John Beckwith

“No one hit the ball farther than John Beckwith.
Not Josh [Gibson]. Not anybody.'”
--Double Duty Radcliffe
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Negro Leaguer of the Month
September, 2006

John Beckwith

Born: 1902 in Louisville, Kentucky

Died: 1956 in New York City
Ht:6'3", Wt: 230
Batted right and threw right
Position: shortstop, third base, catcher, utility
Years: 1916-1938
Teams: Montgomery Grey Sox, Chicago Union Giants, Chicago Giants, Chicago American Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Philadelphia Hilldale Giants, Harrisburg Giants, Homestead Grays, New York Lincolns, Atlantic City Bacharachs, Newark Browns, New York Black Yankees, Newark Dodgers, Palmer House (Chicago) Indians, Brooklyn Royal Giants

John Beckwith may have been the Mike Schmidt of the Negro Leagues. He was a dead pull hitter, and could hit the ball as far as anyone who ever played. He hit one ball completely out of Redland Field in Cincinnati (500+ feet), and cleared the left field bleachers at Washington D.C.'s Griffith Stadium, striking a sign 460 feet from home and 40 feet off the ground.

Beckwith supposedly swung a 38-inch, 45 ounce bat, but still got around on the fastest pitchers in baseball.

Beckwith grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and started his professional career with the Montgomery (Alabama) Grey Sox, the same team that Willie Mays would start with 30 years later.

After a few seasons with some mediocre teams, Beckwith joined the star-studded 1922 Chicago American Giants, under manager Rube Foster.

Until Cal Ripken came along, Beckwith may have been the tallest shortstop to ever play professionally. And, at close to 230 pounds, he almost certainly was the heaviest. Despite his size, Beckwith was a slick fielder with a strong arm, and he also had great seasons at various other positions, especially third base and catcher.

Unlike the aforementioned Mike Schmidt, Beckwith was not a great teammate, had a surly disposition, and was frequently traded or released despite immense talent; over 23 seasons, Beckwith played with at least 18 teams. Beckwith could be lazy at times and put out less than his full effort, but also was tough enough to play half a season with a broken ankle.

Beckwith used his great size not only to blast homers, but also to fight with teammates and opponents. After pitcher Bill Holland got upset with Beckwith for making an error behind him during a big game, the hefty slugger responded by knocking him out with a single punch.

In his prime, Beckwith averaged over .300 at the plate with 40 or more homers, and broke .400 several times. Even though a majority of Beckwith's at bats were against semipro teams many seasons, it's still impressive that the slugger once batted over .500 with more than 50 homers.

Eventually, age and alcohol abuse caught up to Beckwith, and after 1933 he was a shell of his former self. He did continue, however, to play for several lesser semipro teams.

Beckwith died too young, at age 54 in New York City.



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