1920 Kansas City Monarchs & St. Louis Giants
Kansas City and St. Louis’ baseball paths crossed long before the Royals and Cardinals met for the first time. Both cities were home to storied Negro leagues franchises and some of the greatest players in the Negro leagues’ rich history. In 1920, the first successful Negro league was organized at a meeting in Kansas City. Soon after, the Monarchs of Kansas City and Giants of St. Louis opened the season against each other in St. Louis. Later in the year, Bullet Rogan, perhaps the greatest all-around player in baseball history, would make his Negro leagues debut in a Monarchs vs. Giants match. What follows are some of the highlights between the two Missouri clubs in the watershed year of 1920.
February 14—15, Kansas City
Rube Foster, a pre-league black star and kingpin of black ball in Chicago, organized a meeting in Kansas City that brought together some of the leading owners in black baseball, including Charlie Mills of St. Louis and J.L. Wilkinson of Kansas City. An agreement was hammered out that formed the basis for the Negro National League, to begin play in a few short months. Mills’ Giants were an established team that had been playing independently since 1909. Wilkinson scrambled to create the Monarchs in time for the season.
The April 17 Chicago Defender had these team previews:
“The St. Louis Giants are busy with preparations for what looks to be the greatest season in the history of their career. The (Giants Park) stands and general seating capacity has been increased more than a thousand over last year’s accommodations and the reservations for boxes are turning in at a good rate of speed. Mills has given the St. Louisans an unusually good-looking team, and under the able tutelage of Dick Wallace are expected to more than hold their own with the best that exist. Hill, (Charles) Scott and (Charlie) Blackwell are a trio of outfielders that are not surpassed by any on the circuit. The infield, with (Tully) McAdoo at first and (Charles) Brooks, with the recruits, presents a formidable front. Pitcher Luther (Farrell) is bound to shine, as he electrified the East last season. (Bill) Drake, (Jimmy) Oldham and (John) Finner are a bunch of speed artists that will show well in any kind of going, while the catching staff, with (W.) Cobb and (Dan) Kennard, looks good to hold with any that may be trotted out.”
“The Kansas City Monarchs are fast rounding into form, and with John Donaldson, (Jose) Mendez, (Hurley) McNair and a huge collection of diamond stars at the training scene, Wilkinson insists that he is going to have the best team in the new organization. All the clubs hit toward K.C. right off the reel, so the far western mag is not going to be caught napping; he has a wealth of material to select from, and from the names gleaned from the roster of the club, the Monarchs will make a runaway race of the affair unless suddenly stopped by some of the travelers.”
May 9—10, St. Louis
The St. Louis Argus said the season opener “will mark a new era in the history of baseball, the national pastime, so far as Colored people are concerned…After years of promiscuous games by athletes of the race, the sport has at last taken tangible and definite form.” The Monarchs and Giants opened the season at Giants Park on Sunday May 9th. Excited baseball fans turned out in droves, setting quite a scene at the park:
“…hillsides, housetops adjacent to the enclosure, trees and motor truck tops upon the outside were ushered into service…The walls that enclose the baseball arena were choked and clogged to the point where the crowd had to be turned upon the field, making ground rules necessary. The throng completely encircled the playing field, so there remained no more than ten feet of space for the outfield to romp over, and the first and third base lines were fairly teeming with masses of excited humanity…” (May 15 Chicago Defender).
The hurlers selected to open the season were Bill Drake for St. Louis and Sam Crawford for KC. Both were veterans of pre-league black ball, Drake mostly with the Giants and Crawford with a long list of teams. Dave Wyatt reported on the game for the Chicago Defender with incredible style: “…the two teams appeared about evenly matched in hitting strength, fielding and general field experience. As it was, the show developed into a contest of skill between the two pitchers…in the second inning…Center Fielder Blackwell of the home team stung one ticketed for the circuit. Donaldson, playing the center garden for the Monarchs, tore out for the fast fleeting sphere and with apparently no chance for a catch, he stuck out one hand, thereby instituting a severe localized pain when the pellet clung to his glove for a put-out.”
A scoreless deadlock was broken in the sixth when the Monarchs managed to plate a run thanks to back-to-back doubles from Blue Washington and Donaldson. (Washington’s son Kenny would later star in football at UCLA alongside Jackie Robinson.) The Monarchs added a second run in the seventh. The Giants were threatening in the eighth, prompting Monarchs manager Jose Mendez to lift Crawford in favor of Rube Currie. One run scored for St. Louis, and the score remained 2-1 in KC’s favor with the Giants up in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Cobb singled and stole second. Currie beaned the next Giants batter, “and the crowd broke loose and swarmed upon the field. After order was restored Currie relieved the throng of much of their steam when he fanned Hill, ending the game” (Defender). The Giants evened the score the next day with a 6-5 victory.
June 12—16, Kansas City
The two teams next met at Kansas City’s American Association Park for a five game series. Baseball historian Gary Ashwill reports these scores:
12th: KC 12, StL 2
13th: StL 4, KC 3
14th: KC 7, StL 5
15th: StL 14, KC 9
16th: KC 7, StL 4
July 3—4, St. Louis
The Missourians hooked up for the two final matches in the season series over the July 4th holiday. The July 3rd game holds import for being Wilber “Bullet” Rogan’s Negro leagues debut. Rogan had recently been released from the Army, and quickly transitioned from playing great ball for the 25th Infantry team to playing great ball for the Monarchs. Rogan had the rare combination of elite pitching and hitting skill. Imagine if Babe Ruth had continued to pitch at a high level every fourth day after going to the Yankees, manned the outfield on days he wasn’t pitching and still slugged at a record rate, and you’ll have an idea of the kind of player Bullet Rogan was. Rogan did not pitch in either of the games in St. Louis, instead handling outfield duties. On the 3rd, the Monarchs touched Bill Drake for 14 hits (two by Rogan) and two walks, but could only manage five runs (one by Rogan) which were not enough to overcome the Giants seven run attack.
The season series was split four-to-four before the final game on the 4th, in which the Giants clung to a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning. The Monarchs broke through with three hits and, aided by three Giants errors and a wild pitch in the frame, four runs. They hung on to prevail 4-2. The teams traded victories and losses in each of the nine games during the season.
According to The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, the Monarchs finished the season 45-33, the Giants 22-26. The Giants changed ownership and were renamed the Stars beginning with the 1922 season. The teams continued battling it out in the Negro National League through 1931, after which the Depression spelled the demise of the original Giants/Stars.
Thanks to Gary Ashwill and Dwayne Isgrig for assistance with this article.