Tag Archive | "Brooklyn Dodgers"

Negro League Widow Passes Away

HiltonSmithLouise Smith, widow of Hilton Smith, has passed away at the age of 98 years old.

Hilton Smith is a hall of fame pitcher famous for his time in Negro League Baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs.  During his playing career, according to the Hall Of Fame, he was credited with 20 wins in each of his 12 seasons with the Monarchs.

Possibly best known for his relief appearances behind the great Satchel Paige, Smith pitched in six consecutive “East-West All Star Games” from 1937-1942.  He was considered by many to be the best pitcher in black baseball but was largely overlooked due to his quiet demeanor, a stark contrast to that of Paige’s.

Hilton hurled a no-hitter in 1937 and according to many sources did not lose a single competition in 1938.  During the winter of 1946, he pitched the Vargas team in the Venezuelan league to the championship.  The following March, he would pitch for the Vargas team in an exhibition game in Venezuela against the New York Yankees.  He would allow one hit over five innings and be credited with the win in a 4-3 ballgame.

Smith would decline an offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers as baseball’s color barrier came crashing down, eventually retiring in 1948.  He would go on to teach, coach, and eventually become a scout for the Chicago Cubs.  He passed away in 1983 and was inducted into Cooperstown in 2001 by the Veteran’s Committee.

Louise Humphrey would marry Hilton Smith in 1934.  The couple would have two children during their marriage.  During an interview for the 2005 Oral History film, Louise would recount how she turned down Hilton’s marriage proposal at first because she did not want to marry a ballplayer.  Ultimately, she identified that he was a professional man and was rewarded with being able to see areas of the world she never thought possible.

From the “Did You Know” section of his Baseball Hall Of Fame Bio:

Hilton Smith advised Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson to sign Jackie Robinson to a contract with the powerhouse Negro American League club?

According the the Negro League Baseball Museum, Louise visited the museum for “one last tour” earlier this week.

You can visit the Negro League Baseball Museum’s website by clicking this link.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Jackie Robinson In Kansas City

Today baseball marks the 64th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Two years before that, Jackie was breaking into professional baseball as the shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. He was only a Monarch for five months before Branch Rickey offered him a contract, and the Monarchs spent most of their schedule on the road, so Kansas City fans only had around 12 dates to see Jackie patrolling the infield of Ruppert (later Municipal) Stadium at 22nd & Brooklyn. Here are details from some of those home games:

May 6 • vs Chicago American Giants

After playing a month of exhibition games in the south, the Monarchs opened the regular season at home on a Sunday. Pre-game festivities started at 2:00, and “began with a parade led by the Wayne Minor American Legion drum corps and Arthur E. Toney, president of the Monarchs Boosters’ club. A detail of the Kansas State Guard…drilled. Dr. J.B. Martin, league president, was introduced from the pitcher’s mound. James H. Herbert, attorney, pitched the first ball to Eddie Dwight, a member of the Monarchs when ‘Bullet’ Rogan was manager” (May 11 Kansas City Call). Jackie had been so impressive during the spring exhibitions that manager Frank Duncan had him hitting third in his first league game. Jackie came through with an RBI double in the sixth inning, a stolen base and run scored to help the Monarchs to a 6-2 win. Booker McDaniels pitched a complete game for KC.

May 13 • vs Birmingham Black Barons

A week later, the Black Barons came to KC for a double header. Legendary Monarchs pitcher Hilton Smith dominated game one with a complete game, 3 runs allowed performance on the bump and a 2-for-3, three RBI day at the plate. Jackie went 1-for-3 with two RBI and was rung up for an error. The Monarchs won game two as well.

Satchel & Jackie

June 10 • vs Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns

After four long weeks on the road, the Monarchs finally returned to KC to meet the Clowns for another Sunday double header. Some guy named Satchel Paige started the first game for the Monarchs, and struck out six while allowing one hit and no runs in his four innings of work. Jackie had a nice 2-for-3 with a triple, two RBI and two runs, and KC prevailed 7-1. They dropped the nightcap for their first home loss of the season.

July 1 • vs Cleveland Buckeyes

The Buckeyes had everyone’s number in 1945. They won both halves of the American League season and then upset the National League Homestead Grays in the World Series. The Monarchs lost all five contests with them that I am aware of in ’45. That includes two losses in KC on July 1. The Monarchs blew late leads in both games. Jackie had one single in four at-bats plus a run scored in the first game. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe started at catcher in one of his few games as a Monarch, but was knocked out by a foul tip off the bat of Sam Jethroe (future NL Rookie of the Year).

July 4 • vs Cleveland Buckeyes

The teams met for another twin bill in KC three days later, and the Buckeyes came out on top in both games once again. The Monarchs hot-hitting first baseman Lee Moody injured his shoulder in batting practice, which lead to some shuffling of infielders. Jackie took over first base. The out-of-place fielders piled up errors in the two losing efforts.

