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Santop's power impressed everyone

Santop's power impressed everyone

He carried around a bat that he called "Big Bertha," and catcher Lou Santop wielded it like a toothpick.

A big and easy-going Texan, Santop became one of the earliest superstars of black baseball during the "dead ball" era. He was a polished catcher with a strong arm. His powerful bat, however, wasn't as valued as it might have been had Santop played in later periods of baseball.

But power has a way of impressing, no matter what era. And Santop's power impressed and amazed people. In 1912 game, he was credited with a tape-measure, 500-foot shot that might still be traveling with the juiced baseballs of later eras.

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It was that kind of power that brought Santop, whom people called the "Black Babe Ruth," to the brink of immortality. He is one of 39 players and executives from black baseball who are getting consideration for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The case for his selection is a strong one. For in his prime, Santop was the marquee name in black baseball.

His career allowed him to call games for some of the legendary pitchers of his era. He caught Smokey Joe Williams and Cannonball Dick Redding, among others, in a pro career that took off after he joined the New York Lincoln Giants in 1911.

Playing for the Lincoln Giants until 1914, Santop not only demonstrated power, but he hit for high averages.

He produced seasons in which he batted .470, .422, .429 and .455.

After a brief stint in 1915 with the Chicago American Giants, Santop took "Big Bertha" back to New York, this time to play for the Lincoln Stars.

He joined a team that included Redding, Spots Poles and John Henry Lloyd. Santop returned to the Lincoln Giants in 1918, a season in which he saw the Lincoln Giants lose in the championship game to the American Giants.

Yet no matter where he went to play, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Santop left the landscape littered with stories about his good nature.

According to baseball historian James A. Riley's "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues," Santop was once the recipient of a knockdown pitch from ex-New York Giant Jeff Tesreau in an exhibition game. Both men were natives of Tyler, Texas.

Santop yelled to Tesreau, "You wouldn't throw at a hometown boy, would you?"

Tesreau's reply: "All n------ look alike to me!"

But the gentle Santop took no offense then, but that didn't mean this incredible hulk of a man couldn't be pushed to anger.

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On one occasion, he got into a disagreement with Oscar Charleston, considered the greatest player in the history of the black baseball. Santop broke three of Charleston's ribs in a fight.

In 1917, Santop joined the Hilldale Daisies for a three-game series against an all-star team of Major League players. Facing pitchers Chief Bender and Bullet Joe Bush, Santop collected six hits as the Daisies won two of the three games.

In all, Santop hit .316 against Major League hurlers.

After serving in World War I from 1918-1919, he returned to spend the remainder of his career with Hilldale, and he was well paid for it.

He made $500 a month, a king's ransom in those days. With Santop in the lineup, the Daisies won pennants in 1923, 1924 and 1925, but an error he made in the '24 Negro World Series basically ended his career.

With Hilldale holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, Santop dropped a popup that would have ended the ballgame. On the next pitch, the batter delivered a hit with the bases loaded to knock in the tying and winning runs.

In addition to the embarrassment, Santop had to sit through manager Frank Warfield's profanity-filled tirade.

The following year, Biz Mackey took over as starting catcher. Santop was released the next season.

After retiring from the game, Santop became a broadcaster and eventually a bartender in Philadelphia before falling ill. He died in a naval hospital in 1942.

Yet his death didn't silence the tall tales about the great power that Santop displayed during his baseball prime.

Rollo Wilson, a legendary black sportswriter, once wrote this about Santop: "When we get around to that all-time All-Star stuff, and someone -- for instance, Rube Foster, with an intimate knowledge of Negro baseball and its players, writes a history of the game, his All-Time team will have as its first-string catcher our boy friend of the Rio Pecos, Louis Napoleon Santop."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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