Oscar Levis

From BR Bullpen


Oscar Joseph Levis
(Oscal, Chick)
born as Oscar Joseph Levy

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Oscar Levis was one of the best Jamaican players ever. Only Justin Masterson has won more games in the majors by a Jamaican, through 2022; Levis was 38-35 in the big leagues. Levis was noted for his spitball and "fake spitter". [1] His skin color and spitball both kept him out of the white major leagues as he spent his career in the Negro Leagues and the Cuban Winter League. He was involved in three notable games in Cuba - one of the best pitching duels in league history, a no-hitter and a contest in which a future Hall-of-Famer hit three inside-the-park homers. The first player born in Jamaica, this fact was not recorded for many years, due to mistaken information on his birthplace as well as the Negro Leagues being classified as major leagues decades after his passing.

He was listed for decades as being born in Panama. Negro League researcher Gary Ashwill found in 2018, though, that Levis was really Jamaican, not Panamanian. [2] Ashwill traces him from birth in Jamaica to living in Panama to moving to the US at age 18. He worked for the Submarine Boat Corporation at the Newark Bay Shipyard in World War I. He later was a chauffeur and attended college in New York. [3]

Levis debuted with the Cuban Stars in 1921, going 2-1 with a 7.18 ERA (63 ERA+) in four starts. [4] He was 2-2 with a 3.96 ERA (116 ERA+) in 1922. He was 6th in ERA among top black eastern teams, between Nick Logan and Harold Treadwell.

He pitched for Almendares in the Cuban Winter League in 1922-1923 and was the first non-Cuban Latino to play in the Cuban Winter League, debuting seven years prior to Dominican Tetelo Vargas. For decades, he was misidentified as the first Panamanian in the league, 21 years before the next Panamanian, Victor Greenidge, but as noted above, he was really Jamaican. [5] He was 6-8 with a 3.09 ERA (111 ERA+) for the last-place squad. He was 4th in wins (after Lucas Boada, Dolf Luque and Eddie Lepard), 3rd in K/BB ratio (1.44, behind Luque and Dick Redding), second with 19 games pitched (2 behind Luque), first with 17 starts (one ahead of Emilio Palmero), tied Boada and Lepard for second with 11 complete games (one shy of Luque), led in IP (137, 1 1/3 ahead of Luque), led with 61 walks (7 ahead of Palmero), tied Luque for the most whiffs (88), was 8th in ERA (between Boada and Isidro Fabré) and tied Fabré for the most losses.

Levis was excellent for the Cuban Stars when the Eastern Colored League was formed in 1923. He went 6-3 with a save and a 2.80 ERA (166 ERA+). He walked only 16 in 70 2/3 IP. He helped his cause with a 93 OPS+, hitting .250/.294/.344. He ranked among the ECL leaders in wins (tied for 7th with Scrip Lee and Lewis Hampton), ERA (4th, between Hubert Lockhart and Willis Flournoy), ERA+ (3rd, after Lockhart and Nip Winters) and Wins Above Replacement (tied with Lockhart for 3rd behind Winters and Red Ryan).

He fell to 4-4 with two saves and a 4.14 ERA (91 ERA+) for Habana in 1923-1924. He tied for first in the CWL in saves. In the Gran Premio season that followed, he was 1-3 but with a 2.03 ERA (150 ERA+) and a league-best 3.33 K:BB (.15 ahead of Jesse Petty). He led with 40 strikeouts (5 ahead of Petty), was second to Luque in ERA and tied Luque for third in WAR, behind Oscar Charleston and Esteban Montalvo. He took part in one of the most famous pitching duels in Cuban annals, working 12 2/3 IP in a 18-inning, 4-4 tie with Fabré. He allowed five hits and no runs. [6]

Oscar was 6-8 with a 3.33 ERA (161 ERA+) for the Cuban Stars during 1924 and also batted .281/.328/.368 (118 OPS+). He was 7th in the ECL in ERA+ (between Winters and Doc Sykes), tied for second in losses (one behind Darltie Cooper), tied Ryan for third with 83 strikeouts, was 9th in ERA (between Sykes and Lockhart) and 6th in Wins Above Replacement (4.5, between Flournoy and Martin Dihigo). Back in Cuba on October 11, he threw a no-hitter against his old Almendares team before the season began. [7] When the regular season got underway, he went 9-7 for Habana, leading the league with 12 complete games and tying Bullet Rogan for the most wins. [8]

