Baseball is a game with a rich and voluminous history. Much of that history happens to be white, which may piss some people off but is the reality of the situation. The overwhelming majority of baseball history has been written and documented by white males. That there still exists a majority of white males in the field of baseball research also shouldn’t surprise anyone. I am a white male and I have no problem admitting that I am part of that majority and that there is always the chance that great, fun, interesting, bad, and noteworthy players, teams, and leagues do not get their fair share of attention because of the main demographic that chronicles baseball.
This series has been, up until this point, a deeper dive into the Negro Leagues, specifically, the Negro Leagues that were the equivalent of the major leagues (the lie perpetuated by Major League Baseball that they weren’t is a whole other article). This time out our focus is going to shift somewhat to Liga Cubana de Profesional Base Ball, sometimes referred to as the Cuban Winter League, though that is an erroneous and very white distinction. The LCPBB operated from 1878 until 1961, though it wasn’t a professional league until 1900. That was the year that integration occurred in the LCPBB, and with the integration of various Negro League players and players from other countries LCPBB jumped to new levels of skill.
One year after integration a pitcher for the Habana club would put up one of the best pitching seasons in the history of the LCPBB and the greater spectrum of the Negro Leagues. His season may not have taken place in a major league (in fact the player in question only spent one year playing in a league on American soil) but that doesn’t change the importance of Carlos Royer’s 1901 season on the mound for the Habana ball club.
He appeared in 16 games, starting 15 of them, for a Habana team that easily finished in first place in both the first and second half of the season. In 143 innings Royer compiled one shutout in 14 complete games for an ERA of 0.82. His ERA+ of 232 was the second best of his career, and frankly, just an ungodly number. Consider this, the next best ERA+ in the LCPBB that year was Armando Dacal’s 143, a whopping 89 points behind Royer. In a year where the league WHIP was 1.36 Royer put up a 0.96 rating. He had a K% of 13.8 while not giving up a single home run. All combined Royer put up an sWAR of 6.3, and it would have been even higher had he not had an offensive sWAR of -0.3.
Royer’s 1901 dominance didn’t end in the regular season. In the El Gran Premio Particular he guided Habana to an easy title win. In his 12 games Habana went 8-3, and Royer had 10 complete games and 3 shutouts. He improved on his regular season marks as his ERA dropped to 0.62, his WHIP to 0.74, and his K% jumped to 15.3. The only numbers that didn’t hold up were his ERA+ that fell to 182 and his sWAR that dropped to 3.0 (although again, his offensive sWAR helped to drop his total sWAR down from a pitching sWAR of 3.4). He didn’t pitch in as many innings though, down to 102 for 41 fewer thrown. That may not seem like a lot, but when it comes to sWAR and ERA+, it matters a fair amount.
Royer’s combined 1901 regular season and playoffs with Habana yielded an ERA of 0.73, a WHIP of 0.87, and an ERA+ of 214. No one came close to the right-hander’s dominance that year. José Muñoz posted the second-best ERA of 1.22 between Almendares and San Francisco, and yet, Royer was almost a half a run better. His sWAR of 9.3 ranks only behind Nip Winters and Bullet Joe Rogan for the best seasons ever by a pitcher in a Negro League or a league integrated with Negro League players.
By all accounts, Royer had a heck of a playing career before he finally retired after a 1910-1911 season spent with Almendares and Fé. After the 1901 season he only had two more years in which he was a top of the line pitcher. But, he played for at least seven years where we have no stats on him whatsoever, and the entirety of his career is riddled with incomplete seasons. None of that matters though, because we do have records of great years from him, including a 1901 campaign with Habana that any pitcher would kill to claim as their own. There’s a reason that Royer was elected to the Salón de la Fama del Béisbol Cubano in 1939.
Carlos Royer does not deserve to fall through the cracks, his career never should have been forgotten. Instead of the one-millionth article discussing the career of Babe Ruth, the notoriety of Shoeless Joe Jackson, or the fastball of Nolan Ryan perhaps, just perhaps, we should spend more of our time writing about someone like Royer? He is important to baseball history, and someone who deserves more attention. There’s very little information to be found on Royer, but do yourself a favor and visit Baseball Reference or Seamheads and learn about him. Then bug the folks, like myself, at Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs about giving a player like Royer his due. Odin knows he deserves the attention, and it’s about time Bebé gets all that should have been given to him long ago.Next post: Banished to the Pen’s Season Preview Series 2019
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