The purpose of this series has always been to shed light on aspects of the Negro, and associated, Leagues that deserve recognition. Great seasons that have never gotten their due, excellent careers that went unnoticed, teams that dominated to little fanfare, and so on and so forth. The deeper I get into this series that more I realize that my original intent was all wrong. Everything Negro League deserves to be written about because, frankly, not enough has been written about any aspect of the Negro Leagues.
Case in point is the career being written about this week. Whether he was called Bullet Rogan or Bullet Joe Rogan, the name was associated with one thing only: excellence. Charles Wilber Rogan started playing professional baseball in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Wreckers. The Wreckers themselves were an amateur team formed out of an all-black Army infantry unit. They played ball against visiting teams from the all-white Pacific Coast League. In the 1916-17 season, Rogan pitched in 46 innings and accrued 29 plate appearances. His ERA of 0.98, ERA+ of 220, and slash line of .375/.464/.667 against the far “superior” white players gave just a hint of the tremendous career Rogan had ahead of him.
In 1920 Rogan found himself playing for the storied Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League. Oh, and if his season with the Wreckers didn’t clue you in yet, Rogan was a legitimate two-way player. In his rookie NNL campaign, he played 36 games spread out across first base and all three outfield positions while also pitching 14 times. His ERA of 3.12 and WHIP of 1.27 helped bring about an ERA+ of 108. Meanwhile, at the dish, he slashed .296/.335/.430 with 9 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 129. His combined sWAR (Seamheads WAR) in 1920 was 3.0 (1.5 with the bat, 1.9 as a pitcher). Due to his military service, Rogan started his career later than others, but he was about to go on a tear that has somehow been forgotten.
Over the next seven years, he amassed an sWAR of 42.6 — that comes out to an average sWAR of 6.1 per season. His efforts were almost always spread evenly between pitching and hitting. People like to talk about Babe Ruth as the epitome of the two-way player, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only is Bullet Rogan one of the greatest players to ever play the game, period, but he is also the standard against which all other two-way players should be judged. When I talk about Shohei Ohtani’s progression as a two-way player, I’m not judging him against Ruth, but the far superior two-way player that was Bullet Rogan.
Come 1921, Rogan had already established himself as one of the most important faces in all of baseball. He didn’t look the part of an all-world baseball player, but he certainly played the part. The short, stocky, and chunky two-way player’s 1921 season with the Monarchs is the sort that just makes you go, “Damn!” In his 8.9 (2.4 on offense, and 5.3 pitching) sWAR season, he slashed .298/.373/.476 with 7 home runs, 19 stolen bases, and a .385 wOBA in 294 plate appearances. The right-handed hurler sported an ERA of 1.79, a WHIP of 1.18, and ERA+ of 217, while holding opponents to a .225 BAA in 220.2 innings. Let those numbers wash over you for a minute, because they are hella impressive. Go ahead, take as much time as you want, they give me the sweats too.
It’s hard to be better than Rogan was in 1921 — his next three seasons were all great, but they paled next to what he did in 1921. Then 1925 happened and Rogan displayed excellence that is rarely seen. He hit .372/.435/.572 and produced an OPS+ of 179. In 168 plate appearances, he produced a wOBA of .429 and an ISO of .200. As good as the longtime Monarch was with the bat in 1925, he was far better with his arm. Over 181.1 innings he struck out 112 and only walked 33 for a WHIP of 1.00. His 1.99 ERA makes you take notice, and his 245 ERA+ makes you weak in the knees. He was 145% better than the average NNL pitcher, while also being 79% better than the average NNL batter. No one should be that much better than the rest of the league, but in 1925 Rogan outclassed a league full of great players and did so easily.
Rogan had one more great major league season in him, 1928. From that point on, he assumed a part-time playing role as he also served as manager with the Monarchs. The hard-throwing righty would also play in the minors for a bit, and spent various stints throughout his career playing in the California Winter League. Bullet Joe also took entire years off from the major leagues, and baseball in general, during his prime. He lost five seasons due to taking non-baseball jobs during a period in time when he was arguably the best baseball player on the planet. More than likely, even if he had played those years, Rogan would have followed suit with most Negro League stars — undervalued and underrepresented. Still, imagine what his numbers would have been and how much more he would have accomplished had he played those years?
When all was said and done, Rogan ended up with a career sWAR of 46.7, slash line of .340/.402/.527, an OPS+ of 160, and on the other side an ERA of 2.72 and an ERA+ of 148. In the list of the top 20 all-time sWAR seasons for the Negro, or associated, Leagues he has four seasons that appear. He also won the 1924 Negro League World Series with the Monarchs, and in 1998 was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. To say that Bullet Rogan is one of the greatest baseball players to ever step onto the diamond would be an understatement. That he isn’t talked about in the same breath as Ruth, Barry Bonds, Sandy Koufax, Mike Trout, Tom Seaver, and the rest of the all-time best to play the game is a travesty. Rogan’s career deserves all the attention in the world, and then some. Bullet Rogan may just be the greatest to ever play the game of baseball, and it’s high time we bring his name into those discussions.
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