14 September 2004

Wilber "Bullet Joe" Rogan

Wilber Rogan

Born: July 28, 1889 Oklahoma City, OK

Died: March 4, 1967 Kansas City, MO

Teams: KC All-Nations, Kansas City Monarchs

Wilber "Bullet Joe" Rogan was a late bloomer. In 1911 at the age of 23, Rogan began work in the military industry, a field he chose to be his life's work. Rogan was stationed, over his military career, in Hawaii, Arizona, the Philippines. The one constant in every station of his journey among the disparate personalities he worked with was baseball. The game that was at it's early zenith in popularity, it lended itself quite well to the atmosphere- wide open spaces, free time, no shortage of bodies. Plus- every game proportionalized to the skills of those involved.

The exception to this rule though, was Bullet. In every game he played, on both sides of the ball, Bullet was astonishing- he was a brilliant outfielder, covering a wide range and with a remarkably strong arm. He could hit, too- a lot of power and speed on the base paths. Later, when his son Wilbur accepted his enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he quipped:

"The questions I always get are how he got the name Bullet and who was the fastest- he or Satchel Paige. I always answered- I don't know.

"But what I DO know is, when Satchel pitched, he needed a designated hitter. When Dad pitched, he hit cleanup."

Of course, as great a hitter as he was on those military bases, he was an even better pitcher. Bullet naturally got his nickname from his fastball- numerous and sundry anecdotes place his fastball as faster than Satchel Paige's. Whether this is true or not, of course no one knows, but it sets a precedent. Even with this fastball, Rogan was known for his curveball. From The Neyer/ James Guide to Pitchers, page 363:

Chet Brewer: "Rogan could throw a curve ball faster than most pitchers could throw a fast ball..."
Babe Herman: "He was the best colored pitcher I hit against, had one of the best curveballs I ever saw and a good, live fastball."
Frank Duncan: "I'd say Rogan and Satchel threw the best fastballs I ever saw, but Rogan had a great curve with a three foot drop on it..."

In 1917, young Pirates outfielder Casey Stengel was on a barnstorming trip through the Midwest, and saw Rogan pitch. Before long, the owner of the Kansas City All-Nationals JL Wilkinson called upon Rogan on Stengel's tip, and his professional baseball career began. Rogan was primarily a pitcher, but a pitcher who could certainly hit. Think Babe Ruth's pitching as it related to his offense- but in reverse. Rogan was a great, great pitcher. From the Neyer/ James Guide-

5'7" 180 lbs. RHP
Pitch Selection:
  1. Drop Curve

  2. Fastball

  3. Palm Ball (used as change)

  4. Spitball

  5. Forkball

  6. "Slider"

  7. Side-Arm Curve

As odd as a seven pitch repertoire may seem, it was not uncommon in the Negro Leagues, nor, to some extent, Major League Baseball in that era. Most accounts show Rogan as something of an innovator- he was one of the first to throw the palmball, and featured an assortment of arm angles and speeds on all his pitches. From Blackball Stars by John Holway (1988):

"Rogan threw an assortment of fast balls, curves, changeups, and spitters... Rogan was the first of the no-windup pitchers who delivered straight from the shoulder."

In 1920, at the inception of the Negro Baseball League, Bullet Rogan was employed by the great Kansas City Monarchs and quickly became the team's ace of the staff. In fact, he was still a great hitter, too. Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract rates him as the greatest hitting pitcher in Negro League history, and we know he lead the Monarchs in home runs and stolen bases three times in his career. In 1922, Rogan lead all the Negro National League in HR. In the James Abstract, Bill James evaluated year-by-year the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues. Here are the Rogan salad days-

1922: Bullet Rogan
1923: Andy Cooper
1924: Bullet Rogan or Nip Winters
1925: Reuben Curry or Bullet Rogan

Bullet Rogan was easily the greatest pitcher in the early days of the Negro Leagues and one of the best hitters as well- the very first and best (along with Oscar Charleston) of the league's superstars. In 1999, The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR, ie, "sabermetrics") chose the 40 greatest Negro League players of all time. Here is one through eleven:

T1. Buck Leonard
Satchel Paige
3. James "Cool Papa" Bell
4. Oscar Charleston
T5. Josh Gibson
Andrew "Rube" Foster
John Henry "Pop" Lloyd
T8. Willie "Devil" Wells
Norman "Turkey" Stearns
Martin Dihigo
T11. Wilber "Bullet Joe" Rogan
Ray Dandridge

Rogan ostensibly retired in 1930, but stayed on as the Monarch's manager, and per his extensive military background, he was the strong disciplinarian type. Well loved by his players though, he lead the Monarchs to perennial contention. He even managed the man to whom he is always compared- the great Satchel Paige.

Bullet then left the Monarchs in 1938 and continued on as an umpire.

Rogan's career as a player is undeniable, of course. According to Baseball Library.com, Bullet Rogan compiled a record of 111-43 in 11 seasons with the Monarchs. He hit .339, good for 10th all time in the Negro Leagues, and was masterful in his Negro League World Series performances as well. He was the centerpiece of the very first "Black World Series" in 1924, against Hilldale- pitching in 4 games of the 10 game series, playing outfield the other six. He went 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA and hit .325. He also played well in exhibition matches against white pros, hitting .329 in 25 games. His last such game he played agains the Bob Feller All Stars at 48- and went 3-for-4 with a stolen base.

Rogan is lying the front row, on the right

Paige once said Rogan "was the onliest pitcher I ever saw, I ever heard of... pitching and hitting in the clean-up place. He could throw as hard as Smokey Joe Williams."

Rogan stands on the far right

Wilber "Bullet Joe" Rogan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

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