2022 Early Baseball Era Committee Candidate: George “Tubby” Scales

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 Jay Jaffe’s introduction to the ballot, see here.

2022 Early Baseball Candidate: George “Tubby” Scales
Baseball Reference (Major Negro Leagues) 686 64 .319/.421/.509 147 22.3
Seamheads (All Black baseball) 897 71 .326/.423/.513 141 24.9
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.

George “Tubby” Scales was a right-handed infielder and slugger. Regarded as one of the Negro Leagues’ greatest curveball hitters, Scales hit for both average and power, and was also a versatile infielder who could play multiple positions. His nickname “Tubby” came from his imposing physical presence relative to other players of the time; Scales checked in at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, though as is often the case with Negro Leagues players, there is some inconsistency in the contemporaneous accounts of his height and weight (they don’t even all agree on his middle name). In a 1928 New York Age tribute penned after Scales hit a particularly impressive home run in exhibition play against the Cuban Stars, John F. Condon wrote:

“The baseball men of former years and those spirited players in the colored ranks were discussing the competitive merits of various stars today when the writer heard the name of George Scales mentioned.

It was my extreme pleasure to play against such colored celebrities as the three Jacksons, White, Seldon, Clarence Williams, Roy Thomas Grant, Monroe, and others of equal caliber in their prime, and I can safely say that as an all-a-round man George Scales is the peer of any of them.

It is true Monroe, Grant, McClellan, Harrison and Clarence Williams were layers “par excellence” in their respective positions, but George Scales as a general player is to be considered favorably when the deadly parallel about stars is drawn.”

Condon would go on to say, “On Sunday, September 16, 1928, his home run against the Cuban Stars is claimed to be the longest hit ever knocked at Protectory Oval.” It was just one of the many highlights Scales notched in the course of a 40-year professional career spent as a player and manager, and often both.

Scales was born in Talladega, Alabama, on August 16, 1900. Before signing as a shortstop with the Montgomery Grey Sox of the Negro Southern League in 1919, he attended high school at Talladega College for two years, where he played on the school team. As Condon noted in his tribute, Scales showed his aptitude in the field at an early age:

“[B]efore he was sixteen years of age he was selected by the college there to cover short garden, which he did to perfection, surprising the talent and wise ones beyond all conjecture or calculation.

Such lightning double plays and quick perception on Scales’ part were recorded by the board of directors at Montgomery, that the members placed in the “Capital” team along the Alabama River in his native state during 1919-20.”

In 1920, he helped the Grey Sox win a pennant. In 1921, he moved up to the St. Louis Giants of the first Negro National League. Over his career, Scales played for the St. Louis Giants (1921), St. Louis Stars (1922-23), the New York Lincoln Giants (1923-25, ’26-29), the Newark Stars (1926), the Homestead Grays (1925, ’29-31, ’35), the New York Black Yankees (1932-34, ’36, ’39, ’45), and the Baltimore Elite Giants (1938, ’40-44, ’46). He also played for Almendares of the Cuban Winter League (1927), and Estrellas Orientales and the Santo Domingo Stars of the Dominican Republic (1937). In his 1930 season with the Grays — a team that also featured Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston, among others — he led the team with a .398 average and .496 on-base percentage and was second to Gibson in slugging (.597) and OPS+ (162); the club went 45-15-1 and finished first among the Eastern Independent Clubs.

Scales’ bat was superlative. Per the stats at Baseball Reference, which include play with teams within leagues recognized as majors during the 1920-48 period, he was a .319/.421/.509 career hitter, with 64 home runs, a 147 OPS+ and 22.3 WAR, all while playing first, second, third, shortstop, and in the outfield. He had 14 seasons in the major Negro Leagues during which he hit .300 or better, posting an average over .400 in two of them.

Meanwhile the Seamheads Negro Leagues database, which also includes Scales’ time spent on independent teams but not within Latin leagues or in exhibitions against white major leagues, credits him a .326/.423/.513 career line, 71 home runs, and 24.9 WAR. That final figure ranks 34th overall among Negro League players and 22nd among position players. Among the Negro League players in the Seamheads database who aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame, Scales’ WAR ranks 12th overall, sixth among position players, and second among second basemen. He ranks ninth in career slugging percentage among Negro Leaguers with at least 3,000 plate appearances; the eight players ahead of him — Gibson, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Charleston, Jud Wilson, Willie Wells, Martín Dihigo, and Cristóbal Torriente — are all in the Hall of Fame. Among Negro League position players with at least 3,000 PA who are not yet in the Hall, he ranks first in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS+.

Baseball was a year-round occupation for Scales. He played and managed in both the United States and the Caribbean. In 1937, he was part of a group of Negro League ballplayers who made history — both for their play and their willingness to act in defiance of the Negro National League teams that employed them. Along with Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and others, Scales jumped his contract to play for more money in the Dominican Republic (Paige reportedly recruited some Black baseball stars without permission from their team owners). The players who left their Negro National League teams to play in the Caribbean faced suspension or boycott from “Negro organized ball.” Scales played for Estrellas Orientales, while Bell, Gibson and Paige played for Ciudad Trujillo, named for Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo; it was considered one of the greatest Negro teams ever assembled. As legend would have it, Paige “pitched for his life” under the threat of death by Trujillo’s men.

