John Henry "Pop" Lloyd (April 25, 1884 – March 19, 1964), nicknamed "El Cuchara", was an American baseball shortstop and manager in the Negro leagues. He is generally considered the greatest shortstop in Negro league history, and both Babe Ruth and Ted Harlow, a noted sportswriter, reportedly believed Lloyd to be the greatest baseball player ever.
He was a heavy hitter, usually batting cleanup during his prime, but also knew how to play "inside baseball," and was an expert place-hitter and bunter. Lloyd was also a renowned shortstop, ranked by most experts as second only to Dick Lundy among black shortstops before integration, and was referred to as the "Black Wagner," a reference to Pittsburgh Pirates Hall-of-Famer Honus Wagner. (On Lloyd, Wagner said "It's an honor to be compared to him.")
Known for his gentlemanly conduct, Lloyd was probably the most sought-after African-American player of his generation. "Wherever the money was, that's where I was," he once said. His career record bears this out, showing him constantly moving from team to team.
Lloyd is thought to have been born in Palatka, Florida. He was a descendant of slaves and his father had died when Lloyd was a baby.
Lloyd's maternal grandmother, Maria Jenkins, raised him in Jacksonville. Jenkins had lived in Jacksonville prior to moving to Palatka. The return to Jacksonville may have been prompted by a great fire that had damaged businesses and changed the overall economic situation in Palatka. Before Lloyd had completed elementary school, he had to go to work full-time. Early on, he delivered items for a grocery store, then he became a railroad porter.
Lloyd began his professional baseball career in 1905, playing catcher for the Acmes of Macon, Georgia. He played second base with the Cuban X Giants of Philadelphia in 1906. He acquired the nickname "El Cuchara", which translates to "The Shovel" or "The Tablespoon", a reference to his ability to field batted balls.
The following season, Sol White signed him for the X Giants' archrivals, the Philadelphia Giants, and moved him to shortstop, where he would remain through the bulk of his career. Sportswriters Harry Daniels and Jimmy Smith both named Lloyd to their 1909 "All American Team" saying he "is a wonder at fielding and hitting, also a fair base runner."
In 1910, Lloyd accepted Rube Foster's invitation to join the Chicago Leland Giants, where he anchored a team that Foster described as the greatest of all time. He rejoined White on the newly organized Lincoln Giants in 1911, batting .475 against all competition.
Lloyd took over as player-manager for 1912 and 1913, and in the latter year the Lincolns defeated the Chicago American Giants in a playoff series to become the undisputed champions of black baseball.
In 1914, Lloyd travelled west again to play for the American Giants. He split the 1915 season between the New York-based Lincoln Stars and the American Giants, then spent all of 1916 and 1917 with Foster's team. In 1918, Lloyd served as player manager of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, leaving the club early to work for the Army Quartermaster Depot in Chicago. 1919 saw him join the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, then 1920 found him back with the Royal Giants.
In 1921, he was hired to organize a new team in Foster's young Negro National League. Lloyd's Columbus Buckeyes were not a notable success, however, on the field or in the box office, finishing seventh in a field of eight, and folded upon season's end. The following year, Lloyd was back in the east managing the Bacharach Giants, who had moved to New York City.
When the Eastern Colored League was formed in 1923, Ed Bolden hired Lloyd to manage the Hilldale Club. Lloyd brought home the first ECL pennant by a wide margin, guiding Hilldale to a 32–17 league record. He did not get along with Bolden and was suspended in early September and fired at the end of the season. In 1924, Lloyd returned to the Bacharachs, now based again in Atlantic City. With the brilliant young shortstop Dick Lundy on the roster, the 40-year-old Lloyd moved himself to second base. He hit .444 to win the 1924 ECL batting title, at one point reeling off 11 straight base hits. The Bacharachs, however, were merely average under Lloyd during his two years there, finishing fourth both seasons (with records of 30–29 and 26–27).
The Lincoln Giants, who had finished in last place in 1925, hired Lloyd to manage them for 1926. They improved to fifth (19–22), then played 1927 and most of 1928 as an independent club. It was during the latter season that Lloyd moved himself to first base, while enjoying a fine season at the plate, batting .402 against top black clubs. In 1929, the Lincolns compiled the second-best overall record (40–26) in the American Negro League. Lloyd finished up his career managing the Bacharach Giants in 1931–32, and upon his retirement settled permanently in Atlantic City.
Lloyd had played extensively in Cuba, beginning with a 1907 visit to Havana by the Philadelphia Giants. Altogether he spent twelve seasons in the Cuban League from 1908/09 to 1930, batting .329 for his career, and playing on three championship teams (Habana in 1912 and Almendares in 1924/25 and 1925/26). In Cuba he was called La Cuchara, "The Spoon," either due to his practice of scooping up ground balls, or because of his prominent chin.
According to the historian John Holway, Lloyd batted .337 (970 hits in 2881 at bats) in the Negro leagues. According to a recent study sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame that covers the organized (post-1920) Negro leagues, Lloyd batted .343 with a .450 slugging percentage.
After his professional playing days, Lloyd lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was a player-coach for the semiprofessional Atlantic City Johnson Stars until 1942. The team was named after politico Nucky Johnson and was later known as the Farley Stars after powerful state senator Frank S. Farley. (Farley had driven the creation of Atlantic City's Pop Lloyd Field to gain support from the city's large black population.) Lloyd could not run well by that time and he shifted to playing first base, but a former teammate said that he was still able to hit line drives.
Lloyd was a janitor for the Atlantic City School System, including Atlantic City High School. Though he did not have any children, Lloyd became a popular coach in the local youth baseball league. He died in 1964.
Lloyd was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Lloyd was nominated, along with several athletes and other public figures, for induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2014. However, basketball player Patrick Ewing was the only sportsperson inducted.