Early in 1925, he lost twice to a Negro League star team facing a Cuban star team, dropping decisions to Rogan and Bill Holland. [9] Levis had a 6-6, 4.57 record (107 ERA+) in the Negro Leagues in 1925. He was 8-4 with a 3.06 ERA for Habana in 1925-1926, leading the loop with 15 games pitched, two shutouts, 91 1/3 IP and 52 strikeouts. [10] He went 7-2 with a save and a 3.79 ERA (114 ERA+) for the Cuban Stars in 1926. He tied Sam Cooper, Charles Corbett and Ping Gardner for 9th in wins in the ECL, tied Henry Gillespie for second with two shutouts (one shy of Gardner) and was 6th in WHIP (between Eustaquio Pedroso and Phil Cockrell. He became a US citizen that year. [11]

Levis was 3-1 for Marianao in Cuba's 1926-1927 Triangular Season. [12] Back in the US in 1927, he was 9-4, finishing second behind Rats Henderson in winning percentage in the ECL. [13] He helped Habana to a title in 1927-1928, posting a 7-2 record with a 3.14 ERA (134 ERA+). He also had a 99 OPS+ (.250/.325/.444, 9 RBI in 15 G). He was second in the CWL in strikeouts (48, 5 behind Bill Foster), led in wins (one ahead of Luque, Foster and William Bell), was 4th in ERA+ and ERA (between Dihigo and Bell), second in complete games (7, two behind Foster), second in IP (94 2/3, 27 1/3 behind Foster) and second in Wins Above Replacement (2.4, 1 behind Dihigo and .2 ahead of Luque and Chino Smith).

The veteran had peaked and would decline in his last few seasons. In the summer of 1928, he was 1-3 with a 8.12 ERA (62 ERA+) though he hit .296/.387/.667 (167 OPS+ with 3 homers in 27 at-bats. He was 5-2 for Habana in 1928-1929, tying Ted Trent and Basilio Rosell for 8th in wins as Habana took the title. On January 1, he allowed the first of three inside-the-park homers by Cool Papa Bell in a historic day for the fleet flyhawk. [14] He was 3-5 for the Stars in 1929. [15]

The Jamaican was 4-5 for Habana in 1929-1930. [16] For the Hilldale Club in 1930, he went 3-7 with a 5.52 ERA (102 ERA+) for a 7-28-1 team. He was 4th among top black eastern teams (the ECL had folded during the Great Depression) in strikeouts (29, between Laymon Yokeley and Flournoy), led in losses (two more than Cockrell), tied Luther Farrell for second in complete games (8), tied for first in shutouts (1) and was third with 73 1/3 IP (trailing Holland and Farrell).

Levis split 1931 between Hilldale and the Cuban Stars (5-5, 4.26, 92 ERA+). He tied Foster and Lee for third in wins among top black eastern clubs, tied Cooper, Flournoy and Neck Stanley for fourth in losses, tied Cooper for third in starts (10), tied Lee and Stanley for the most complete games (8), was 3rd with 80 1/3 IP (behind Stanley and Lee) and was 7th with 26 K (between Cooper and Smokey Joe Williams). In his final Cuban campaign, he was 0-1 for Habana in 1931-1932. [17] He was 0-1 with 9 hits and 5 runs (4 earned) in 3 1/3 IP for the Stars in 1932 to end his playing career. He managed the Stars from 1933-1937.

He later ran a bar and grill in Harlem. [18] When the Negro Leagues officially became part of the major leagues in 2020, Levis turned into the first Jamaican major leaguer, having played 58 years prior to Chili Davis as he was in the ECL's first season.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • ECL Shutouts Leader (1927)


  1. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, pg. 478
  2. Agate Type blog by Gary Ashwill
  3. ibid.
  4. Seamheads database. This is the source for all stats in this biography unless otherwise mentioned.
  5. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo, pg. 510
  6. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, pg. 154-155
  7. A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Bjarkman, pg. 116
  8. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, pg. 158
  9. ibid, pg. 162
  10. ibid., pg. 164-165
  11. Agate Type blog by Ashwill
  12. ibid., pg. 173
  13. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues, pg. 226
  14. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, pg. 177-181
  15. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues, pg. 249
  16. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, pg. 185
  17. ibid., pg. 200
  18. Agate Type article by Ashwill

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