2022 Early Baseball Era Committee Candidate: Dick “Cannonball” Redding

The following article is part of a series concerning the 2022 Early Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon on December 5. For an introduction to the ballot, see here, and for an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Dick “Cannonball” Redding

2022 Early Baseball Candidate: Dick “Cannonball” Redding
Baseball Ref (Major Negro Leagues) 9-21 247.2 107 4.43 98 2.9
Seamheads (All Black baseball) 109-80 1629 979 2.91 129 32.3
Baseball Reference data covers only play with teams within leagues recognized as majors during 1920-48 period. Seamheads data includes play with independent teams, but not within Latin leagues or exhibitions against white major leagues.

“From 1911 when he broke into fast company, until a few years ago he used nothing but his smoke ball. And it was impossible to hit it. I know, because I have tried,” Ben Taylor, Hall of Fame first baseman, 1925

“Redding would show the batter his back for perhaps two seconds while balancing on his right foot before letting go with his fastball. The fans loved this bit of showmanship and batters found that it did not detract from the speed of the pitch.” — Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White, 1970

Dick Redding was one of the best pitchers in the decade before the Negro Leagues formed, an imposing, overpowering righty who earned the nickname “Cannonball” thanks to his smoking fastball. Standing 6-foot-4 (though some sources only report 6-foot-1) and weighing 210 to 245 pounds, he had huge hands that could hide a baseball, and dealt in deception and disruption, working with a no-windup delivery with his back to the hitter and later adding a hesitation pitch that predated that of Satchel Paige. He threw only fastballs early in his career, albeit with pinpoint control (“three pitches — fastball on the outer half, fastball down the middle and fastball inside,” as David Barr wrote) and the threat of a brushback; later, he added a curveball and a fadeaway (screwball). He had exceptional stamina, generally finishing what he started and sometimes pitching two or three days worth of doubleheaders in a row.

Major league managers such as John McGraw and Casey Stengel stood in awe of Redding, making it known they’d sign him if not for the color line. McGraw hired him to pitch batting practice to his team in 1911, while Stengel, after playing against him in Brooklyn, told him, “If you had a ball club in the big leagues, you wouldn’t lose any games at all,” and later said he’d take Redding over Paige. Newspapers credit Redding with pitching seven no-hitters against all levels of competition while with the New York Lincoln Giants in 1912, and at least 30 in his career; one of them was the first documented no-hitter against two high-level Black teams, another the first in Negro National League history. He pitched for at least 15 championship teams, and more than held his own when going up against white major leaguers, even striking out Babe Ruth. Though he made cameos into the 1930s while managing the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the toll of his heavy workload caused his effectiveness to decline even by the time he began pitching in the Eastern Colored League, one of the seven major Negro Leagues, in 1923. Still, he’s regarded along with Paige, sometime teammate Smokey Joe Williams, and Bullet Joe Rogan as one of Black baseball’s very best pitchers.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on April 15, 1890, Redding and his two siblings were raised by his mouther Laura, a laundress. He learned baseball on Atlanta’s sandlots, and began playing semiprofessionally with the Atlanta Deppins, one of the South’s top teams, in 1909. He made his professional debut with the Philadelphia Giants, a team managed by this ballot’s Grant “Home Run” Johnson, in 1911, but in midseason, he, catcher Louis Santop, outfielder Spottswood Poles and two other players jumped to the New York Lincoln Giants, where he immediately became the staff ace. The Philadelphia team wound up disbanding before season’s end.

Via the Center for Negro League Baseball Research’s 2013 biography of Redding by Dr. Layton Revel and Luis Munoz, the 21-year-old righty went 15-3 with 17 complete games and 4 shutouts, and according to newspaper reports reeled off 17 straight wins; many of those were against lower-level semipro and local competition, but he did beat Rube Foster’s Chicago Leland Giants, one of the top teams of the day. Later that year, the New York Tribune compared him to New York Giants ace Christy Mathewson, calling Redding “the Black Matty.”

Managed by star shortstop (and future Hall of Famer) John Henry Lloyd — with whom Redding would team up time and again throughout the next decade — the Lincoln Giants finished 1911 with a record of 108-12 against all competition and laid claim to the title of “Colored Champions of the East.”* They got even stronger the next year; as researcher John Holway wrote, “For three fabulous seasons on the old Lincoln Giants of the Bronx, 1912-1914, Cannonball Dick Redding teamed with Smokey Joe Williams in one of the best one-two pitching punches ever seen in America.”

(*Note: here and throughout this piece I am using the championship titles provided by the CNLBR, either via the aforementioned bio or “Colored Championship Series 1900-1919,” and “Colored Championship Series 1920-1931,” the last two of which have no author credited.)

The 1912 team featured four future Hall of Famers in Lloyd, Williams, Santop, and first baseman Ben Taylor. Redding’s season highlights included a 24-strikeout game against a semipro team on June 16; a perfect game against a Jersey City team featuring former major leaguers “Turkey Mike” Donlin, Ducky Holmes, and Al Schacht; a perfect game against the Cherokee Indians barnstorming team; the first documented no-hitter involving two high-level Black teams, as Redding beat Jose Mendez and the Cuban Stars, 1-0 on August 28; and victories over the New York Giants and Boston Braves in exhibitions. Whew.

Newspaper records credit Redding with an overall record of 43-12 (.782) in games against all levels of competition for that season. Via research by Larry Lester and Dick Clark, in games against top level competition in the East in 1912 — still likely with some semipro teams in the mix — Redding went 9-3 with 4 shutouts and a 1.62 ERA, with 128 strike outs and just 10 walks in 111 innings. Via Seamheads, whose database has been painstakingly reconstructed using box scores (and occasionally, play-by-play) only of games against major Black competition, and additionally audited and balanced, Redding went 5-5 with a 2.20 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 82 innings. Such discrepancies are inevitable in tracing the history of Black baseball; that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the differing data streams, but we should be clear about what each purports to measure.

The Lincoln Giants repeated as “Colored Champions of the East” in both 1912 and ’13, and as “Colored World’s Champions” after defeating Foster’s Chicago American Giants, though Redding’s playing time was severely limited during the latter season for some unknown reason, with the CNLBR bio noting that only four box scores of him pitching against top-level teams in the East have been discovered (and Seamheads has just two). He may well have been injured, as there’s also no record of him pitching in the Cuban Winter League after the season, unlike the two seasons before and the one after.

Redding rebounded in 1914, going 15-3 with a 2.84 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 171.2 innings against top-level competition, and 46-12 including games against all levels of competition (CNLBR). In the fall, Redding signed with the New York Lincoln Stars to join them on their trip to Cuba, and things went well enough that he decided to stay with them for the 1915 season; the team also added Lloyd, Santop, and Poles, among others. Redding absolutely dominated top-level competition, going 24-7 with a 2.03 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 283 innings according to the CLNBR, and 8-5 with a 1.33 ERA in 122 innings via Seamheads. He began the 1915 season with 20 straight wins against all levels of competition, not losing until the Lincoln Stars went west on a barnstorming tour and fell to Dizzy Dismukes and the Indianapolis ABCs; reportedly, the superstitious Redding did not change his uniform during his streak. Having claimed the title of “Colored Champions of the East,” the Lincoln Stars played the Chicago American Giants for the “Colored Championship of the World,” but after each team won four games, the final game of the series was called after four innings with the Lincoln Stars leading. They declared themselves the champions, while Chicago declared the series a tie. According to James A. Riley’s The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues, during the series Redding won three times, once via shutout, and also hit .385.

Redding made a brief return to the Lincoln Giants in the fall of 1915, filling in for Smokey Joe Williams when he had a broken wrist, and then returning for the ’16 season and going 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 80.2 innings (Seamheads); an August 27 clipping from a Harlem paper noted that he “has pitched one and two hit games with regularity.” On October 8, he had a near-miss with Ty Cobb in an exhibition game in Connecticut. The non-encounter — Cobb’s refusal to hit against Redding — had long been part of lore but in 2019 Gary Ashwill, founder of the Seamheads database, tracked it down. Cobb, playing first base for the New Haven Colonials, departed after five innings, before Redding came on. Wrote the Norwich Bulletin, “Cobb did not do much to talk about while he was in the game and by previous agreement stopped playing when it was half over when Cannonball Redding the great colored pitcher went in to work for Putnam.” Redding struck out 11 of the 12 batters he faced in a 1-0 win “and was given a great ovation by the crowd to whom he proved much more of an attraction than the high salaried Cobb who is said to have received $300 for his afternoon’s appearance.” Having been upstaged by Johnson and company in Havana in the winter of 1910, Cobb had vowed never to play against Black players again, according to biographer Charles Alexander.

