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Thursday, 8 August 2013
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY : THE KANSAS CITY MONARCHS THE LONGEST RUNNING FRANCHISE IN THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL NEGRO LEAGUES :
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY The Kansas City Monarchs the longest-running franchise in the history of baseball's Negro Leagues. Operating in Kansas City, Missouri and owned by J.L. Wilkinson, they were charter members of the Negro National League from 1920 to 1930. J.L. Wilkinson was the first Caucasian owner at the time of the establishment of the team. In 1930, the Monarchs became the first professional baseball team to use a portable lighting system which was transported from game to game in trucks to play games at night, five years before any major league team did. The Monarchs won ten league championships before integration, and triumphed in the first Negro League World Series in 1924. The Monarchs had only one season in which they lost more games than won. After sending more players to the major leagues than any other Negro League franchise, the team was finally disbanded in 1965.
The Monarchs were formed in 1920, primarily from two sources. Owner J.L. Wilkinson drew players from his All Nations barnstorming team, which had been inactive during World War I, and the 25th Infantry Wreckers, an all-black team recruited into the U.S. Army almost exclusively for their playing talent. He put together a formidable collection of talent, including pitcher/outfielder Bullet Rogan, an eventual Hall of Famer who established himself as one of the most popular stars of the new league; sluggers Dobie Moore, Heavy Johnson, George Carr, and Hurley McNair; and pitchers Rube Currie and Cliff Bell. Immediate contenders, the Monarchs became bitter rivals to black baseball's reigning power, Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants. After three years of failing to break the Giants' hold on the pennant, Wilkinson fired manager Sam Crawford in mid-1923, replacing him with veteran Cuban star José Méndez, who sparked the Monarchs to the league championship.
Repeating in 1924, the Monarchs participated in the first Negro League World Series, defeating the Eastern Colored League champion Hilldale team from Darby, Pennsylvania, in a thrilling ten-game series (five wins, four losses, and one tie). In this series, Méndez had an ERA of 1.42 in four of the games and was responsible for a shutout in the one game he was the starting pitcher in. Motivated by the Monarchs' runaway pennant victory, NNL president Rube Foster changed the league schedule to a split-season format for 1925. Kansas City nevertheless took the league title again in 1925, but lost the World Series to Hilldale when Rogan was injured just before the series began and won one game and lost five to Hilldale. Even though Méndez was the manager, it was still possible to see him on the mound during the few years he held the position. Among the team's regulars during these years were the brilliant-fielding second baseman/shortstop Newt Allen who in the 1924 series alone had an average of .282 and seven doubles and Frank Duncan, one of the best-regarded defensive catchers in Negro League history. Newt Joseph played third base for the Monarchs from 1922 through their NNL years, hitting a composite .284 during that time.
In 1926 manager Méndez returned to Cuba, and Rogan took over as player/manager. He kept up the Monarchs' tradition of fine pitching, as the team's staff over the next few years featured such Negro League greats as Chet Brewer, William Bell, and lefty Andy Cooper. The club traded for legendary Cuban outfielder Cristóbal Torriente, but also permanently lost the services of star shortstop Dobie Moore, whose career ended that year due to a severe off-the-field injury. After winning the first-half pennant, the Monarchs dropped a best of nine playoff to the Chicago American Giants when Rogan lost both games of a series-closing doubleheader to the young Bill Foster (another eventual Hall of Famer). In 1928 the Monarchs narrowly missed a second-half title. They made up for this by copping another NNL title in 1929, winning both halves with the best overall single-season record ever compiled by a Negro League team (62 wins, 17 losses). By this time, the pitcher Andy Cooper who had made a name for himself by playing for seven years with the Detroit Stars had joined the Monarchs and aided them winning the 1929 pennant. Unfortunately no World Series was played that year between the Monarchs and the Baltimore Black Sox, champions of the eastern American Negro League.
