Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ray "Hooks" Dandridge

Ray Dandridge
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Born: 1913
Positions: 3B-2B-SS

Played Negro Leagues 1933-49
Teams: Detroit Stars, Newark Dodgers, Newark Eagles, New York Cubans
Hall Of Fame in 1987

Ray Dandridge was a masterful third baseman, a stylist who could make all the plays. He was smooth and relaxed, with soft hands, a strong arm, and the versatility to excel at any infield position. "People would pay their way in to the game just to see him field," claimed Monte Irvin. Roy Campanella said, "I never saw anyone better as a fielder." Hoyt Wilhelm, who played against Dandridge in Cuba and with him in Minneapolis (American Association), asserted, "No matter how the ball was hit, he always made the throw so that he just did get the man at first." Others observed that a train could go through Dandridge's bowlegs, but that a baseball never did.

Dandridge started his pro career with the 1933 Detroit Stars and moved to the Negro National League's Newark Eagles, for whom he starred throughout the remainder of the 1930s. A spray hitter with good bat control, he seldom struck out, and skillfully executed the hit-and-run. In 1935, he hit .368. Looking for more money in 1939, he opted to play in Latin America. He went to Mexico in 1940, and spent most of the decade there. When he came back for a year in Newark in 1944, he batted .370, leading the NNL in hits, runs, and total bases. In 1945 he set a Mexican League record for hitting safely in the most consecutive games and managed his team to a pennant. In nine Mexican League seasons, he compiled a .343 average. Following the 1948 season, he returned to the States as player-manager of the New York Cubans.

During his time in the NNL, Dandridge registered a lifetime .355 average, and played in three East-West all-star games, hitting .545. He played winter ball in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Cuba; in 11 seasons of Cuban Winter League action, he batted .282.

Soon after Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Bill Veeck contacted Dandridge about playing with the Cleveland Indians, but Dandridge refused to leave Mexico without a bonus. Later, in 1949, at age thirty-five, he was signed by the New York Giants and assigned to their Triple-A farm club at Minneapolis. He batted .363 his first year there, and won the league's MVP award in 1950, when he led Minneapolis to the league championship. Despite his achievements, the Giants would not promote him to the parent club.

While at Minneapolis, Dandridge provided advice and assistance to a young Willie Mays, who never forgot the help or the man. Returning to Cooperstown for Dandridge's induction into the Hall of Fame (he was elected by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1987), Mays stated, "Ray Dandridge helped me tremendously when I came through Minneapolis. Sometimes you just can't overlook those things. Ray was a part of me when I was coming along." (JR)

by James A. Riley
Author of Dandy, Day, and the Devil and an expert on the Negro Leagues. His articles have been featured in SABR publications.

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