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Booker McDaniels

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Booker T. McDaniels ("Balazos" or "Cannonball"),1 born September 28th, 1913 in Kenwood, AR,2 was a Negro League baseball player from 1940-1952, a Mexican League Baseball player from 1946-1951, and a minor league baseball player from 1949-1950.

Biography

Booker McDaniels was the second of four boys born to Henry McDaniel and Lottie (nee Lewis) McDaniel. He grew up near the rural Arkansas River valley community of Blackwell, AR, largely without the presence of his father, who died while Booker was a young child.3 To help provide for the family, Booker and his brothers began working as farm laborers at an early age.4 In 1931, not long after his 18th birthday, Booker was married to Lavada Myers in Conway County, AR.56

A large, powerful athlete, McDaniels' career as a baseball pitcher may have begun with the Fort Smith, AR, Grays in 1939.7 The following year, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs, with whom he would go on to play the entirety of his Negro League career.8 In Kansas City, McDaniels helped form one of the strongest pitching staffs in Negro baseball, pitching in rotation behind Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith. During McDaniel's first three years on the team, the Monarchs were remarkably successfully, winning the 1940 and 1941 Negro American League pennants and 1942 Negro World Series. McDaniels soon also found considerable success, proving himself to be one of the league's leading pitchers during the 1942 and 1943 seasons.9 In 1944, McDaniels was selected to play in the annual North-South all-star game, pitching four scoreless innings in relief.10 McDaniels also found success playing in the California Winter League, pitching with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1943 and the Birmingham Black Barons in 1944.

In 1945, McDaniels went 6-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 21 league games for Kansas City, earning his first and only selection to the East-West all-star classic. Pitching 2 and 2/3 innings in the game, McDaniels was unimpressive, allowing six earned runs on six hits and two walks.11 At the season's end, McDaniels was chosen to play in the seven-game North-South all-star series, which concluded in mid-October when McDaniels helped the South team win a decisive fourth series victory.12 Shortly thereafterward, McDaniels ventured to Cuba to play with the Marianeo Tigers of the Cuban Winter League, marking the begining of a transition in McDaniels' career from American to Latin baseball. He went on to win 9 games and lose 7 during the 1945-1946 winter season and was named to the league's all-star team in February.13

Before the start of the 1946 baseball season, McDaniels and a large number of other American players were heavily recruited to play in the Mexican League, which offered both better pay than the Negro leagues and the appeal of a lifestyle largely free from segregation. The league's efforts were considerably successful, attracting a fair number of notable players, both black and white, to jump to Mexico. Among them was McDaniels, who signed with the San Luis Potosi Tuneros for a comparatively high salary.14 Yet, by doing so, he received a five-year ban from the Negro American League, whose owners were displeased with the departure many of the league's best players.15 Notwithstanding, McDaniels proceeded to have a remarkable season, going 14-18 with a 3.26 ERA in 234 and 1/3 innings with last-place San Luis.16 He led all pitchers with 171 strikeouts, but also set a league record by issuing 176 walks. On July 9th, McDaniels was the starting pitcher for the South team in the Mexican League All-Star Game, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits in 3 innings, which proved good enough for McDaniels to obtain the win.17 In addition, McDaniels also soon acquired the nickname "Balazos," a Spanish word for "gunshot" describing his powerful pitching style.

At the beginning of the 1946-1947 offseason, McDaniels returned to Cuba to reprise his role with Marianao, with whom he was reportedly signed for $550 a month.18 However, shortly into the winter season, McDaniels and two other teammates were lured away to play in the Cuban National Federation, a new league created to provide an alternative for American players who wanted to avoid discipline from Major League Baseball for playing in the unsanctioned Cuban Winter League. Notwithstanding the controversy that ensued, McDaniels broke contract with Marianao and jumped to the Oriente team in the Federation. With an increased salary of $1,200 a month, McDaniels succeeded in winning three games for Oriente without suffering a loss.

Back in Mexico for the 1947 season, McDaniels posted a 3.41 ERA along with a 14-14 record for the last-place Veracruz Azules.16 He was once again the Mexican League's strikeout champion with 127 punchouts, but also repeated as the league's leader in walks, allowing 161 in 242 and 2/3 innings. During the offseason, McDaniels joined Santiago in the Cuban Players Federation, another upstart Cuban league designed to offer players an alternative to the Cuban Winter League. He went 3-2 with Santiago before the team withdrew from the Federation, prompting McDaniels to shift to the Alacranes, with whom he lost three games and won none. Soon afterward, McDaniels began the 1948 Mexican League season by returning to the San Luis Potosi club. He transferred to the Mexico City Diablos Rojos at midseason and finished with a combined 12-12 record and a 4.62 ERA. During the 1948-1949 offseason, McDaniels pitched for the Los Mochis Caneros in the Mexican Pacific League and in February pitched in the league's All-Star game.19

Following the 1948 season, the Negro American League voted to rescind its ban on players who jumped to Mexican League.20 As a result of this decision, McDaniels was prompted to return to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1949. During the first couple months of the Negro American League season, McDaniels performed well, going 4-2 with a 2.62 ERA.21 Despite being age 35 and past his prime, McDaniels' success drew the attention of Major League scouts. On June 5th, Commissioner of Baseball Happy Chandler rescinded Major League Baseball's ban on players who played in Mexico, opening the door for teams to sign McDaniels, who had likely been previously inhibited by an unofficial blacklist on Negro leaguers associated with the Mexican League.22 Less than a week later, on June 10th, McDaniels signed to play with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, 23 becoming the team's first black player and the league's first black pitcher.24 He initially impressed, winning five of his first six games,25 including a June 30th contest in which he struck out the side on ten consecutive strikes during the fifth inning.26 As the season went on, however, his performance suffered as a result of control issues and the poor overall performance of the Angels, who finished 35 games behind first place.27 Nevertheless, McDaniels finished with a 8-9 record and a team-leading 4.21 ERA.

