1952 NL VS. AL Rookie of the Year battle: Joe Black vs. Harry Byrd
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The 1952 rookie class is a war of two right-handers: an inconsistent career journeyman fireballer versus a popular former Negro Leaguer who appeared in the 1952 Fall Classic with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harry Byrd played seven seasons in the bigs and is perhaps best remembered as the only Philadelphia Athletic to ever win ROTY honors. Joe Black, on the other hand, is the fifth former Negro Leaguer to win ROTY after Willie Mays, Sam Jethroe, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson.
Both would have relatively brief playing careers and flame out after 1957.
American League: Harry Byrd, pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics
Byrd pitched six games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1950, all in relief. The numbers weren’t pretty: 10.2 IP, 25 hits, 20 runs, three home runs, and nine walks. It was plenty enough to send him back to the minors, and he spent the entire 1951 season with the Savannah Indians of the Class A South Atlantic League. Harry not only pitched well, but also was the ace of the staff, with 18 wins in 31 starts, with a 3.59 ERA in 248 innings pitched.
Maintaining his rookie status, the 27-year-old from Darlington, South Carolina, won 15 games for the A’s in 1952. Despite also losing 15 games, Byrd threw 228.1 innings in 28 starts, with 15 complete games and a solid 3.31 ERA. The 1952 Philadelphia Athletics also had the American League’s Most Valuable Player in southpaw Bobby Shantz,(24-7, 2.48 ERA, 27 complete games) and the league’s leading hitter in first base man Ferris Fain (.327 BA, .438 OBP, 43 2B). Despite the obvious talent on the club, the team finished in fourth place at 79-75, 16 games behind the New York Yankees.
Byrd never achieved the same success again at the major-league level although he did win a total of 26 games in his first two seasons. He won 11 games in 1953, but also lost 20. He lead the league in starts (37), earned runs allowed (145), and most dubiously, batters hit by pitch (he nailed 14 guys). His ERA also rose to 5.51.
Following the 1953 campaign, he was traded to the Yankees in an 11-man deal. He was 9-7 for New York in 1954, with an impressive 2.99 ERA. Byrd was traded three more times, making stops in Baltimore, the south side of Chicago and Detroit. He pitched 37 games for the Tigers his last season, going 4-3 with a 3.36 ERA. Just as Byrd became the only Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia Athletic team history, the franchise picked up and moved to Kansas City in 1955.
Career stats: 46-54, 4.35 ERA, 187 games, 381 Ks in 827.2 IP.
National League: Joe Black, pitcher, Brooklyn Dodgers
Black had a dazzling rookie year in the big leagues for the original boys of summer. Coming primarily out of the pen as one of the team’s (and league’s) best pitchers, Black appeared in 56 games for the Dodgers in 1952. He was 15-4 with a 2.15 ERA and saved 15 games. He led the NL in games finished with 41, and finished third in the league in winning percentage (.789)
Leading up to his 1952 rookie season with the Dodgers, Black played in the Negro Leagues with the Baltimore Elite Giants. Teammates who would later join Black in Brooklyn included Roy Campenella and 1953 NL Rookie of the Year Jim Gilliam.
His Negro League career started out slowly due to the service during World War II. From 1943 to 1945, Black only factored in eight decisions for Baltimore. He went 4-8 in 1946 and 9-9 in 1947, before finally breaking out the following season, going 10-5.
He was signed by Brooklyn in late 1950 as a 26-year-old, pitching well both in the Cuban Winter League and for the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. He made the big-league team out of spring training in 1952 and made his major-league debut on May 1 versus the Cubs. He tossed one inning with a couple of strikeouts.
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