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Bill "Speed" Holland with the Detroit Stars

"Wilbur 'Bullet' Rogan, of Chicago, is said by some judges to be the best hurler in the league. Detroit has two very good ones in Bill Holland and William Force, and a capable left-hander in Andy Cooper."
Detroit Saturday Night newspaper, 1922, quoted from "Turkey Stearnes and the Detroit Stars," by Richard Bak

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

March, 2013

Elvis "Bill" Holland, aka "Speed" Holland
Position: pitcher
Batted: Both; Threw: Right
Height: 5'-9”, Wt. 180
Born: February 28, 1901 in Indianapolis, IN
Died: December 3, 1972 in New York City
Career: 1919-1941
Teams: Jewel ABCs, Detroit Stars, Hilldale Daisies, Philadelphia Stars, Chicago American Giants, New York Lincolns, Harlem Stars, Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Black Yankees

With a name like Elvis, you’d think that he’d be "the king of Negro League pitchers," but “Bill” Holland was simply a very good pitcher for a very long time!  Though he was only average size—5’-9 and 180 pounds—Holland threw smoke and was nicknamed “Speed” and “Devil” during his career.  During his prime, Holland averaged about a half-dozen strikeouts per game and a pair of walks against Negro League competition, and about a dozen strikeouts against white semi-pros.

When Holland got a bit older, he mixed in a great drop ball and was known to scuff a ball or two in his day!

Holland was born in Indianapolis and played semi-pro ball with the local Jewel ABCs as a teenager before being signed by the Negro National League’s Detroit Stars in 1920, joining a pitching staff with Bill Gatewood, Submarine McDonald and Andy Cooper.  Holland won 11 league games, second on the team to Gatewood’s  16.  At bat, Holland couldn’t break .100. In 1921 and '22 Holland led the Stars with 18 complete games each season, and in '22 he led the team in wins (16) and innings pitcher (204). His 39 lifetime league wins with the short-lived Stars ranks him second all-time in team history behind Andy Cooper's 91. Holland's lifetime ERA with Detroit was approximately 2.77.

Holland pitched several years in Cuba, and led the Cuban Winter League in wins in 1924 with 10.

After a few years with Detroit and the Chicago American Giants, Holland joined the powerful New York Lincolns in 1929.  1930 might have been Holland’s best professional season as he went 13-3 in league games, with 29 wins overall.  The Lincolns of 1930 were one of the strongest teams in Negro League history, with an offense led by Chino Smith, Turkey Stearnes, Pop Lloyd, John Beckwith and Clint Thomas.  The Lincolns played some of their home games at Yankee Stadium, and on July 10th of ’33 Holland became the first black pitcher in Yankee Stadium history.

In 1931 Holland switched to New York’s other Negro League team, the New York Black Yankees, and he stayed with them for a decade.  The 1933 Black Yankees were especially tough with a pitching staff of Holland, Ted Trent and Double Duty Radcliffe.  Offensively, Radcliffe led the Yanks with a .333 average, and other stars included John Beckwith, Showboat Thomas and player-manager George Scales.

Holland played a total of 21 seasons in the Negro Leagues, and was fortunate to appear on pitching staffs with legends Double Duty Radcliffe, Smokey Joe Williams, Sam Streeter, Dick Redding and Dave Brown, and he threw to some of the greatest catchers in Negro League history including Radcliffe, Larry Brown, Bruce Petway, Biz Mackey and Jim Brown.

In 1939 Holland was chosen to represent the Black Yankees in the East-West All-Star game, but he didn’t figure in the decision, allowing one run and two hits in 2/3 of an inning.

Holland was a better than .500 pitcher in league games during his career, and he won more than 70% of his non-league decisions. 

No less an expert than Cool Papa Bell said that Holland was one of the best pitchers he faced in the Negro Leagues, among a small group that included Satchel Paige, Bullet Joe Rogan and Smokey Joe Williams.

1920 Detroit stars, including Bill Holland (top row, far left), catcher Bruce Petway (top row, third from left),
Hall of Famer Pete Hill (middle row, second from left) and Hall of Famer Andy Cooper (middle row, far right).