Pop Lloyd, premier Negro League shortstop and baseball nomad, was promoted by many as the greatest player of all time. He played on at least a dozen different teams in his 26-year career. When asked why so many teams, Lloyd replied, “Where the money was, that’s where I played.” A tall, angular man with a Dick Tracy profile, Lloyd was a nondrinking, soft-spoken gentleman who seldom cursed. He was a complete professional, on and off the field.
Lloyd was a lefthanded line-drive hitter who used a closed stance. He held the bat in the cradle of his left elbow, and would uncoil to unleash a controlled attack on the baseball. A gifted runner with long, smooth strides, he deceived opponents into underrating his speed. He was often compared to Honus Wagner. Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A’s, who spent 50 years in the game, said, “Put Lloyd and Wagner in the same bag and whichever one you pulled out, you wouldn’t go wrong.”
Lloyd began as a catcher in 1905 with the Macon Acmes, who could not provide him with a mask. After one season, he moved to the Cuban X-Giants as an infielder. He helped the Philadelphia Giants to a league championship the following year and stayed two more. He spent 1910 with the Leland Giants, who posted a 123-6 record, before moving on to the New York Lincoln Giants, for whom he hit .475 in 1911 and .376 in 1912.
Rube Foster enticed Lloyd to join his Chicago American Giants, and from 1914 through 1917 Lloyd batted cleanup for the four-time Western League champions. His teammates there included such greats as Oscar Charleston, Bingo DeMoss, Louis Santop, Smokey Joe Williams, and Cannonball Dick Redding. Chicago won world championships in ’14 and ’17.
Lloyd played 12 seasons in Cuba, where he earned the nickname El Cuchara – The Shovel. He was known for scooping up handfuls of dirt while adeptly fielding his position. In Cuba, he compiled a .329 batting average and twice led the league in triples. He excelled in a 1910 series played in Havana against the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers won 7 of the 12 games, with Ty Cobb itting .369 in five contests. But Cobb’s average was only good enough for fourth place; Lloyd batted .500 in 12 games and added insult to injury by tagging Cobb out on three consecutive base stealing attempts. In 29 recorded games against white major leaguers, Lloyd batted .321.
As Lloyd’s legs began to go, he moved from SS to first base. Approaching age thirty-five, he signed with the Brooklyn Royal Giants as player-manager, and was active for three abbreviated seasons before going to the Columbus Buckeyes in 1921. Then thirty-eight, Lloyd led the Buckeyes in games, hits, doubles, and stolen bases while batting .337. Rejuvenated, he topped the .320 mark for Hilldale in 1923 and for the Bacharach Giants in 1924-25. He was forty-four when he hit a league-leading .564 for the New York Lincoln Giants in 1928; he also led with 11 HR and 10 SB in a 37-game schedule.
When Babe Ruth was interviewed by pioneering announcer Graham McNamee, he was asked who was the greatest player of all time. Ruth asked, “You mean major leaguers?” “No,” replied McNamee, “the greatest player anywhere.” “In that case,” responded Ruth, “I’d pick John Henry Lloyd.” Lloyd was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1977.