Louis Santop has been called “the first of the great Negro League sluggers,” and “the first Negro League superstar.”
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Santop was physically large for his day, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 240 pounds. Primarily a catcher, he also played the corner infield and outfield positions. He was known as “Big Bertha,” after a large piece of German heavy artillery.
While he was a gifted slugger who hit mammoth drives in the Dead Ball Era, he also hit for extremely high averages in the upper .300s and lower .400s.
Santop broke in with the Fort Worth Wonders in 1909, and the following season played with the Philadelphia Giants, where he formed the famous “kid battery” with Cannonball Redding. For the next four seasons, Santop caught for the New York Lincoln Giants, where he formed a future Hall of Fame battery with Smoky Joe Williams.
In 1915, he played briefly with the Chicago American Giants, before returning East to play with the Lincoln Giants. The two teams met in the postseason championship, and ended up tied.
He also played in the Black World Series for the Hilldale Daisies in 1921, 1924, and 1925, winning in ’21 and ’25.
Santop was an outgoing player and an exuberant drawing card, earning as much as $500 per month in the 1910s and 1920s. There are stories of him calling his home run shots, and he often gave pregame throwing exhibitions, throwing a ball over the center field fence while standing at the catcher’s position, and then crouching and firing repeatedly to each infielder – amazing onlookers with his powerful arm.
He served in the United States Navy in 1918 and '19.
In exhibitions against white major leaguers, Santop is remembered for having outhit Babe Ruth in a 1920 postseason series, notching three hits against Carl Mays of the Yankees. In a 1917 series, Santop recorded six hits in three games against Chief Bender and Joe Bush.
Santop passed away on Jan. 6, 1942. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.