“Sug Cornelius was my ace in the hole for the 12 years I played with him. He believed in himself and I believed in him. He was one of the greatest of all time!"
--Double Duty Radcliffe
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©Copyright 2010, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing
Negro Leaguer of the Month
William "Sug" Cornelius
Born September 3, 1906 in Atlanta, GA
Died: October 30, 1989 in Chicago
Ht: 5'-8”, Wt: 167
Batted and threw right
Teams: Nashville Elite Giants, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, Chicago American Giants, Cincinnati Buckeyes, Mexico, Cuba
To make Negro League legend Double Duty Radcliffe's all-time all-star team is quite a feat, and William "Sug" Cornelius had that honor, joining a fantasy pitching staff of Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Ray Brown, Harry Salmon, Sam Streeter, Willie Foster, Harry Glass, Ted Trent and Max Manning.
Cornelius was one of the top right-handers in the Negro Leagues during the 1930s, a lot like Greg Maddux, with a good fastball, great control, and one of the top curveballs in the league. One old-timer remarked that Cornelius could throw a curveball around a barrel and make it land inside!
Sug -- as in Sugar -- gained his nickname from his sweet tooth as a child growing up in Atlanta, Georgia. Cornelius played at Atlanta's Clark University during the 1920s when Atlanta's black colleges, Clark, Morehouse and Morris Brown, were hotbeds of baseball talent. After college, Cornelius signed with the Nashville Elite Giants, later jumped to the Birmingham Black Barons, before landing with the Chicago American Giants, where he stayed from 1932-1946.
In 1934, Cornelius was recruited to play integrated ball in North Dakota when his manager with the American Giants, Dave Malarcher, caught wind of his jumping plans and threatened to have him thrown in jail for breaking his contract.
In 1935, Cornelius played in his first East-West Game, pitching a scoreless top of the 11th inning, then picking up the win in relief when Mule Suttles blasted a walk-off homer in the bottom half of the inning.*
*This game has been re-created in audio form, and is available by clicking here!
Cornelius went 20-4 in league games in '36 and was chosen to start that year's East-West classic, opposing the Pittsburgh Crawfords' Leroy Matlock. In that game, leadoff hitter Cool Papa Bell singled and stole second, Sammy T. Hughes drew a walk, and Sam Bankhead bunted them to second and third; Biz Mackey singled both runs in, the only runs Cornelius would allow in his three innings of work--he struck out two and walked one.
Cornelius started hot in 1938, throwing a 3-hitter in May against the Atlanta Black Cracker, and was again chosen to start for the West in 1938, garnering more votes than all pitchers except Schoolboy Taylor. Cornelius started against the Homestead Grays' Edsell Walker, and allowed three runs in the first. Hilton Smith relieved Cornelius, the West went ahead in the third with four runs, and Smith and Double Duty Radcliffe each pitched four innings of relief to give the West a 5-4 win; Smith got the win, Radcliffe the save.
Cornelius won 20+ games each year from '32-'39, and was a better than .500 pitcher even as he neared 40 years of age in his last year, 1946.
Though the masterful Cornelius didn't have much trouble with too many batters, the two he cited as the toughest he faced were Josh Gibson and Chino Smith.
After retiring from baseball, Cornelius worked for almost twenty years for the Pennsylvania Railroad, finally retiring in Chicago in the late 1960s. Cornelius stayed close with several other Negro League stars who settled in Chicago, including Double Duty Radcliffe, Lester Lockett, Bobby Robinson, Jimmie Crutchfield and Sherwood Brewer.
Cornelius died in 1989 after a long illness.