After a brief stint with the Brooklyn Royal Giants in November 1916, Redding returned to the Lincoln Giants for spring training the following year but before the start of the season joined Foster’s Chicago American Giants, which also featured Lloyd, Hall of Famer Pete Hill, and other quality pitchers including Tom Williams, Frank Wickware, and Foster himself; the team put up a 1.53 ERA for the season, according to Seamheads, with Redding posting an 0.70 mark while going 14-3 with 111 strikeouts in 153.2 innings; he also went 16-for-56 (.286) at the plate. Chicago finished with a record of 57-14-3 (.803) versus top level teams, including taking 15 of 19 versus the arch-rival Indianapolis ABCs. The Chicagos, the undisputed “Colored Champions of the West,” beat the New York Lincoln Giants four games to three for the “Colored Championship of the World,” though Redding and Tom Williams were both unavailable to pitch for some reason.

After playing in the Florida Hotel League in February 1918, Redding joined the Brooklyn Royal Giants (as did Lloyd, as player/manager, and Tom Williams) and found early success (4-0, 0.00 ERA via Seamheads), but after picking up a pair of wins in relief in both ends of a June 7 doubleheader against the Lincoln Giants in front of 15,000 fans at Harlem’s Olympic Field, he didn’t appear in another documented game that year. Instead he was drafted into military service, joining the 24th Infantry at Camp Upton, New York, playing on a team there until leaving for combat duty in France; there he acquired the nickname “Grenade” for his battlefield achievements.

After returning to the Royal Giants in 1919, Redding squared off against the Lincoln Giants and Smokey Joe Williams at Olympic Park in a classic pitching duel; he allowed just two hits, but Williams threw a no-hitter and won 1-0. Shortly afterwards, Redding moved on to the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, who were co-owned by Brooklyn Royal Giants founder John W. Connor, one of the few Black owners of a top Black baseball team in this period. Again, Lloyd came over as player/manager, with other familiar faces such as Poles and Taylor joining as well. Redding went 7-4 with a 1.31 ERA in 96.1 innings (Seamheads). In September at Shibe Park, he threw a two-hit shutout against Tom Williams and the Philadelphia Hilldale Club in the ninth and deciding game to determine the “Colored Champions of the East.”

With Lloyd returning to Brooklyn, the 31-year-old Redding took over managing the Bacharach Giants in 1920, the year that Foster led the founding of the Negro National League. The Bacharach Giants were considered an associate member of the league, playing extensively against NNL teams but not competing for the league championship. With 22-year-old shortstop Dick Lundy — whom many experts expected to appear on this Early Baseball ballot — and 26-year-old third baseman Oliver Marcell behind him, the Bacharachs had the best left side of the infield in Black baseball.

According to newspaper reports, Redding won 19 consecutive decisions against league and semipro opponents (CNLBR). Twice during the season, the Bacharach collected firsts for a Black team at Ebbets Field, beating a white semipro team, the Treat ‘Em Roughs, twice on May 22, and then by beating the Lincoln Giants 5-0 on June 11, with Redding besting Smokey Joe Williams. On August 22, 1920, Redding threw the first no-hitter in Negro National League history, beating the Chicago Giants 5-0 at Shibe Park.

After the regular season, the Atlantic City team played an exhibition against the Babe Ruth All-Stars, with Redding squaring off against Carl Mays; though the Bambino homered to break up Redding’s shutout, the Cannonball got the victory in the 9-4 win. This was the first of a handful of times Redding would face Ruth; via Holway, Redding struck out Ruth three times in one game (author Lawrence Hogan placed that game in 1922).

