Pop Lloyd: Young At Heart
It is doubtful that Picasso had Pop Lloyd in mind when he said, “Youth has no age.” Or that French novelist Andre Malraux did when he wrote, “Youth is a religion from which one always ends up being converted.” But doing so would have been appropriate in both cases.
John Henry Lloyd’s rolling stone career spanned four decades, making the eternally youthful player a father figure to many proteges. They called him “Pop” because he was the granddaddy of ‘em all. He tutored the best and beat the rest.
His peers claimed Pop was a complete professional, on and off the field. Cum Posey, owner of the Homestead Grays, put it this way: “Lloyd is the Jekyll and Hyde of baseball — a fierce competitor on the field but a gentle, considerate man off the field.”
On the field, he was the quintessential shortstop. He had great hands, an accurate arm and could perform the double play with the grace of a ballerina, plus hitting for average and power. With bat in hand, Pop gave rookie pitchers diaper rash, and veteran pitchers a spanking.
Lloyd’s plaque in Cooperstown tells his story both statistically and philosophically: “Batted over .400 several times. Managed more than 10 seasons. Instrumental in helping open Yankee Stadium to Negro baseball. Personified best qualities of athlete both on and off the field.”
After one season with the Cuban X Giants, Pop Lloyd joined Sol White’s
Philadelphia Giants in 1907.
The nomadic Lloyd’s career started in 1906 with the Cuban X-Giants. For the next three years, he played with the Philadelphia Giants under the mentorship of Sol White. In 1910, he joined Rube Foster’s powerhouse Leland Giants, helping them compile a 123-6 record.
His next three years (1911-13) were spent with the Lincoln Giants. The Indianapolis Freeman reported in 1910, “Lloyd, former second baseman of the Philadelphia Giants, is considered by every manager in the country to be a wonder of the 20th century. He contains a ball team within himself.”
Lloyd joined the Chicago American Giants in 1914. An indication of the talented elder’s skill was shown from 1914-17, when he batted cleanup for one of the premier independent teams of the Midwest. During Lloyd’s tenure, the Giants claimed unofficial world colored championships in 1914 and 1917.
In addition to Pop Lloyd (third from right), Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants featured many talented Negro League players including Bruce Petway, Pete Hill, Bill Francis and Bill Gatewood.
Approaching the age of 35, he signed with the Brooklyn Royal Giants as player-manager in 1918. After three seasons there, Lloyd made a pit stop with the Columbus Buckeyes in 1921. Now 37, Lloyd led the new Columbus franchise in games played, hits, doubles and stolen bases while batting .354.
The next year, the eternal kid hit only .315 for the Bacharach Giants, before moving on to manage the Hilldale Giants in 1923 while hitting an unofficial .345.
Perhaps Lloyd’s best bedtime story came when he returned to the Bacharachs in 1924 and moved from shortstop to second base. From that position Lloyd batted an astonishing .433 and set a league record with 11 consecutive hits.
The Philadelphia Inquirer of July 12, 1924, reported, “Atlantic City, July 4 – In conjunction with the explosion of firecrackers during the Fourth of July celebration, John Henry Lloyd, manager of the Bacharach Giants, exploded theory when he banged out his 11th straight hit and proved that a veteran player who might be expected to be bowing to old age can tie a world’s record that youngsters are trying to equal every day.”
This original artwork by Nancy Valelly features the Bacharach Giants, managed by the Pop Lloyd in 1924 and 1925, and the Heinz Ocean Pier in Atlantic City.
The streak went like this: On June 29, he went 4-for-4 against the Washington Potomacs. The next day against the same club, Pop did the same and hit a home run. He continued his streak in the first game of a doubleheader against the Harrisburg Giants with a 3-for-3 day, giving him 11 straight hits. In the second game, he made an out his first at bat and then got three more hits. Over four games, he had 14 hits in 15 at bats and scored five runs. That’s a .933 batting average. Don’t laugh, do the math.
This constant traveler rejoined the New York Lincoln Giants in 1926 and batted over .350 the next two seasons. In 1928, now playing mostly at first base at age 44, Lloyd raised his average to an other-worldly .564, giving him another batting title. That same year, Pop hit 11 home runs, second only to Luther Farrell’s league-leading 13.
In 1931, Lloyd reunited with his old Hilldale buddies, Clint Thomas and Red Ryan, with the New York Black Yankees. Pop retired the following year with his hometown Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. It could be said that during his 27-year travels, the restless rocker visited more hotels than the Gideon bible.
