Park, were big attractions, not only to black fans but many times to white fans as well.

Mackey, who played in many different countries around the world during his career, was also a key member of the Indianapolis ABCs, the Baltimore Elite Giants, and the Newark Eagles. As manager, he led to the Giants in 1939 and the Eagles in 1946 to Negro League championships.

Overall, it was truly a glittering career for this all-time great Negro League player, manager, and innovator.

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