Still at the helm of Atlantic City, which remained an associate member of the NNL, Redding returned from pitching in Cuba reportedly armed with a new fadeaway pitch and went 19-13 with a 3.48 ERA (Seamheads); two of those wins came against Hilldale in a series to decide the “Colored Champions of the East.” While Hilldale won the other two games, no tiebreaker was played for some reason. When the Bacharach Giants traveled west to face the Chicago American Giants for the title of “Colored Champions of the World,” Chicago took the four-game series, with Redding losing twice to ace Dave Brown and one game ending in a tie.

In 1922, the Bacharach Giants split into two, with Redding, Marcell, and many of the team’s other best players joined by Lloyd (player/manager again) as the New York Bacharach Giants (associate members of the NNL) and Lundy staying as player/manager of the Atlantic City version. Redding was the staff ace, going 10-8 with a 3.61 ERA but missing significant time in August due to dental problems. The New York team, which promoted itself as the “Colored Champions of the East,” lost to the Chicago American Giants in a series for the title of “Colored Champions of the World,” three games to two, with Redding losing his only game.

The two Bacharach teams reunited as Atlantic City in 1923, but Redding rejoined the Brooklyn Royal Giants as player/manager. Both teams were part of the new six-team Eastern Colored League, one of the leagues now classified as majors. Brooklyn went just 18-18 in league play, finishing third, but they dominated non-league opponents, going 13-1 in the 14 box scores that have been found. The team struggled to a 16-25 record in league play in 1924, with Smokey Joe Willams, now 38 years old, only intermittently effective.

Judging by his numbers in league play, Redding, who was by now 34 years old, was himself no longer dominant. Though both he and the team fared well in non-league games — with the team often billing itself as “World Colored Champions” — they struggled within the ECL through 1927. During this time, Redding went 9-21 with a 4.43 ERA (98 ERA+) in 247.2 innings against major league competition, and the Royal Giants finished below .500 annually from 1924-27, landing in the cellar with an 11-23 record in the last of those seasons. The league folded in mid-April 1928, with Brooklyn returning to playing as an independent team and continuing to do so from ’29 through 31, albeit with diminishing returns against top-level competition, including 0-7 in the latter season.

Redding continued to manage Brooklyn through 1937, but neither he nor the team generated much in the way of verifiable statistics after ’31. The CNLBR bio reports one newspaper article claiming that Redding had won at least thirty-five (35) games a year against independent and semipro teams for the 1930-34 period, but Seamheads has just three box scores and one win for that span.

After retiring from baseball, Redding lived a quiet life in New York but in early 1948 was hospitalized in a mental institution, suffering from what was reported as “a strange malady.” He died in the hospital on October 31, from what was categorized at the time as a “mysterious ailment.” An unredacted death certificate later reported the cause of death to be syphilis.

Unlike most of the Black candidates on this ballot, Redding began getting Hall of Fame consideration as far back as 1971, when the first Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues convened and elected nine players over a seven-year span, starting with Paige (1971) and Josh Gibson (1972). A total of 25 players were on that ballot, which was reused annually. Of that group, 21 have since been elected, with only Redding, Lundy, pitcher Chet Brewer, and second baseman Sammie Hughes not getting the nod. After Negro Leagues candidates became the purview of the Veterans Committee, Redding was considered at least three other times during the 1980s and ’90s, and was one of the 39 finalists on the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues ballot but like several other candidates on this ballot (Johnson, John Donaldson, Buck O’Neil, and George Scales) was not among the 17 elected. Via Steven R. Greenes, author of Negro Leaguers and the Hall of Fame: The Case for Inducting 24 Overlooked Ballplayers , committee member Todd Bolton expressed the belief that Redding received at least 50% of the vote from the 12-person committee, while committee member James Overmeyer surmised that his chances were hurt because his prime was over by 1920, the advent of the major Negro Leagues.