Following the death of the original league, the Monarchs spent several years as an independent team, mostly barnstorming through the Midwest, West, and western Canada. They frequently toured with the House of David baseball team. Hall of Famers Hilton Smith, a pitcher, and Willard Brown, a slugging shortstop/outfielder with a consistent batting average of over .300, became Monarch mainstays during this time. During the 1940s, Willard Brown became the go-to home run hitter for the Monarchs. With Andy Cooper now at the helm, the Monarchs became charter members of the Negro American League in 1937, winning the first league title. Andy Cooper was responsible for leading the Monarchs to bring home the pennant in 1939 and 1940. The Kansas City Monarchs then won the next two league championships and won winning the renewed Negro League World Series in 1942 in four straight games against the Homestead Grays.
At the start of this run the Monarchs acquired their most famous player, Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige, who had since his rookie season in 1927 built a reputation as the best hurler in black baseball for the Birmingham Black Barons, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and several other teams. Suffering from an arm injury and generally thought to be done, Paige joined the Monarchs' B team in 1939; by 1940 he had recovered and been called up to the Monarchs' main squad, where he became their top drawing card. Paige was the subject of a lot of stories, both true and folklore, and became a legend to people who don’t even follow baseball. For example, he was known to have known the outfielders to sit on the ground behind him while he struck out the hitter and there was someone on base that could possibly tie the game up. Paige also warmed up before pitching in a game by throwing across a gum wrapper as home plate. Paige led another superb Monarchs' staff that included fellow Hall of Famer Hilton Smith, the veteran Chet Brewer,Booker McDaniels, Jim LaMarque, and several others. They won one last NAL pennant in 1946, but lost a seven-game World Series to the Newark Eagles; in this series, they lost four games and won three.
In 1945, UCLA football star and Army lieutenant Jackie Robinson hit .387 as the Monarchs' shortstop. He became the first Monarch to make the jump to white baseball, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. He broke the minor league color line in 1946 with the Montreal Royals, and integrated the major leagues with the Dodgers in 1947. As baseball gradually desegregated in the late 1940s and 1950s, the Monarchs developed a niche as the foremost developer of black talent for the major leagues. The team sent more players to the majors than any other Negro League franchise, including Robinson, Paige, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Hank Thompson, and Willard Brown.
Newt Allen succeeded Cooper as manager in 1941, and was followed by Frank Duncan in 1942. Duncan stayed at the helm through the 1947 season winning two league titles and one world title. After Duncan stepped down, longtime first baseman Buck O'Neil took over. Then Monarchs lost the league title to the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948 which prevented them from appearing in the last Negro World Series. 1948 was also the year that Wilkinson sold the Monarchs to Tom Baird who owned the team through their minor league days in the 1950s. The Monarchs won the league's western division first-half pennant in 1949, but declined to participate in a playoff with the Chicago American Giants, as their roster was depleted by player sales to major league clubs. They won the NAL West Division title in 1950 but did not meet the eastern champion Indianapolis Clowns that year. They won a half-season pennant in 1951 but lost a playoff. O'Neil won his only two league titles in 1953 and 1955, with a last-place finish sandwiched between in 1954 as the Negro American League of the 1950s declined in quality and shrank in size, while in the process grooming a number of eventual major league players.
The Monarchs played their home games in the minor league Kansas City Blues' Association Park from 1920 to 1923, and moved to the Blues' new park, Muehlebach Field, in mid-1923. They mostly barnstormed in the early-to-mid-1930s, but used Muehlebach (later known as Ruppert Stadium or Blues Stadium at different times) from 1937 until 1954, when they went to full-time barnstorming in response to the arrival of the Kansas City Athletics in 1955 because they had to pay more money to use the stadium. To help raise money for the team, Tom Baird let some minor league teams buy some of his players and fired his manager, Buck O’Neil, who became a scout for the Chicago Cubs.
The team was sold to Ted Rasberry and moved its base to Grand Rapids, Michigan, though retaining the name "Kansas City Monarchs". The Negro American League ceased operations in 1962, and the Monarchs finally disbanded in 1965.
Minor league affiliate
The Kansas City Monarchs were one of a few Negro league teams that informally employed a farm team. The Monroe Monarchs played from the late 1920s to 1935, mostly as a minor league team loosely associated with Kansas City.