Laymon Yokely. Photograph courtesy of Baseball Reference.
One of the more interesting things about studying the Negro Leagues is that one thread leads to another and another and another and so on. However, the frustrating part is that often there is not a lot information about these threads. For example, when I was reading about Bert Simmons, I learned of Yokely’s All-Stars, the independent team Simmons played for after his time with the Baltimore Elite Giants.
So who were Yokely’s All-Stars? And who was Yokely, for that matter?
Laymon Samuel Yokely, sometimes referred to as Norman Yokely, was a star pitcher for the Baltimore Black Sox, who he played for from 1926 to 1933. During his time with the Black Sox, Yokely pitched six no-hitters, including one during the second game of a double-header after pitching game 1. In 1929, he won 17 games to help the Black Sox win the American Negro League pennant. Yokely was the ace of the team and was often pitched just to boost attendance. Even other players came to see him pitch. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Bert Simmons said of Yokely: “‘He was a legend. Anyone who had played ball in Baltimore would always come back to see Yokely. I was there one day when Roy Campanella, who had played for him, dropped in for a visit.’”
The Hardball Times wrote the following about Yokely, in a 2018 article about Leon Day:
“It came pretty easy to Laymon Yokely; rolling out of bed to pitch nine innings for a living. So easily, in fact, he probably could have just stayed there: the massive, six-and-a-half-foot tall hurler could often be found snoozing under the bench between innings, to the point that some believed he suffered from narcolepsy.
The pitching came easy. With a cracking whip of an arm motion, Yokely’s delivery started with his hand low behind his back, a move they say gave him an extra bit of hellfire on every heater. It was good enough to flummox the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Hack Wilson, and all of the legendary white players Yokely would occasionally face as a Negro Leagues pitcher for the Baltimore Black Sox from 1926-31.”
According to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s eMuseum, Yokely:
“was so popular with fans that he was called a matinee idol, and in 1926 he acquired the nicknames ‘Corner Pocket’ Yokely and ‘The Mysterious Shadow.’ A downside to his popularity was that because so many fans wanted to see him pitch, he may have been overworked, shortening his career. After a few seasons of throwing his fastball at too-frequent intervals, his arm started to go bad. Initially the problem was manifested by an inability to pitch complete games, but soon progressed to a point where he began to lose effectiveness. Beginning in 1930, his decline in effectiveness accelerated, and within two years his arm was so bad that he was benched.”
While benched, Yokely continued to play with the Baltimore Red Sox, a semi-pro team. He returned to the Black Sox in 1932. He went on to play for the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1932), the Philadelphia Stars (1934-37, 1939), the Washington Black Senators (1938), the Edgewater Giants (1940-43), and the Baltimore Elite Giants (1944).
In 1945, he established his own team, Yokely’s All-Stars, a barnstorming semi pro team. The All-Stars continued to operate until 1959. It was with Yokely’s team that Leon Day got his start in baseball.
Of course, now I need to learn more about teams like the Baltimore Red Sox and the Edgewater Giants… and maybe some day I’ll discover more information about The Mysterious Shadow.