Indeed, if one is looking to assess Redding’s career only by what counts as major league statistics — his five years in the ECL from ages 33-37, during which he was also serving as manager — he doesn’t belong on a ballot, but it’s not his fault he was born too early for that structure to be in place. The statistical evidence that’s there, even though it’s still just a fraction of his body of work, makes for a more convincing case. Based on the sortable data at Seamheads — which alas via this function includes the Latin and major league exhibition totals, though those are comparatively small — Redding’s 32.2 WAR for the 1911-22 span ranks second behind Smokey Joe Williams (37.8); he’s first in innings (1,927.1), strikeouts (1,131), wins (125), losses (95), and shutouts (22), though some of those leads come from his 445-inning lead over Williams, who was better at run prevention (155 to 117 in terms of ERA+ for this stretch, which represents only about 65% of Williams’ verified innings in a career spanning 1907-32 overall).

In providing me with some guidance on Redding’s statistics, career, and coverage, Scott Simkus, an author/historian who’s part of the Seamheads team, wrote:

“Redding was a huge presence during the Deadball era. He and Joe Williams were like Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, at least in terms of their stature in the Black baseball community. Total studs. The seemingly disproportionate amount of coverage, or innings pitched, has entirely to do with how good he was. He was a BIG name. He pitched all the big games. His teams put the ball in his hand more often than his teammate’s. He brought crowds out to the park. Joe Williams was better, but Redding was certainly as big a name.”

Simkus is hardly the only expert who holds Redding’s career in high esteem. Hall of Famer Cumberland Posey, the longtime owner of the Homestead Grays, selected him as the second-best pitcher on his all-time Negro Leagues All-Star team in 1952, behind Smokey Joe and ahead of Satchel; several other Hall of Famers and Negro Leagues veterans (including Buck O’Neil) included him on their all-time teams as well. Robert Peterson, author of the seminal 1970 book Only the Ball Was White, placed him on his second team alongside Hall of Famer Bill Foster, with Smokey Joe and Donaldson on his first. The oft-cited 1952 Pittsburgh Courier experts poll of 31 Negro League players, managers, executives, and writers included him on its second team as well.

As Greenes summarized, “Bill James claimed Redding was the best Negro League pitcher for the period from 1917 to 1919. John B. Holway has awarded him his George Stovey Award as the best pitcher in the Eastern Negro Leagues in four separate years from 1915 to 1922. James A. Riley lists him as the best pitcher of his Negro League in 1911, 1912, and 1920.” All of that suggests Redding would have won multiple Cy Young awards had they been available (the Stovey award is Holway’s proxy).

In my piece on Johnson, I introduced Eric Chalek’s Major League Equivalencies for Negro Leagues players, with links to his methodology for position players. “[W]e want to get a sense of how these guys compare to MLB players so that we can place their achievements into a context that’s more familiar to us,” wrote Chalek. “[W]hen we get done, we have an estimate of what kind of value a fellow would rack up in the big leagues. It’s not a perfect estimate, though it’s the best we currently know how to do.” The same can be done with pitchers; the gory details are here.

Chalek has generated comp lists for most of the Era Committee candidates on both ballots. Here’s the one for Redding:

That’s six Hall of Famers on his list if we count Griffith, who was elected as an executive but tied for 51st in JAWS with Kevin Brown. The Drysdale comp seems particularly apt – a big, intimidating hurler with an overpowering fastball and prominence on championship teems, even while occasionally being overshadowed by an all-time great teammate. Roberts is well above the JAWS standard but most of these guys (including Mullane, a 19th-century workhorse whose numbers are comparable to some of his enshrined contemporaries) are below by three to six points, though they’re hardly out of place in Cooperstown; nobody’s going to ask them to pack their plaques, to call upon one wag’s tagline. What this is telling us is that Redding, while not a slam-dunk, would be in good company if he’s elected. Throw in the more subjective factors — the championships, critical assessments of his value relative to his peers, word of mouth, the fame — and it seems quite clear he belongs.

I’m a yes on Redding as well, and if my analysis of this ballot were ending with this entry, he’d fit right alongside Bill Dahlen, Bud Fowler and Home Run Johnson. I feel more strongly about all three of those candidates, however, and with three more to go in this series, including O’Neil, I foresee some very hard choices ahead before I can finalize my four.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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kick me in the GO NATSmember
10 months ago

Palmer, Ford, Drysdale…. Sounds like a decent hall of famer to me!

Cicotte would likely be in the Hall if he had not pitched for the Black Sox in 1919. his career ended in 1920 because of the scandal with a 2.38 career era in 3223.1 innings.