Upon their return, the players formed Trujillo’s All-Stars and barnstormed around the United States with Scales as their player-manager. They also played under the names of the Satchel Paige All-Stars, Dominican All-Stars and the Negro League All-Stars. Their U.S. barnstorming tour included playing in and winning the prestigious Denver Post Tournament, with a score of 11-2 in their final game of the championship series. The tournament, which featured the top 16 semi-pro and independent teams in the country, pitted the Trujillo squad against teams such as Grover Cleveland Alexander’s McVittes Restaurant team (Springfield, IL), “Slingin” Sammy Baugh’s Pampa Oilers (TX) club, Roger Hornsby’s Denver Bay Refiners, and Oliver “The Ghost” Marcelle playing third base for the otherwise “all-white” Goalstone Brothers Jewelers team from Denver.

The Trujillo’s All-Stars were just one of Scales’ many stints as a player-manager; indeed, he is often remembered just as much for his managerial skills as his bat. When the New York Black Yankees organized in 1932, Scales became the franchise’s first manager. From 1921-43, he was involved with multiple Negro League teams as both a player and player-manager. He was a player-manager for the New York Black Yankees (1932-34, ’39, ’45), Santo Domingo Stars (1937) and Baltimore Elite Giants (1938, ’43); he also managed the Giants after he was done playing in 1947. In 1939, Tom Wilson, the President of the Negro National League, selected Scales to manage the East squad in both of the highly popular East-West All-Star games at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Though the East squad lost the first game 4-2, they beat the West in the second game three weeks later 10-2.

He also had a successful managerial career in the Puerto Rican Winter League, first with Aguadilla Tiburones (1939) and then Ponce Leones (1940-49, ’58, ’59) and Santurce Cangrejeros (1950-51). Scales won six pennants in Puerto Rico, including five championships in six seasons from 1941-47 with Ponce Leones; he was named Manager of the Year four times.

Due to his propensity for berating umpires, legendary baseball scribe Wendell Smith once called for George Scales to be banned from baseball forever. In his “The Sports Beat” column in The Pittsburgh Courier in 1945, Smith wrote:

“The game in Newark Sunday was called because George Scales cursed the umpires so loud and long there was nothing else to do. If he had been put out of the game, he probably would have called his team off the field, anyway…so the umpires denied him that pleasure by calling the whole thing off. Scales put on a similar demonstration in Pittsburgh this year. He disagreed with a decision rendered by Umpire Bill Harris. His abusive language could be heard by women and children up in the stands. He held the ball game up for fifteen minutes arguing over a decision that was based solely on judgment. He is not the only manager who resorts to profanity, but he is certainly the most consistent.”

Two weeks prior to the incident to which Smith was referring, Scales disputed a call so vehemently that he pulled the Black Yankees off the field in the fifth inning; the game was forfeited to the Philadelphia Stars. After Smith’s column was published, the Memphis contest was not only forfeit, but the team was fined $500. The Negro National League called for Scales’ dismissal and he was replaced, though he stayed with the team as a player.

Despite the fact that he could be incredibly (and controversially) confrontational as a manager, Scales was a mentor. He is credited with mentoring Roy Campanella, then a 16-year-old backup catcher for the Scales-managed Baltimore Elite Giants. Scales returned to the Elite Giants in 1946, his final season with the team, as a coach. It was then that he taught future major leaguer Jim “Junior” Gilliam how to both play second base and switch-hit. In an interview with John B. Holway a few years before he died, Scales said, “I’d like to be a teacher. I can see a lot of flaws. I see them on TV, plenty of it: in their batting stance, the way they throw, the way they field. They get off on the wrong foot on the baseline, they hit the base with the wrong foot, they can’t turn, they run too far out of the baseline.”

Though he never made it himself, Scales’ influence and impact made it to the Major Leagues through the players he mentored. After the Negro National League folded, he served as the traveling secretary for the Elites after they became part of the Negro American League. Scales returned to the Ponce Lions in 1958 and ’59 to close out his career; he was elected into the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 1996. After his retirement from baseball, Scales worked as a stockbroker. He died on April 15, 1976. He was one of the 39 candidates on the final ballot considered by the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues in 2006, but fell short of induction.

Though he never made it to Major League Baseball, Scales was a pioneer, a decorated manager, and, as Roy Campanella told Ted Page in The Pittsburgh Courier in 1963, “when it came to hitting, I’m convinced that no one in organized baseball today, could hit a curveball better than George Scales, big, graceful, powerful, smart.” That’s about as Hall of Fame-worthy as it gets.

Shakeia Taylor is a writer based in Chicago. Her work focuses on the intersection of Black culture and sport in America.

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5 months ago

His candidacy makes sense if one doesn’t use translations to AL/NL and considers Negro Leagues as fully equal major leagues. I wouldn’t do that but I also wouldn’t object to that if voters did it either.