Biz Mackey Essentials
Bats: B Throws: R
Born: Year: 1897 in Eagle Pass, TX USA
Died: 9 22 1965 in Los Angeles, CA USA
Hall of Fame: Inducted as a Player in 2006 by Negro League
Full Name: James Raleigh Mackey”In my opinion,” Roy Campanella once declared, “Biz Mackey was the master of defense of all catchers. When I was a kid . . . I saw both Mackey and Mickey Cochrane in their primes, but for real catching skills, I don’t think Cochrane was the master of defense that Mackey was.” Cool Papa Bell said that while he “admired” Campy and Josh Gibson, Mackey—who once stifled the fabled pillow pilferer three times in one game—”was the best catcher I ever saw.” (Another legendary speedster, Ty Cobb, also listed Mackey among the game’s best.) Hall of Famers Buck Leonard and Judy Johnson declared the amazingly agile 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder to be without rival as well. Though a peerless defender and handler of pitching staffs, it was Mackey’s arm that drew the most attention: Pitcher Harold Gould said Biz—who was known to gun down runners from his knees or while remaining crouched—”had the greatest throwing arm of all-time among Major Leaguers, Negro Leaguers, and every other league.”
Supremely talented defensive catchers are few and far between; however, combine that with Hall of Fame-caliber offensive stats, and you have, arguably, the rarest of skillsets. You guessed it: Mackey was one of the best hitters in Negro League history. Over parts of 28 seasons (1920-47), the versatile switch-hitter, according to Seamheads.com, slashed .329/.392/.473 against official league competition while averaging 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 104 RBI per 154 games played. (His .329 average is the 14th best in Negro League history.)
A star from day one, Mackey hit .300 or better in each of his first 11 seasons (he twice eclipsed the .400 plateau), posting a composite .348 average during the span. Despite Monte Irvin’s assertion that Biz was “not a power hitter,” the records show—according to researcher James A. Riley—that against all-comers, including top amateur cubs, Mackey led the league in average (.423), slugging percentage (.698), and home runs (20) in 1923.
Biographer Rick Westcott wrote that “Biz was regarded as an extremely dangerous clutch hitter,” who, according to some sources, “posted a .353 average against major leaguers.” The validity of his purported stats in exhibition play aside (other researchers list his average at anywhere between .246 and .338), Mackey’s standing as an elite hitter is unassailable. Just ask Satchel Paige, who once cited the multi-talented catcher as the toughest strikeout in the circuit. Speaking of multi-talented, Mackey—despite being slow afoot—was a highly intelligent and accomplished baserunner who swiped bags at an 86% clip, averaging 13 steals per 154 games played in league play. According to pitcher Frank Sykes, Biz was also “one of the best bunters the league ever had.”
His versatility doesn’t stop there: Mackey spent the 1924 season as the Hilldale Daisies’ everyday shortstop; by all accounts, the burly lad exhibited soft hands, quick reflexes, and the best infield arm in the league (he played another 37 games at short in 1930). Perhaps Mackey’s greatness was best summed up by the incomparable Cum Posey: “For combined hitting, thinking, throwing and physical endowment, there has never been another like Biz Mackey. . . . [H]e is the standout among catchers.” (Mackey was at long last elected to Cooperstown in 2006.) — BK2
◾Sources: https://www.nlbemuseum.com + https://baseballhall.org + https://www.baseball-reference.com + https://sabr.org + https://www.mlb.com + Westcott, Rick. “Biz Mackey, a Giant Behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher.” Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2018.