Bullet Rogan was the stuff of legend – a Ruthian figure of the early days of the Negro Leagues.
Rogan hit like Ty Cobb. He pitched like Walter Johnson. He played center field like Willie Mays. He excelled among Negro League icons and against Major League Hall of Famers. He was a two-way star who did it all.
We don’t know Rogan’s exact stats (Negro League records are murky), or his exact birthdate (it could have been 1889 or 1893). Even his name changes from one mouth to the next. Rogan’s Baseball Hall of Fame plaque is inscribed “Wilber Joe Rogan (Bullet).” Other records name him “Charles Wilber Rogan.”
But whether you call him Bullet Joe or just Bullet, this is for sure: Bullet Rogan could play ball.
• Rogan starred as a cleanup-hitting outfielder and ace starting pitcher for the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs – the same team Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Ernie Banks would later play for – for nearly 20 years from 1920-38. Bullet’s picture was plastered around Kansas City.
The stats that have been researched and collected are incredible. Baseball-Reference credits Bullet with a 119-50 record as a pitcher for the Monarchs, with 128 complete games and 15 shutouts. As a hitter, he had a .338 batting average, .515 slugging percentage and .905 OPS. He’d rank among the winningest pitchers in Negro League history, and among the top hitters. Move over, Babe Ruth and Shohei Ohtani.
Beyond playing for the Monarchs, Rogan also managed them, and he umpired in the Negro Leagues, too. Off the field, he opened a pool hall in Kansas City. After his retirement, he worked in the post office.
• Rogan was inducted into Cooperstown in 1998, about 30 years after his death in 1967. His son, Wilber Rogan Jr., accepted the honor in Bullet’s place.
“People ask me two questions when talking about my dad,” he said in his speech. “One, where did he get the name ‘Bullet’ from? And, who was the fastest – him or Satchel Paige?
“My answer to both questions is, I don’t know. They were both fast. But one thing I do know: When Satch was on the mound, he needed a designated hitter. When my dad was on the mound, he was in the cleanup spot.”
• Bullet Rogan folklore abounds. They say he swung a heavier bat than the Bambino. They say he threw even harder than Paige or Smokey Joe Williams – though he was only 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds and pitched without a windup. Rogan threw forkballs. He threw spitballs. He was a master of the palmball.
Here are a few of the quotes that have been collected about Rogan by various reporters and authors:
Paige himself said of Rogan: “He was the onliest pitcher I ever knew, I ever heard of in my life, was pitching and hitting in the cleanup place.”
Rogan’s Monarch teammate Frank Duncan, who caught both Paige and Rogan, said: “Bullet had a little more steam on the ball than Paige – and he had a better-breaking curve,” and that, “If you had to choose between Rogan and Paige, you’d pick Rogan, because he could hit.”
Another Monarch, Chet Brewer, recounted: “I saw him one winter just make Al Simmons” – that’s MLB Hall of Famer Al Simmons – “crawl trying to hit that [palmball].”
Buck O’Neil, one of the Negro Leagues’ defining figures and MLB’s first black coach, once said: “If you saw Ernie Banks hit in his prime, then you saw Rogan.”