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Pee Wee Butts


“[Butts] is the best I've ever seen!"
--Mike Gonzales, Major League catcher and manager after watching Butts play in the Cuban League


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Negro Leaguer of the Month

June, 2010

Thomas "Pee Wee" Butts
Born: August 28, 1918 in Sparta, Georgia
Died: December 30, 1972 in Atlanta, Georgia
Ht: 5'-7", Wt: 140 lbs
Batted and threw right
Position: shortstop
Playing Years: 1938-1955

Teams: Atlanta Black Crackers, Indianapolis ABCs, Baltimore Elite Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, Winnipeg Buffaloes, Lincoln A's, Texas City Texans

The Negro League's version of Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Butts was a skinny shortstop with terrific range, a strong arm, and a suspect bat.

The top-fielding shortstop of the 1940s, Pee Wee Butts was one of the smallest stars the Negro Leagues ever produced, standing about five foot seven in cleats, and tipping the scales at 140 pounds after a big meal.

Butts grew up in Sparta Georgia, and his first Negro League contract was with the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1938. After a short stint with the Black Crax and Indianapolis ABCs, Butts signed with the Baltimore Elite Giants, the team with which he is most associated.

Early in his career, Butts was a fine lead-off hitter, and a fine bunter, usually batting in the .280-range, and grabbing his share of walks. It was Butts' defense, though, that drew most of the attention. Once Willie Wells started to slow with age, Butts became the Negro Leagues' greatest defensive shortstop, and he was second to none in turning the double play. Late in his career he teamed with future Major Leaguer Junior Gilliam in the Cuban Winter League to form what some think was the best double play combination of all time.

Butts also played in Puerto Rico during the late 1940s and early 1950s, batting as high as .324 with the Santurce Crabbers in '48. That winter he placed fourth in the league in hits (104) behind Artie Wilson, Wilmer Fields and Luis Marquez.

Butts played in eight East-West Games, more than any shortstop except Hall of Famer Willie Wells, and he played brilliantly afield, but batted only .059 in 17 at bats.

In 1951, Butts left the Negro Leagues and played a season in the Manitoba-Dakota League with the Winnipeg Buffaloes where he batted .286 with one homer in 245 at bats (he had four homers in almost 2000 at bats uncovered in the Negro Leagues). Willie Wells was the player-manager of the Buffaloes, and he passed his shortstop torch to the younger Butts, and played mostly outfield during the season.

The Buffaloes finished second in the league in '51, and played Minot in the first round of the playoffs. Games two and three were played as a doubleheader, and Butts collected five hits in the split, and the Buffaloes won in seven games. In the finals, the Brandon Greys swept the Buffaloes, with a costly error by Wells, playing right field, in the final game being a key play of the contest.

In 1952 Organized Baseball came calling for Butts when the Philadelphia A's signed the 32-year-old and assigned him to their Western League farm club, the Lincoln, Nebraska A's. In 47 games Butts struggled at the plate, batting .170.

Butts returned to the floundering Negro Leagues in '53 and '54, then had his swan song with the minor league's Texas City Texans in '55, batting .265 in 98 at bats at age 35. Note: Butts was the second oldest player on the team, the oldest being Quincy Barbee, another Negro League star.

*Some information from www.attheplate.com

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