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Herbert "Rap" Dixon

Herbert Albert Dixon
Nickname: Rap

Career: 1922-1937
Positions: rf, cf, lf, 3b, p, manager
Teams: Harrisburg Giants (1922-1928), Washington Potomacs (1924), Chicago American Giants (1926, 1930-1931), Baltimore Black Sox (1928-1931, 1934), Hilldale Daisies (1931), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932, 1934, 1937), Washington Pilots (1932), Philadelphia Stars (1933), Brooklyn Eagles (1935), New York Cubans (1935), Homestead Grays (1936)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 6' 2''   Weight: 185
Born: September 2, 1902, Kingston, Georgia
Died: July 20, 1944, Detroit, Michigan

A five-point ballplayer who did everything with style, the power-hitting outfielder was one of the better hitters during the 1920s and 1930s. The line-drive hitter never guessed on a pitch and was regarded as both a good two-strike hitter and a good curveball hitter. Although he could really "rap" the ball, his nickname derived from the Rappahannock River in Virginia. A complete ballplayer, Dixon also ranked among the best defensive outfielders. He had good speed and range, was a good judge of fly balls, and had an outstanding throwing arm. Physically he had spindly legs, small feet, bony shoulders, and a narrow waist, but well-developed arms, which gave him his power.

He played for several great teams, including the 1929 American Negro League champion Baltimore Black Sox, for whom he hit .432 with 16 homers, 25 stolen bases, and a .784 slugging percentage while also rapping fourteen straight hits in a series against the Homestead Grays. The next season, the right-handed slugger displayed his long-ball capability in the first games played between black teams in Yankee Stadium, when he hit three home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Lincoln Giants. Although sometimes temperamental, Dixon was an intelligent hitter, and hit for average as well as for power, finishing with a lifetime .340 batting average in league play and a .362 average in exhibitions against major leaguers. In 1933 he was honored by being selected to participate in the first East-West All Star game ever played.

He started playing with the Harrisburg Giants in 1922, when they were still an independent ballclub, and two years later, when the team joined the Eastern Colored League, the young right fielder brought one of the best arms in baseball into the league. Batting cleanup behind Oscar Charleston that season, Dixon moved into the second slot the next two years, 1925-1926, and hit for averages of .357 and .358. While playing on the West Coast during the intervening winter, Dixon was seen by Rube Foster, who wanted him so badly for the Chicago American Giants that he offered a top pitcher in exchange. Newspapers prematurely headlined Foster's acquisition of the hard-hitting outfielder, but he remained in the East. During the next winter, Dixon went to Japan with the All Star team touring the Orient and was credited with hitting the longest home run ever hit in Japan. Dixon was given a cup by the emperor of Japan, honoring him for his performance on the diamond. But he returned to the Giants for the regular season.

In 1928, when Harrisburg dropped from league play, he joined the Baltimore Black Sox during the season, finishing with a combined .351 average for the two teams. In 1930 Dizzy Dismukes, manager of the Chicago American Giants, secured Dixon from the Black Sox, but two years after the Sox' 1929 championship season, he was broke and stranded in California. Because of his drinking problem and reputation as a hard case, most teams did not want to take a chance on the talented but temperamental outfielder. However, manager Judy Johnson signed him to play with his Hilldale club, and kept him under control by withholding praise until the end of the season and not letting him become complacent or swellheaded.

Following his short stint with Hilldale, Dixon joined Gus Greenlee's Pittsburgh Crawfords for the 1932 campaign. During the season he jumped the club for two games with the Washington Pilots but promptly jumped back to the Crawfords, where he rapped the ball for a .343 batting average and walloped 15 home runs. The next season he signed with Ed Bolden's Philadelphia Stars, playing right field and batting sixth in the order, and was credited with a .310 batting average for the Stars in their first season of existence.

That winter he went to Puerto Rico with an all-star team and injured his spine while sliding into second base, which required hospitalization for almost a half season after he returned to Philadelphia. When the new Baltimore Black Sox franchise was entered in the Negro National League for the second half of the 1934 season, Dixon was appointed manager. The ballclub did not fare well, either on the field or financially, and folded after the season. In 1935 the veteran outfielder began the season with the Brooklyn Eagles but switched to the New York Cubans and hit .344 to help them capture the second-half title before losing the playoff to the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The next season he appeared briefly with the Homestead Grays, and in 1937 he closed out his baseball career with an appearance with the Crawfords. During these years he was in bad health from consumption and was not a full-time player.

He began playing semi-pro baseball in 1916 with the Keystone Giants of Steelton, Pennsylvania, where his father was a steelworker. After retiring from baseball, he returned to Steelton to work for Bethlehem Steel Company. He died from a heart attack while still a young man, in his early forties.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.