William McKinley Cornelius was not a famous Negro League baseball player. Born September 3, 1906 in Atlanta, Georgia; Cornelius said his mother gave him the nickname “Sugar” because he loved eating sugar as a baby. As he got older, it was shortened to “Sug” and stayed with him all his life. The right-handed pitcher did not play on the more renowned Negro League teams such as the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, Newark Eagles, or Pittsburgh Crawfords. After short stints with the Nashville Elite Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, and Memphis Red Sox, Cornelius had his best years with the Chicago American Giants from 1931 – 1946. His exploits on the field were not legendary, but “Sug” Cornelius’ had an established pro baseball career in the Negro Leagues.
Many former Negro League players said “Sug” could throw a curve around a barrel; it was his signature pitch. He battled with many of the Negro League’s greatest hitters with his curveball. His mound opponents included Hall of Famers Leon Day, Raymond Brown, and of course Satchel Paige. Also, he successfully pitched against Major League batters in exhibition games after the season and in the California winter leagues.
Negro League fans voted him to participate in three Negro League East West All Star Games. Cornelius pitched a scoreless top of the 11th inning for the West squad in the 1935 East-West All Star Game and became the winning pitcher after “Mule” Suttles’ home run in the bottom of the ending. But in the 1936 All Star Game “Sug” gave up two runs in the first three innings as the losing pitcher in the West squad’s 10 – 2 defeat. He received over 63,000 votes from fans, the second highest for all pitchers that year, for the 1938 game. But he had another rocky outing, giving up three runs in the first inning. The West squad rallied to win the game 5 – 4.
Past his prime years when Jackie Robinson erased Major League baseball’s “invisible color line”, “Sug” regretfully accepted the fact he had missed his chance. He said, “It was just one of those things. My skin was black and that denied me the right to play in the majors”.
“Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues by John Holway (1992, Da Capo Press – New York) was used as a source material for quotes and some other information for this article.
To read more on the history of Negro League baseball, order “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”, at (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)