Through the first month and a half of the Major League Baseball season, Cardinals’ pitcher Jack Flaherty is on his way to joining one of the rarest fraternities in baseball: Black Aces.
The title of ace is given to a very select few in the game of baseball. It comes with high expectations. When an ace is on the mound, it is win day; period. They stem the tide and stop losing streaks while also being able to be called on to perform in the biggest moments of the season and take down the best hitter on the planet.
The Black pitcher, in general, is a rare sight to see in our game. We see many of our MLB Bros showcase their athleticism while roaming in the outfield and even more recently have seen them anchoring defenses throughout the infield, most notably Gold Glove shortstop J.P. Crawford.
The term “Black Aces” derived from a book, “Baseball’s Only African-American Twenty Game Winners” written by former pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who was the first 20-game winner in the American League when he did it for the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
To qualify for the fraternity of Black Aces, you must win 20 games in a season. Looking at the current landscape of the game, there is one pitcher who looks like he will be on his way to having his own Probate this season, and it’s Flaherty.
The former 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft currently sits alone on the top of the throne for the Major League lead in wins. His record stands undefeated at 7-0 this season with a 2.47 ERA. He recently became the first Cardinals pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1965 to record a win in seven of his first eight games while having an ERA under three.
Flaherty will be compared to the late Gibson – who passed away last year at the age of 84 to cancer – throughout his entire career.
Gibson pitched for the Cardinals during his entire 17-year career and is one of the original Black Aces in the game of baseball. He recorded five 20 win seasons during his time in St. Louis, which is second most all-time only trailing Ferguson Jenkins who had seven such seasons.
Flaherty is trying to be the newest member of the Black Ace fraternity since David Price joined the group in 2012.
Recently retired future Hall of Famer C.C. Sabathia joined the group in 2010 and former pitcher Dontrelle Willis did so as well in 2005. Before then, the feat had not been reached since 1990 when it was accomplished by Dave Stewart who remarkably completed four straight 20 win seasons from 1987-1990.
Early this year, Sabathia presented Price with a custom sweatshirt and joggers. The logo has an Ace of spade between the two C’s with a B hovering over the Ace of Spade.
The numbers Flaherty is putting up this season have put him in the category of potential starters for the National League All-Star team in Colorado this summer, which won’t be easy in a National League that has the best pitcher in baseball – Mets’ Jacob Degrom – and the Padres’ Yu Darvish who has one of the deepest bags of pitches and the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff whose strikeout-to-walk ratio is incredible. Hence, winning and continued quality starts will be key for Flaherty to give himself the starting nod.
After a shaky start on Opening Day, Flaherty has responded with a 1.47 ERA in his last 43 innings pitched. He has only allowed one home run in the past seven games and has currently registered six quality starts in a row.
He is yet to walk more than two batters in a start this year and in his last four starts, he has at least six strikeouts. Also this year, he joined the “Pitchers Who Rake” club when he hit his first career home run while pitching seven scoreless innings against the Rockies earlier in May.
The Black Ace Fraternity is ready to welcome Flaherty with open arms. He is closing in on the halfway point to be allowed in the club, and there’s a possibility that he’ll break past the bouncer before seasons end.
His next chance to start comes today as he will be on the mound in front of the St. Louis faithful taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last time he faced them, he notched a season-high nine strikeouts on May 1st.
Three years ago, on February 18th in 2019, MLB lost one of its pioneers and baseball lost its first Black pitching star. His death was announced by the Dodgers in a Tweet, but it didn’t represent the full impact of Newcombe’s MLB experience as a racial barrier-breaker back in the 50s. Baseball fans, celebrities, and common folk from all walks of life sent their condolences.
Former President Barrack Obama put things in perspective in 2010 when he said, “I would not be here if it were not for Jackie and it were not for Don Newcombe.
“Newk” was a fearless, ferocious fireballer and baseball pioneer. He was the first black pitcher to start in a World Series and the first Black Ace to win 20 games in an MLB season. He’s also the only baseball player ever to win Rookie of The Year, MVP and the Cy Young Award.
Branch Rickey’s Integration Plan
Born in Madison, New Jersey on June 14, 1926, Newcombe only lived there because his dad was a chauffeur for this wealthy family. His pops made a good living making beer and driving.
Newcombe’s only connection to baseball was his uncles, who played sandlot ball on Staten Island. His parents would get into the car on the weekends and go watch them play.
A big-time New Jersey athlete taught Newcombe how to play baseball at age 13.
While Jackie Robinson gets all of the props for being Branch Rickey’s first choice to break baseball’s color barrier, Newcombe was the first African-American pitcher brought in by the Dodgers
He started in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles and then after meeting baseball’s great emancipator, his life changed and he started his MLB career in 1949.
Said Newcombe in a classic interview with former Yankees and Mets announcer Fran Healy:
In 1945, we played in an All-Star Game…Negro League stars like Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella… and I happened to be on the same team with them. And we were playing at Ebbets Field and I pitched the first three innings against a major league team and shut them out.”
(After the game) into the clubhouse walked this thin white man with a great big hat on that looked like a parachute and while I was sitting there getting ready to shower he asked me if I was Don Newcombe? I replied, Yes. He asked me if I could come to the Dodgers office tomorrow in Brooklyn to talk with Branch Rickey about playing on a new Negro League team the Dodgers were starting.”
He says Rickey was using the Negro League All-Star team as a diversion to mask his true intentions of integrating baseball which he eventually and strategically did in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, and then Roy Campanella in 1948 and Newcombe the following season.
The rest is MLB history. Together they played on the first racially-integrated baseball team in the United States.
Of all the positions in baseball, pitcher is considered the glamour position. The pitcher usually gets the riches, glory or becomes the goat. Newcombe had an even rougher time than Robinson according to some historians because he was a pitcher and it was considered a white mans position.
Players, fans and at times, umpires had a strong disdain for Newcombe, and the pressure and racism and some postseason failure eventually drove him to alcohol addiction, which shortened his career.
In addition to the hate mail and death threats, the Black players on the Dodgers couldn’t stay at some of the same Southern hotels as their white teammates. It was a demoralizing and angering experience.
“All we wanted to be was a red-blooded Americans like everybody else,” Newcombe told Healy.
However, Newcombe was able to overcome his addictions and keep his family intact. He became a positive influence on the community and cleaned up his act, maintaining his sobriety from 1967 until his death
Newcombe has given speeches to more than 2 million people ranging from schoolchildren to chief executive officers. The speeches vary, but the theme remains the same.
“The life you have now is the only one you get,” he said. “You can’t burn it out with drugs, or drown it with alcohol, turn it in and get a new one.”
Newcombe became director of community relations for the Dodgers in 1970, and for 14 years headed the team’s alcohol and drug program, the first of its kind in the major leagues.
An amazing, towering Black Ace, the 6-foot-4 Newcombe had a stellar career on the hill with four All-Star appearances, 149 wins, just 90 losses and 24 shutouts. He was in the Top 10 among NL pitchers in ERA four times, wins five times, and strikeouts five times. He also could handle the bat, hitting 271 with 15 homers and 108 RBIs in 878 career at-bats.
But it’s what he did for future generations of players that make him extremely worthy of this Shadow League Black History Moment reflection.
The 2021 season saw some MLBbros become parts of baseball history. From breaking single-season home run records the most home runs at a position to being a franchise’s first 30/30 club member and even the first walk-off in the Great state of Iowa, this was one to remember.
Here are our Top 10 MLBbros of 2021.
1. Marcus Semien
No second baseman in the history of Major League Baseball has hit more home runs in a season than Marcus Semien has for the 2021 Blue Jays, and with just a few games left, has a chance to pile on a few more.
Semien bet on himself this season and it has paid off big time. He signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays in the off-season and even made the switch from shortstop to prove his versatility.
Semien’s 44 home runs have him fourth in the race for the Home Run crown, while some of his other numbers absolutely crushed other Major League second baseman.
He is slashing .267/.338/.881 with 101 RBI and 39 doubles and also has the highest Wins Above Replacement rating in the Majors at 7.2.
Semien was exactly what they needed in the city of Toronto to get over the hump and become true contenders.
He’ll get the chance to test the free agent waters and says he wants to be considered a short stop while doing so. I don’t think we can rule out the possibility he continues to play second base, but he should get the chance to be paid top dollar regardless of which side of the diamond he is on.
2. Cedric Mullins
Cedric Mullins may have had the greatest season in Baltimore Orioles franchise history, and the numbers do not lie.
Mullins became the fourth active player to join the illustrious 30 home run and 30 stolen base club. No other Oriole has ever done that.
Christian Yelich, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, Ronald Acuña Jr.
The 5’8 175 center fielder has the eighth highest batting average in the Majors, the fourth most doubles and is ranked seventh in OPS among outfielders.
Mullins’ 2021 All-Star selection shocked many people, but throughout this entire season he proved his name belongs amongst baseball’s elite players.
Even though Baltimore baseball is going through tough times, they have a diamond in the rough batting leadoff and playing center field for years to come.
3. Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge has had his best season since he won the 2017 Rookie of the Year award. The Empire State has been on his back this entire season, and Judge has continued to step up and answer the bell each time in pressure situations.
From his late home run in the Field of Dreams Game to his go-ahead double against the rival Red Sox this past weekend on Sunday Night Baseball, Judge showed this year he is one of the most clutch players the game has to offer.
We told you back in April his health was key to a Yankees playoff berth.
He’s given us more than a few missles and treasured moments.
This view of Aaron Judge's Field of Dreams homer >>>>>>
Judge leads the Yankees in almost every offensive category this season: games played, hits, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS or WAR.
He now has 38 home runs, 96 RBI and an OPS of .916 this season.
4. Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson has become one of the faces of baseball over the last few seasons and continues to make his case for best shortstop in the game every time he steps on the field.
TA7 is one of the most feared leadoff hitters in all of baseball. He has the ability to make it 1-0 before most fans can make it to their seats from the concession stands.
Anderson sits slightly out of the Top 10 for average in the Majors at .301. He also adds 17 home runs, 18 steals, 59 RBI and 92 runs scored to his season totals.
5. Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton has been the Robin to Aaron Judge’s Batman this year, especially during the second half of the season when the Yankees made their run to get themselves back into contention.
Stanton has the second highest exit velocity average on batted balls this year at 95.3, just slightly behind Judge who is at 95.9. He also has 35 home runs, 96 RBI and an .881 OPS.
Stanton etched his name in the history books of one of baseball’s best rivalries, the Yankees and Red Sox. In their final time in Boston this season Stanton became one of four Yankees to have three home runs and 10 RBI in any 3-game span vs the Red Sox.
6. Marcus Stroman
Marcus Stroman sat out the entire 2020 season, and for him to return in 2021 and lead the Majors in starts, he deserves some respect on his name.
Stroman finished with a career high 33 starts and posted the second lowest ERA of his career.
Jazz Chisholm ends up on Marcus Stroman’s back, and the two laugh about it after. This is some wholesome stuff between two great players. pic.twitter.com/WirpC8d4m2
Despite having the “best pitcher” in baseball (Jacob deGrom) the and a 2021 All-Star in their rotation (Taijuan Walker) Stroman was the most consistent Mets pitcher throughout the season.
He’ll have the chance to test the market as a free agent and will have multiple suitors as he may be the most marquee name behind Max Scherzer.
7. Mookie Betts
Despite fighting through multiple injuries and maybe a little 2020 World Series hangover, Mookie Betts had a fine 2021, even if some of his numbers are a peg lower than what we’ve become accustomed too.
Betts was named an All-Star this season and currently has 22 home runs, 56 RBI, 89 runs scored and a .371 on base percentage. His OPS is quickly approaching .900 as well.
He’s been a swiss army knife for the Dodgers, moving around in the lineup as well as playing second base for a few games and turning out a few web gems.The formed MVP will surely save his biggest moments for the playoffs.
8. J.P. Crawford
J.P. Crawford put himself in rare company last season when he became one of the few recent black Gold Glove winning infielders and it looks like he’ll repeat again this season.
He leads the Majors in putouts and assists and seems to give the west coast jaw dropping highlights every single night.
At the plate Crawford made some improvements from last season. His average against left handed pitchers increased from .242 to .276. Crawford ranks 14th in the league in total hits and leads all Major League shortstops with 37 doubles.
On the year he is slashing .273/.336/.715 with 52 RBI and nine home runs.
9. Michael Brantley
If Michael Brantley could have avoided the injury bug this season, he would have had a legit chance at the 2021 batting championship.
Dusty Baker on Michael Brantley back in the lineup (DH): “It feels great..a big part of our lineup. We missed him big time.” pic.twitter.com/RYi6NlxPP8
He started the season off hot, earning his fifth career All-Star appearance as he led the Majors in batting average for most of the first half of the season.
He’s only appeared in 118 out of 159 games this season and has 29 doubles, a .311 average and a .798 OPS. Another great season for “The Professional.”
10. Triston McKenzie
Triston McKenzie had to learn on the fly this season, and grew up in front of our eyes with some dominant starts, particularly on August 15th when he pitched eight innings out one hit baseball and a career high 11 strikeouts.
At one point of the season McKenzie put together seven consecutive quality starts from August 5th to September 14th.
McKenzie is also going to lead the team in strikeouts, becoming one of the youngest to do so in franchise history just behind C.C. Sabathia who did it at age 21.
Josh Bell– Despite the struggles of his Nationals, Bell had himself a great year. He is at 27 home runs, 88 RBI and a .814 OPS.
Jazz Chisholm Jr.– Injuries at the beginning of the season stopped Jazz from being a 2021 All-Star, but we still got the chance to see him Euro step across the plate 17 times.
He has an outside chance at winning the National League’s Rookie of the Year award, but the only Bahamian born player currently in the Majors has already impressed folks around the league
LaMonte Wade Jr.– Wade Jr. is the epitome of what the San Francisco Giants have been able to do this season. He continually stepped up especially in late game situations earning himself the nickname “Late Night Lamonte”
Jack Flaherty – Jack Flaherty was on his way to becoming a black ace and winning 20 games before an injury stalled his season for a few months.
The Cardinals seemed to come back alive when he returned as they rattled off 17 consecutive wins at one point. It seems Flaherty might come out of the bullpen for St. Louis during their playoff run if they can get past the wild card games.
It’s been a great season and we’ve brought you the best of the Black and Brown players in MLB. We’ll be back next season with our #HIGHFIVE lists.
Stroman also showed us why he is one of the top athletes in the sport, as he dropped a bunt down and sprinted 4.02 to first base.
It’s not the first time Stroman has shown off his skill with the bat as well as his speed. Multiple pitchers have fallen victim to his bunt singles, and with the speed he has he’ll claim more in his future.
Stroman’s next start will come next Tuesday in Fenway Park against the Red Sox.
Last season’s American League Gold Glove shortstop made his bat come alive in 2021. He was the biggest All-Star snub this season as he posted a first half statline including 92 hits, 31 RBI, 46 runs a .279 average and a 1.4 Defensive WAR which is the highest in all of baseball.