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Ben Taylor

Benjamin H. Taylor
Nickname: Ben

Career: 1910-1940
Positions: 1b, p, manager, umpire
Teams: Birmingham Giants (1908-1909), West Baden Sprudels (1910, 1913), St. Louis Giants (1911-1912), New York Lincoln Giants (1912), Chicago American Giants (1913-1914), Indianapolis ABCs (1914-1918, 1920-1922), Hilldale Daisies (1919), New York Bacharach Giants (1919), Washington Potomacs (1923-1924), Harrisburg Giants (1925), Baltimore Black Sox (1926-1928), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1929); California Stars (1930), Silver Moons (1931), Washington Pilots (1932), Baltimore Stars (1933), Brooklyn Eagles (1935), Winston-Salem Eagles (1938), Washington Black Senators (1938), Washington Royals (1939), New York Cubans (1940), Edgewater Giants (1941)
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Height: 6' 1''   Weight: 190
Born: July 1, 1888, Anderson, South Carolina
Died: January 24, 1953, Baltimore, Maryland
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2006)

One of the early stars of the game, this smooth-fielding, sharp-hitting member of the famous Taylor family was considered the best first baseman in black baseball prior to the arrival of Buck Leonard. Throughout his career Taylor was one of the most productive players offensively, ending with a .334 lifetime batting average. He was good on ground balls and could make all the plays at first, making the other infielders look good by digging out low throws and making difficult plays with such ease that they appeared routine. Always a heads-up player, Taylor was an ideal man to have on a ballclub.

Taylor began his playing career in 1908 as a pitcher with th Birmingham Giants, and recorded an impressive 22-3 ledger in 1909. Two years later, with St. Louis, he is credited with a 30-1 pitching record against all levels of opposition. Although he continued with his pitching for several years afterward, it was with his bat and play at first base that he earned his most notoriety. He was a scientific batter, drilling line drives to all fields, and he could execute the hit-and-run play.

When his brother C.I. Taylor assumed the managerial reins of the West Baden, Indiana, Sprudels in 1910, Ben moved North with him and, playing as a combination pitcher-first baseman, won a disputed team batting title. Although he was still regarded primarily as a pitcher, his baseball acumen was beginning to attract the attention of baseball's top teams. He spent the 1911-1912 seasons with the St. Louis Giants, but had a brief stint the latter year with the New York Lincoln Giants. During these formative seasons he turned in some solid performances as a moundsman, often showing flashes of brilliance. But he also continued his early hitting promise, registering as .379 average in 1912 to warrant interest from Rube Foster.

At Chicago he joined his brothers Jim and Johnny, and after a season as Foster's first baseman on the 1913 Chicago American Giants, Taylor gained his greatest fame while playing with the Indianapolis ABCs (1914-1922), managed by his brother C.I. Taylor. In his first year with the ABCs, Ben Taylor stepped into the cleanup slot, hit a robust .333, and remained in that batting slot as long as he was with the ABCs. In his second season with the team he turned in another solid performance, with available stats showing a .308 average as the ABCs fought their way toward the top. The following year, management difficulties produced a schism between owner Thomas Bowser and manager C.I. Taylor, with two different ABCs squads being fielded during the first half of the season. However, Taylor's ABCs regrouped during the second half to get the championship from Foster's team. Taylor, a left-hander both in the field and at the plate, batted .335 and fashioned an MVP-level performance to lead the surge to the championship.

Sandwiched between the 1915 and 1916 seasons Taylor made a sojourn to Cuba, where he left behind an impressive .500 average for his stint on the island before returning to the ABCs with his hot bat. He remained with the ABCs through 1918, leaving for a season with the New York Bacharach Giants in 1919 for his first excursion into managerial waters. He returned to the ABCs in 1920 and, already an established veteran, the hard-hitting first sacker easily made the transition from the deadball era to the lively ball. Continuing to hit with authority, he compiled averages of .323, .407, and .358 in his last three seasons (1920-1922) with the ABCs.

Following the death of his brother C.I. Taylor in 1922, he managed the ABCs for a season before leaving the team in the spring of 1923 to travel East again for another venture into management. He assumed the responsibility of organizing the Washington Potomacs ballclub and hired his brother Steel Arm Johnny Taylor as pitching coach to help with instruction in baseball fundamentals. After assembling the team, Ben Taylor guided his charges for one season as an independent ballclub. During their maiden season Taylor tried twenty-eight different players in the lineup, but for the most part they were not of major league caliber, and he retained only six of this group for the 1924 season, when they were admitted to the Eastern Colored League ranks.

Taylor was credited with hitting over .300 in fifteen of his first sixteen years in baseball, but with the managerial pressures to produce a winning team in 1924, he had what he considered his worst offensive year but still led his team in batting average (.314) and home runs (15). Although the skipper personally forged respectable statistics, the ballclub had a disappointing season, and when the Potomacs were scuttled, he joined forces with Oscar Charleston at Harrisburg for the 1925 season and hit for a .328 average as playing manager.

From there he moved to the Baltimore Black Sox, again as playing manager, replacing Pete Hill in midsummer of 1926. The team was suffering with disciplinary problems, and Taylor's stay there was troubled. After assuming the managerial reins, he quickly dispatched free-spirited slugger John Beckwith to Harrisburg in a trade in an effort to instill a semblance of discipline. The following summer, Taylor suffered cuts that required twenty stitches when he and several other Black Sox players were injured as a cement truck sideswiped their team automobile. Despite being past his prime, and the hardships he encountered during his three seasons in Baltimore, he still stroked the ball for averages of .242, .307, and .336.

Prior to the start of the 1929 season, in a trade of managers, he was traded to the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants for Dick Lundy and signed what was thought to be the highest salary in black baseball. With the Bacharachs, at age forty-one, he still hit .322 to close both the decade and his playing career, finishing with a .334 lifetime batting average in black baseball.

After he ended his career as an active player, he continued in baseball in various capacities. He umpired in both the East-West League in 1932 and the Negro National League in 1934. He also managed and coached with several teams at different levels of competition, including the Baltimore Stars in 1933, where he tutored Buck Leonard on the finer points of playing first base.

Modest, easygoing, and soft-spoken, Taylor was a true gentleman who maintained a fair and professional demeanor, and he was an excellent teacher of young players. It was from him that Buck Leonard learned to polish and refine his skills as a first baseman.

In the latter years of his life Taylor operated a poolroom for a time, but broke his left arm in a fall and, when it was not properly set, he lost the arm to amputation. He remained active in baseball, securing rights to print and distribute game programs and scorecards at Bugle Field when the Baltimore Elite Giants played there. In January 1953, three years after giving up his enterprise, he died of pneumonia. Highly regarded by his peers, smooth in the field, and with no weakness at the plate, Ben Taylor is well deserving of his niche among the greats in black baseball history. He was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

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

Ben Taylor photo

Ben Taylor