By Coley Harvey and Justice B. Hill
Special to MLB.com |
In the wake of the Year of the Pitcher and in a salute to Black History Month, MLB.com posed the following question to a panel of 19 of the most respected authorities on "black baseball," a term that includes the period before Rube Foster founded the Negro Leagues in 1920: Who were the top five black pitchers prior to the integration of the Major Leagues? Based on a compilation of their rankings, here is a profile of the man who finished No. 4.
Joe Rogan didn't look like an ace. Certainly Rogan, who went by the nickname "Bullet," didn't seem to have the appearance of someone who could stamp his imprint on baseball as a pitcher.
At 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Rogan didn't have the body to succeed as a pitcher. Or did he?
Yes, say the historians who have chronicled Rogan's career and written about black baseball. For inside the pint-sized package was a fierce will to win. Rogan would do anything he could to beat an opponent, said Leslie Heaphy, a history professor at Kent State and a respected authority on black baseball.
Bob Kendrick: Former marketing director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and an authority of black baseball.
Raymond Doswell: Interim president of the museum, a historian with a PhD and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.
Don Motley: Co-founder and former executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, long-time youth baseball coach in Kansas City area.
Larry Lester: Author, historian, SABR member and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.
Dick Clark: Author, historian, SABR member and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.
Robert Ruck: Senior lecturer in history at Pitt, author and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.
Leslie Heaphy: History professor at Kent State, author, SABR member and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.
Brian Carroll: History professor at Berry College, SABR member and an authority of black baseball.
John Overmyer: SABR member, author and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.
James A. Riley: Author of Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues (seminal work in this area) and authority on black baseball.
Phil S. Dixon: Author and an authority on black baseball.
John Thorn: Author, SABR member and an authority on black baseball.
Isaac Brooks: SABR member and an active member of the Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference.
John Klima: Journalist and baseball authority.
Craig Tomarkin: SABR member, baseball statistician and an expert on black baseball.
Paul E. Doutrich: History professor at York College, SABR member and an expert on baseball.
Chris Murray: Sportswriter with an expertise in black baseball
Chuck Johnson: Writes a column for MLB.com.
Charles Alexander: History professor emeritus, SABR member and an authority on baseball.
"Amazingly, considering his size, he threw an incredibly hard ball," Heaphy said. "He had a wide array of pitches he could throw -- with great control. That was the other key."
Playing on some of the most storied Kansas City Monarchs teams of the 1920s and 1930s, Rogan -- who didn't play professionally until age 30 after spending nearly a decade with U.S. Army teams -- carved out a reputation as one of the most complete ballplayers in the game. Some people compared him with an early version of Babe Ruth: a home run-hitting pitcher who succeeded on the mound and at the plate.
That's the reason a case can be made for calling Rogan the best pitcher in baseball's segregated era, according to both Heaphy and Dick Clark, an author and a Negro League authority. No pitcher outside the Babe helped his cause more than Rogan did.
"Heck, I would want to have a guy who could hit like this doing the pitching," Clark said. "I wouldn't want a weak bat in my lineup. The Negro Leagues just had to have versatile players, even crummy-hitting pitchers who would play in the outfield on occasion. They had to do these things."
The description of a "crummy" hitter, of course, didn't fit Rogan. In addition to being the Monarchs ace, he might have been the team's best hitter. However, it wasn't his bat but his powerful, durable right arm that earned him induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Look at his numbers: Statistics compiled by baseball historian Phil S. Dixon show that Rogan won 350 games. In his tabulation, Dixon included games Rogan pitched against both Negro League and semi-pro teams, and those numbers indicate that he was a consistent 20-game winner.
Counting only Negro League games, Rogan ranks second all-time in wins, with 155. He also ranks among the all-time league leaders with a .705 career winning percentage in those games.
Stack up his numbers against those of others -- Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Willie Foster -- and Rogan looks the equal of them all. Rogan teamed with a young Paige during portions of his 17-year career, and the two gave the Monarchs a one-two punch unlike any in baseball.
Some experts on black baseball say that Rogan was the better of the two. One of their Monarchs teammates, catcher Frank Duncan, argued that Rogan's bat put Paige at a disadvantage in terms of comparing the two pitchers.
"It's hard to make a comparison between the two, because one of them was on the rise and the other was at the tail end of his career," Heaphy said.
Coley Harvey and Justice B. Hill are contributors to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.