In 1932, Lloyd turned to coaching, managing and playing a little first base for Atlantic City sandlot teams, the Johnson All-Stars and the Farley Stars. While wealth and fame were never his game, Lloyd was rich in modesty and generosity.
Said Max Manning, then a 19-year-old teammate and later an outstanding pitcher with the Newark Eagles: “In my estimation, Pop Lloyd was one of the finest human beings I have ever met. He was such a gracious kind of fellow, humble, and gentle. It was always ‘young fellow this’ and ‘young fellow that.’ He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and didn’t curse – he was really a role model. He taught you how to hit, how to stand on the pitcher’s rubber – all the little techniques. I saw him hit a long line drive when he was in his 60s. He was gentleman . . . and was a very humble player and yet was one of the greatest ballplayers to have ever played.”
In 1938, St. Louis sportswriter Ted Harlow paid Lloyd the ultimate compliment when he was asked, “Who was the best baseball player in the history of the sport?” Replied Harlow: “If you mean in Organized [white] Baseball, my answer would be Babe Ruth, but if you mean in all baseball, organized and unorganized, I would have to say it is a colored man named John Henry Lloyd.”
When Pop retired, the major leagues were still segregated, and without a baseball pension, he was forced to take a janitorial job in the Atlantic City school system.
“I went to Indiana Avenue School where Pop was the custodian,” recalls former student Harry Phillips. “He used to keep a bucket of balls and gloves in the boiler room for anyone who needed one. He would give you a glove and a ball and then take you out onto the playground for a game of catch. If you didn’t have a glove to take home to practice with, Pop would give you one.”
During Lloyd’s older years he coached Little League baseball and later served as Atlantic City’s Little League commissioner, his final tie to the game.
In 1949, Pop Lloyd Field was dedicated with him in attendance. Lloyd, now eligible for Social Security, was asked if he had any regrets about missing the opportunity to perform in the majors. His reply was as eloquent and insightful as his style of play: “I do not consider that I was born at the wrong time. I felt it was the right time, for I had a chance to prove the ability of our race in this sport, and because many of us did our very best to uphold the traditions of the game and of the world of sport, we have given the Negro a greater opportunity now to be accepted into the major leagues with other Americans.”
Columnist Whitey Gruhler of The Press-Union of Atlantic City wrote it best, “[On] October 1, 1949, John Henry Lloyd heard himself immortalized. The recreation field at Indiana and Huron Avenues had just been dedicated in his honor . . . an everlasting monument and a fitting tribute to an exemplary citizen, a beloved American Negro whose life was devoted to his job, his wife, baseball and the proper development of American youth.”
In 1965, John Henry went to a place where you never grow old. His headstone reads in part, “Served to uphold the dignity of the game and to advance the opportunities of African Americans in the Major Leagues. Humanitarian, Mentor and Role Model to the youth of Atlantic City.”
Like time, Pop is eternal. And we are eternally grateful for the time he provided in creating role models before they knew their roles.
Later in 1993, the John Henry “Pop” Lloyd Humanitarian Award was created by former student/pitcher Manning. Over the years, honorees have come from various sports families, with Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Rachel Robinson, Monte Irvin and writer Sam Lacy among them.
Pop once said, “I hope the young men, not only of Atlantic City, but the entire nation will be able to accept and benefit from what I have tried to give to the youth of America.” Indeed they did.
One of the most sought after Negro League players of his time, many also consider John Henry “Pop” Lloyd to be one of the greatest players — black or white — who ever lived.
THE POP LLOYD FILE
5-feet-11, 180 lbs.
Born: April 25, 1884, Palatka, FL
Died: March 19, 1965, Atlantic City, NJ
Interment: Atlantic City Cemetery, Pleasantville, NJ
1949, Pop Lloyd Field, Atlantic City, NJ (Restored in 1997)
1991, Pop Lloyd Boulevard, Atlantic City, NJ
1993, The “John Henry ‘Pop’ Lloyd Humanitarian Award” was created.
1999, Ebony’s 100 Greatest Black Athletes of the 20th Century, 55th place.
2001, USA Today Baseball Weekly’s Top 100; 27th place
2006 to 2012, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd Community Leadership Award
NATIONAL AND STATE HALL OF FAMES
1977, NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
1998, FLORIDA SPORTS HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM OF FLORIDA HISTORY
1998, NEW JERSEY SPORTS HALL OF FAME
2002, HISPANIC HERITAGE BASEBALL MUSEUM AND HALL OF FAME
2002, LATIN AMERICAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
2007, CUBAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME