New book remembers Biz Mackey as one of baseball’s greatest catchers
It’s always a pleasure to pick up a book on baseball in the Negro Leagues and read about a player who was an absolute legend when he played the game.
Philadelphia sports author Rich Westcott has written a great book on “Biz Mackey, A Giant behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher,” published by Temple University Press ($16.20). The forewords were written by the late Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and Ray C. Mackey III, great nephew.
Westcott chronicles Mackey’s life as a youngster growing up in Eagle Pass, Texas, all the way to his playing days in the Negro Leagues, where he was a brilliant catcher from 1920 to 1947.
According to Irvin in his foreword, “Mackey ranks among the greatest catchers of all time. In the Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson was a better hitter, but Biz was a better catcher. Overall, Biz was most like Bill Dickey in terms of all-around ability. He belongs in a class with Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Roy James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey could really play the game. He belongs in a class with Dickey, Michkey Cochrane, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, and Johnny Bench — baseball’s greatest catchers.”
“Although he was an outstanding hitter, Mackey was strongest as a receiver. There wasn’t any part of catching that he didn’t master. He had an exceptionally accurate throwing arm, he was skilled at blocking the plate, he could block the ball in the dirt, and he never dropped a pop-up. He was not only great at picking guys off first and third; he could pick them off second, too. Sometimes a runner would take liberties at second, but he wouldn’t make it too far. Biz would always get him.”
The Negro Leagues have produced some of the greatest baseball players ever. It’s a shame African Americans could not play in Major League Baseball until 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color line and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. Other Negro League greats who played in the majors included Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Roy Campanella.
Irvin, a Lincoln University alumnus, played 10 seasons in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles from 1937 to 1948. During six of those years, Mackey was his manager. He came to the majors in 1949 with the New York Giants until 1955. After that, he played for the Chicago Cubs in 1956.
Following his playing career, he became first African-American executive in Major League Baseball under commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
In Ivrin’s foreword, he credits Mackey for Campanella’s success in baseball. Campanella, who grew up in North Philadelphia, played in the Negro League before his stellar career with the Dodgers.
“Biz had a lot to do with Roy [Campy] Campanella’s career, too,” Irvin said. “When Campanella was a 15-year-old youngster just starting out with the Baltimore Elite Giants, Mackey took him under his wing and taught him how to catch. For the rest of his life, Campy never stopped crediting Biz for helping him become a Hall of Fame catcher.”
Mackey played for the Indianapolis ABCs, Baltimore Black Sox, Baltimore Elite Giants, Homestead Grays, Hilldale Daisies and the Philadelphia Stars. He played some of his best baseball for Hilladale and the Philadelphia Stars. Mackey led both teams to Negro League championships. He played six years with Hilldale (1923-29) and three with the Stars (1933-35).
Mackey finished his career with a .327 batting average, 702 RBI, 68 home runs, and 567 runs scored. In 2006, Mackey was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.