"Pepper Bassett? You ever hear a lion growl? That's what he sounded like when he caught. 'You're a liar!' he'd yell. He'd call the umpire a liar.
Negro Leaguer of the Month
Lloyd "Pepper" Bassett
Teams: New Orleans Crescent Stars, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords, Chicago American Giants, Ethiopian Clowns, Cincinnati Clowns, Indianapolis Clowns, Birmingham Black Barons, Philadelphia Stars, Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Stars, Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes (Mexico)
Johnny Bench was so relaxed while catching that some thought he looked like he was relaxing in a chair. Lloyd "Pepper" Bassett, the "Rocking Chair Catcher," actually did catch in a chair!
Bassett was labeled "the next Josh Gibson" when he entered the Negro Leagues as a 15-year-old in 1934, and though he never lived up to that label, he was a fine defensive catcher who could hit some long home runs and was a fan favorite.
Bassett was a huge player for his era, standing 6'-3" and weighing almost 250 pounds at a time when six-feet was considered very big. Bassett was a switch-hitter and usually batted near the bottom of the order like many other catchers of the day, and in his prime flirted with .300 with around 20 homers per season.
Bassett grew up in Baton Rouge, and his first team of note was the New Orleans Crescent Stars, a black semipro team. To increase interest in the team, Bassett occassionlly caught while sitting in a rocking chair during lopsided games. Bassett had the chair's right arm rest removed, allowing him to throw easier to second. Once he got to the Black Big Leagues, Bassett pretty much discarded his rocking chair and was a steady defensive backstop.
Bassett was never one of the top catchers in baseball, and often was his team's backup, but in 1939 he received 502,394 votes for the East-West Game, second to Ted Strong among all Negro Leaguers. Playing in eight East-West Games from '37-'53 for four different teams, Bassett batted .133.
In 1940, Bassett jumped to the Mexican Leagues, batting .230 with eight homers in the short season, and when he returned to the States, he played for several years with the Clowns where he occasionally caught games while sitting in a rocking chair.
In the mid-40s Bassett joined the Birmingham Black Barons, and stayed with them for nine seasons, a little more than half of those as a starter. Bassett had some woeful batting averages in the 40s, often near the .200 range, but in 1948 he batted close to .350 and helped lead the Black Barons to the Negro League World Series. In '44, Bassett had been injured and played only sparingly in the World Series against the Grays, but in '48 he was a one of the leaders of a team that included Piper Davis, Alonzo Perry, Artie Wilson, and a 17-year-old named Willie Mays.
After beating the Kansas City Monarchs in seven games in the Negro American League playoffs, the Barons met the Homestead Grays and were beat handily in five games. The only Baron win came when Mays hit a walk-off RBI single in game three. The '48 Series, by the way, would be the last Negro League World Series as interest in the Negro Leagues waned.
When the Negro Leagues started to falter due to their young players signing with Major and Minor League clubs, Bassett ventured to Canada and played for Brandon of the Manitoba-Dakota League. In 41 games, Bassett hit .252 with a pair of homers, as Brandon took the league pennant.
In all, Bassett played 21 seasons of steady and occasionally colorful baseball.