During the 1949-50 offseason, McDaniels traveled to play with Ponce in the Puerto Rico League, winning two games and losing five. Afterward, he returned to Los Angeles to begin his second and final year in the minor leagues. Restricted to pitching mostly in relief, McDaniels endured a difficult 1950 season, finishing with a 3-4 record and a 6.49 ERA in 37 games for the Angels, who finished 32 games behind the league leader. Early the following year, Los Angeles choose to part ways with McDaniels, selling him to Des Moines in the Western League.28 However, instead of joining Des Moines, McDaniels breifly returned to the Mexican League to pitch for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos. In twelve games, McDaniels proved unable to match the competition, going 1-2 with a 5.16 ERA and 31 walks in 45 1/3 innings. Consequently, he once again returned to the Kansas City Monarchs, with whom he went on to play the majority of the year. In the weeks following the end of the season, McDaniels barnstormed with the Satchel Paige All-Stars, serving as a trainer and a personal chauffeur for Satchel Paige.29

McDaniels' final season in baseball came in 1952 with the Monarchs. At 38, he went 3-5 against Negro American League competition, which had suffered an overall decline in quality of talent as a result of the integration of white leagues in recent years.30 Afterward, McDaniels continued to live in Kansas City and play baseball for local teams, including the Kansas City Giants in 195431 and 1956.32 He took a job working for a local elevator company and retired in 1969.33 He died five years later on December 12th, 1974 in Kansas City, MO.34 He was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Kenwood, AR.33

Excerpts

"McDaniels was the backbone of the Monarchs' pitching staff n 1942-43-44. He was reinstated this year following a five-year ban for jumping to Mexico. He is 27, weighs 195, and stands six-foot-one. He was the strikeout king of the Negro American League and likely would have been called up to the majors by this time if he had not jumped to Mexico."35

"The Los Angeles signed the first Negro player in the 47-year history of the club, Booker McDaniels of the Kansas City Monarchs."24

"Booker T. McDaniels, 62, of 3634 E. 61st, a pitcher with the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1940s, died Thursday at Providence Hospital. Mr. McDaniels was born in Morrilton, Ark., and played semipro ball for several Arkansas teams before signing with the Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1940. Elvin Nichols, a Kansas City, Kansas, barber, a friend of McDaniels and follower of the Monarchs, recalled McDaniels as a tall fastball pitching righthander. “He used to say he could throw harder than four claps of thunder,” Nichols said. Mr. McDaniels was primarily a starting pitcher, but served as Satchel Paige’s top reliever when the Monarch’s great pitcher did not finish a game, Nichols said. Nichols and Mr. McDaniels’s brother, James McDaniels of Los Angeles, said Booker T. McDaniels once pitched against Bob Feller and a team of major league All-Stars in an exhibition game in the early 1940s at Municipal Stadium. Mr. McDaniels was among the first black players to sign a contract with a major league team when he was signed by the Chicago Cubs in June 1949. The Cubs assigned Mr. McDaniels to their top farm club, the Los Angeles Angels. He won eight and lost nine, pitching three 1-hitters with the Angels in 1949 when the team finished last in the Pacific Coast League. Mr. McDaniels was 3-4 with the Angels for part of the 1950 season before returning to the Monarchs to finish his career. Mr. McDaniels also played [in] Venezuala and the Caribbean Venezuala and the Caribbean [sic] during his 11-year career. Mr. McDaniels was a Baptist. He was employed for five years by the Wynadotte Grain Elevator Company before retiring in 1969. He also leaves two other brothers, Earl McDaniels of the home and Opal McDaniels, 4430 Wayne. Services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Morrilton; burial in Pleasant Hill Cemetery there."33

"Booker T. (Cannonball) McDaniels, a former Pacific Coast League and Negro American League pitcher, died in Kansas City, Mo., December 12. He was 62. McDaniels, who said he could throw "harder than four claps of thunder," was signed by the Cubs in 1949 and assigned to Los Angeles. He had an 8-9 record there his first year and [a] 3-4 the next. After drawing his release, he returned to Kansas City and hurled for the Monarchs, a team he had been with earlier. He also had pitched for San Luis Potosi, Vera Cruz and Mexico City in the Mexican League."34

Stats

Statistics at Baseball-Reference.com.

The following incomplete career statistics for McDaniels were compiled from official league statistics and do not include exhibition games, non-league games or games with independent teams.



1. Originally "McDaniel," with no "s."
2. 1942 WWII Arkansas Draft Card. Signature on draft card matches known examples of player's signature. Social Security Death Index gives McDaniels' birthdate as September 13th, 1913.
4. 1930 U.S. Census . Booker is listed as a farm laborer at age 16. Booker's youngest brother Opel, age 12, is also listed as a farm laborer.
5. Arkansas County Marriage Index. Lavada is listed as McDaniels' wife in his WWII Draft Card.
9. Holway indicates that McDaniels was second in the Negro American League in Total Run Average in both 1942 and 1943 and was additionally the league leader in wins in 1943 with 10.
14. According to Art Pennington, McDaniels may have made as much as $9,000 a season with San Luis. Afro American, 7/13/1946 p.13
16. The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics, 1937-2001, by Pedro Treto Cisneros
18. The Sporting News, 12/4/1946, p.26
24. The Sporting News, 6/22/1949, p.21
25. The Sporting News, 6/27/1949, p.28
26. The Sporting News, 7/6/1949, p.25
29. The Sporting News, 10/31/1951, p.20
33. Kansas City Times, 12/14/1974, p.12A
34. The Sporting News, 1/4/1975, p.47