Louis Santop Loftin
(Top, Big Bertha)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 200 lbs.
- Debut 1923
- Final Game 1926
- Born January 17, 1889 in Fort Worth, TX, USA
- Died January 22, 1942 in Philadelphia, PA, USA
Louis Santop was primarily a catcher in the Negro Leagues. He is considered the top Negro League backstop of the Deadball Era and is often ranked third all-time behind Josh Gibson and Biz Mackey among Negro League catchers. He was known as a heavy hitter for the low-scoring era and was called a "human freight car" in a 1918 newspaper report. He got the nickname "Big Bertha" when his hard hits were compared to German artillery pieces bearing that name.
1909-10: Early career
He began his career in 1909, playing for the minor Fort Worth Wonders and Oklahoma Monarchs before joining the Philadelphia Giants. In 1910, he was a backup for Philadelphia, where he formed a "kid battery" with young Dick Redding.
1911-1917: Top hitter in the east?
At age 21, he joined the New York Lincoln Giants and became a regular, hitting .333 against other top black teams. In 1912, he went 1 for 14 for Fe in the Cuban Winter League. He would visit Cuba in three exhibitions later in his career but would only appear in the CWL on one other occasion. In 1912, he batted .412, the top mark among eastern black teams (New York played 9 games against other top black outfits, leading to the possibility for wide variances in average). Louis went 3 for 13 in exhibitions against white major leaguers that winter. He hit .231 in the 1913 Lincoln Giants season.
Santop did his best yet in 1914, putting up a .517 average, again tops in the east. He hit .361 in an exhibition trip to Cuba that winter, including matches against MLB pitchers Dolf Luque (the pitcher of record in 3 of the 14 games) and Jose Acosta (the pitcher of recrd once).
The big Texan slipped to .259 in 1915. He went 1 for 4 against Pol Perritt in an exhibition game and was 1 for 4 in their other game (for which box scores have been found) that winter against a white major league hurler. He also briefly played for the Chicago American Giants that year.
In 1916, Santop hit .333/.412/.400 in the five games for which box scores have been found. He was with the Brooklyn Royal Giants. In 1917, 'Top hit .414, third-best in the East. In a post-season matchup with the Chicago club, he went 8 for 28 with two doubles and a triple. He was 4 for 12 in a series of exhibitions against Joe Bush. During his exhibitions against white players, he was known for a 15-minute throwing demonstration before the game in which he would fire from a crouch to each base without a problem. It was a popular pregame show for the fans.
1918-1919: Military history and partial seasons
In late July of 1918, the heavy-hitting Santop reported to Fort Dix with other draftees. Camp physicians said he had an arm that was "broken and badly twisted" and that he could neither hold a gun nor salute. Louis was discharged as being "physically unfit." The Chicago Defender said that he was "such a well built man" that the rejection seemed "next to impossible" and he was possibly being reclassified. Santop's injury could not have been too bad, though, as he continued to play catcher throughout the sumnmer, hitting .444 for Brooklyn and the Philadelphia Hilldales, third in the East. Santop's arm was strong enough to throw a ball over the roof in an exhibition against Bush when Joe wanted to use a baseball previously ruled ineligible for play. That winter, he reported to the Stevedore Regiment in Norfolk, VA, apparently healthy enough now to serve.
1920-22: More time with Hilldale and exhibitions
Santop hit .250/~.333/.340 with five errors in 15 games for the 1920 Hilldales. He was 6 for 16 in postseason games. In a matchup between Santop (known sometimes as the "Black Babe Ruth") and the real Babe Ruth that winter, Louis doubled and singled twice against Carl Mays and Slim Harriss while Babe went 0 for 4. Santop sat out the next day, when Ruth homered. Santop overall was 7 for 24 in exhibitions against white big-league pitchers that year. In the 1920-21 Cuban Winter League, the Texan slugger went 7 for 19 with two doubles and a triple for the Bacharach Giants.
In the 1921 season, Santop hit .350/~.406/.596 with 14 errors in 39 games. He was third among eastern black teams in average and led in home runs (6 or 8 depending on your source) as the ball was getting livelier. He was a disappointing 5 for 23 in post-season series. Louis led the East in average for a third time in 1922 (.487/~.615/.545 according to recent research, .404 with 2 HR and 4 RBI according to John Holway; Holway has him second to Alejandro Oms in home runs in the East and leading in doubles). Louis had now spent a decade as one of the most prominent offensive threats in black baseball and was paid as much as $500 per month for his work.
1923-26: The ECL era and the famous error
The 33-year-old finally got to play in an organized league in 1923 as the Eastern Colored League was formed. Santop struggled, hitting .257/~.277/.367 as per recent research, and Mackey was breaking in as Philadelphia's star young catcher (the chain of black Hall-of-Fame legends thus went from Santop to Mackey to Roy Campanella, stretching almost 50 years as one handed the role to a younger teammate late in his career). Santop still finished 4th in the ECL in home runs (7) and doubles (7) as per Holway. He only went 4 for 17 in an exhibition series against white major leaguers that year.
Big Bertha batted .346/~.385/.488 in 1924. In the first Negro World Series, Santop went 8 for 24 but was most noted for a poor defensive play in game 8 of the 10-game series. He had driven in a key run to make it 2-0 but in the bottom of the 9th, with the bases loaded and one run in, Frank Duncan popped one up and Santop muffed it. Duncan then singled in two, putting a grounder through the legs of Mackey, the defensive wizard at catcher who was playing third base.
With Mackey getting more and more time behind the plate, the veteran Santop hit only .152/~.182/.243 in 23 games for Hilldale in 1925. He went 0 for 2 in the 1925 Negro World Series. The next season, the old-timer bounced back with a .355/~.393/.387 line in his only 13 outings.
1927-31: Semipro ball
After being let go by Philadelphia, Louis formed a semipro club called the Santop Bronchos and they played for five years.
Holway lists Santop with a career .318 average, the best of any player who spent the majority of his career in the Deadball Era, and .289 against white major leaguers. The recent Hall of Fame research has him with a .324/~.368/.461 line from 1920-26. This was a higher-scoring era, but he was in his 30s and in the decline phase of his career at that time.
Santop worked as a broadcaster for WELK in Philadelphia, PA, was involved in local Republican politics and charities after he was no longer a top player. He also worked as a bartender in Philadelphia. In February 1941 he slipped and fell on an icy street and suffered a spine injury. He suffered a paralytic stroke in November 1941 and was moved to Philadelphia's Naval Hospital in November 1941, where he died of complications on January 22, 1942.
Personality and anecdotes
Santop once broke three of Oscar Charleston's ribs while giving him a bear hug. The large Texan was known for his willingness to play when hurt and caught one doubleheader with a broken thumb.
He also supposedly once called a home run in Atlantic City, NJ when one fan said he would strike out instead; she bet him a dollar on the arrangement and Louis collected over hitting over the fence he said he would smack the ball over.
- The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley
- The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway
- research for the 2006 Hall of Fame elections
- research by Gary Ashwill on Santop's military record
- Passport application, Louis Santop Loftin, September 22, 1920
- obituaries in the Chicago Defender, Baltimore Afro-American, and New York Amsterdam Star News, 1942
- Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo