Bill Francis

From BR Bullpen

William Henry Francis
(Brodie, Jess, Ducky, The Little Corporal)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 5", Weight 140 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Bill Francis was one of the top black third basemen in the pre-Negro League era, noted for his defense and his ability to draw walks. He wore his shirt loose to increase his chances of being hit by pitches.

James Riley, in The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, lists Francis as debuting with the Philadelphia Giants in 1904 [1], but the Seamheads database does not list him debuting until 1906, hitting .120/.180/.120 and fielding .879 between Philadelphia and the Wilmington Giants, including games against white major leaguers. [2]

Francis was 3 for 18 as a back-up for Philadelphia in 1907 and was 0 for 3 against white major leaguers that year. In 1908, he batted .225/.319/.235 and fielded .894. His 13 walks were second in the National Association, one behind Ricardo Hernández. Philadelphia split the title with the Chicago Leland Giants. [3] He played for Matanzas in the Cuban Winter League and hit .114/.225/.114 while manning short instead of his usual third.

In 1909, he showed improved offense, hitting .233/.291/.342 for a 96 OPS+. He fielded .893 to a league average of .886 for the International League of Colored Baseball Clubs of America and Cuba. He slumped to .132/.214/.211 in 1910 but fielded .921. Moving from Philadelphia to the New York Lincoln Giants, he had one of his best offensive seasons in 1911, hitting .286/.403/.411 for a 123 OPS+. Among top black teams in the east, he tied Pelayo Chacón for 4th in walks (9), was 5th in runs (13), tied Luis Santop and Gervasio González for the most doubles (5) and was 8th in OBP.

He hit .293/.347/.315 in 1912 and fielded .980, when the league average was .925. He tied Pop Lloyd for second in the league in runs (13 in 21 games), tied for 5th in steals (4), was third in hits (24, after Lloyd and Spot Poles) and made the top 10 in average and OBP. names him as the top third baseman among eastern black teams that year. In Cuba that winter, he hit .121/.247/.136 for a minuscule 8 OPS+ for Club Fé and wound up splitting third base with Dolf Luque, who was more known for his pitching. He did field .966 (league average .898) as the team won the title. In exhibition matches between New York and Cuban teams, he was somewhat better with the bat (.227/.286/.250) and fielded .977.

In 1913, he batted .164/.207/.200 for a 28 OPS+ but handled 48 chances error-free (league average .928 at 3B) as New York remained the class of the east. He was 2 for 4 with two runs and two RBI in one game against white major leaguers that year, a bright spot offensively for his year. Moving from a top eastern club to the pride of the midwest, he produced at a .291/.360/.345 clip (100 OPS+) for the Chicago American Giants in 1914 and fielded .958. He was 10th in runs (30), tied for 9th in walks (15), missed the top 10 in OBP by .007 and was second with 10 sacrifice hits. Seamheads rates him as the #2 third baseman, behind hard-hitting Candy Jim Taylor.

Francis's offense fell to more traditional levels in 1915 (.205/.302/.251, 78 OPS+) and he fielded .984, to a league average of .927. He was 9th among top black midwestern clubs with 32 runs, tied Todd Allen for 6th in walks (25) and tied Bingo DeMoss for the most sacrifice hits (10). He spent the winter with Breakers Hotel in the Florida Hotel League, the first of three straight winters in that loop. For Chicago in 1916, he batted .211/.329/.261 and fielded .968, 38 points above league average. He tied Chacón for 5th in doubles (10), led in walks (31, 3 ahead of Cristóbal Torriente), tied Chacón and Frank Duncan for first in times hit-by-pitch (4) and led with ten sacrifice hits.

During 1917, the 38-year-old had a batting line of only .196/.314/.245 but his OPS+ was a reasonable 86 for such a slick fielder (.965, league average .942). His 22 walks tied Bernardo Baró and DeMoss for second and he led the league with six times hit by pitch. Seamheads rates the sub-Mendoza Line hitter as nearly the top third baseman, 1.4 Wins Above Replacement (half of them on defense), .1 behind Taylor. His offense was steady in 1918 (.241/.340/.287, 87 OPS+) but he fielded .881, below the league average for the first time in seven years. He tied DeMoss, Oscar Charleston and George Shively for 6th in walks (13).

"Brodie" produced at a .186/.317/.250 clip (69 OPS+) between Chicago and the Detroit Stars in 1919 while returning to a fielding percentage well above league norms; Seamheads rates him as the league's top third baseman. In 1920, he signed with the Philadelphia Hilldales; Rube Foster was livid over Hilldale signing him, Jess Barbour and Dick Whitworth and asked other eastern teams not to play the team. [4] He hit .159/.237/.174 for a 28 OPS+ and fielded .947, one point shy of the league average.

Coming off a poor campaign and at age 42 in 1921, he amazingly put together his best season. He hit .299/.385/.497 (127 OPS+) with 35 runs and 31 RBI in 42 games. Moving to shortstop, an odd move at his age, he fielded .927, .002 above the league average among the top eastern teams. He tied for second in steals (9, one behind Chaney White), was 7th in runs (35, between Otto Briggs and Dick Lundy), ranked 10th in average, tied for fifth in triples (5), tied Santop for second in home runs (5, one behind Bill Pettus), was 8th in RBI, tied Country Brown for fifth in walks, was second with 12 sacrifice hits and was 4th in slugging and OPS (behind Santop, Phil Cockrell and Lundy). His 3.1 wins above replacement were second to pitcher Redding; Santop was next among position players at 1.6.

He reverted to form in 1922, hitting .188/.289/.241 for a 46 OPS+ and fielding .961, 29 points above league norm. Now managing Hilldale as well, he moved himself to his usual third to make room for young Judy Johnson at short. Seamheads nearly puts him as the league's top third baseman again, though, thanks to his defense, ranking just behind Oliver Marcell overall. Joining the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in 1923, the veteran hit .150/.297/.162 for a 32 OPS+. He still could do what he did best and topped the Eastern Colored League with 35 walks, five ahead of Frank Warfield, and his 13 sacrifice hits were second, four shy of Warfield.

Francis wound down his playing career with the 1924 Cleveland Browns (.237/.370/.289, 74 OPS+) and the 1925 American Giants (.216/.326/.230, 52 OPS+), still scoring 26 runs in 44 games while backing up Dave Malarcher at third base. He later managed lesser teams in New England. [5]

For his career, he had hit .212/.311/.260 for a 70 OPS+, with 320 runs and 284 walks in 646 games.

His grave went unmarked for over 70 years, until the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project coordinated funding for a marker. [6]

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • ECL Bases on Balls Leader (1923)

Related Sites[edit]

  1. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, pg. 296
  2. Seamheads database Seamheads is the source for all stats listed unless otherwise specified
  3. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, pg. 58
  4. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues, pg .143
  5. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, pg. 296
  6. 2014 Philadelphia Tribune story