July 8 • vs Birmingham Black Barons

A crowd of just 1,900 braved some nasty weather to watch this game which was played on nearly ankle-deep mud. Those hearty fans witnessed Jackie smack three hits in five at-bats, with two doubles, two runs and three RBI. Behind another strong pitching performance from Booker McDaniels, KC walked away 9-2 winners.

August 5 • vs Ft. Leavenworth Sherman Field Flyers

This was an exhibition game against white Navy men from nearby Leavenworth, Kansas. The pitcher for the Flyers was Herman Besse, who split time between the Navy, the minors and majors between 1936-54. Satchel Paige and Booker McDaniels combined for 10 strikeouts against the Navy men, who had won the semi-pro championship in 1944, and the Monarchs prevailed 6-0. Jackie made the most of his 1-for-5 day at the plate with an RBI, stolen base and run scored. This was Jackie’s last game in KC. By the time the Monarchs returned to play on September 2nd, Jackie was no longer with the team, and was under contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Aaron Stilley bloggerates here and Twittercizes here. In-depth coverage of the 1945 Monarchs season can be found here.

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Monarchs Kept Afloat by Selling Players to Big Leagues

Integration of the white major leagues was a triumph for America, but it sent black baseball teams spinning into a new direction in the late 1940s.

To say integration killed Negro League baseball would be not quite accurate but the signing of Jackie Robinson did come just as the new “league” was still an infant.

A Negro “league” had not really held teams in unity for several years, coming together after The Depression. Barnstorming, players jumping contracts and player raids by owners, made black baseball unorganized throughout most of the 1930s. The Negro National League of the west and the Eastern Colored League had been so fragmented throughout the 1930s that league championships held little meaning. No World Series was held from 1927 to 1942.

All that was changing, however, and in the late 1930s and early 1940s, things were taking shape once again. The Kansas City Monarchs were back on top, winning the 1942 World Series, and they signed Robinson in 1945, only to have him “raided” by the Brooklyn Dodgers Branch Rickey.

What is now heralded as an admirable stand for justice may not have been completely magnanimous on Rickey’s part. Some believe, rather than intending to integrate white baseball, Rickey was actually attempting to use Robinson to form a new Negro league to compete with the existing leagues. Regardless of his motive, Rickey paid the Monarchs, the team with which Robinson was under contract, absolutely nothing.

Player raiding had plagued the Negro Leagues for years. But the practice had lost favor by the 1940s, and J.L. Wilkinson, the white owner of the Monarchs, felt disrespected and violated by the Dodgers’ nabbing of Robinson. He and partner Tom Baird protested to everyone who would listen, but decided against lodging a formal complaint to Major League Happy Chandler.

To attempt to block Robinson’s departure could have slowed the integration that was finally at hand. So the Monarchs were forced to relent. But the handwriting was on the wall, and from that moment everything changed for black teams.

Suddenly fans weren’t as interested in the aging legends of black baseball. They came, black and white alike, to see the future stars who would inevitably be added to white teams. Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe – it was now the young studs that all eyes were upon.

But worse than that for black teams, was that attendance immediately took a hit. Black fans took new interest in the major leagues. Attendance in the Negro American League (based mostly in the Midwest) dropped by about half in 1947 from what it had been a few years earlier. Teams tried cutting payroll to stay afloat. The affect of salary reduction made the game even more suited for youngsters. Older players who were used to higher salaries and doubted their chances of making the major leagues jumped to Mexico or the Caribbean. Youths hoping to follow in Robinson’s footsteps were concerned more with opportunity than with salary. They were more likely to stick it out than their older counterparts.

It wasn’t long before the Negro Leagues transformed from the pinnacle of black baseball to a training ground for eager young prospects. Teams trying to stay in the black seized this new opportunity. If they couldn’t keep the big leagues out, they could at least get a piece of the action. After the Cleveland Indians’ Bill Veeck actually recompensed the Newark Eagles for Doby’s services, a new business boomed.

Since the Kansas City Monarchs were still an elite team, they had some of the best players for the white teams to pick from. In 1947, the year Robinson debuted in Brooklyn, the Monarchs sent Willard Brown and Hank Thompson to the St. Louis Browns. Next, they sent Satchel Paige to Bill Veeck’s Indians in 1948. At that point, black baseball teams began, by necessity, to care more about developing young big leaguers than about winning games. The 1949 the Monarchs actually voluntarily dropped out of the playoffs because they’d sold off four key players.

After 1949 there would be no more player raids without payment, a la Jackie Robinson. A minimum payment of $5,000 was set when Irvin signed with the New York Giants. The Monarchs scored the biggest profit in the Negro American League when they sold Ernie Banks and Bill Dickey for $20,000 in 1953.

All in all, the Monarchs sold 25 players to the major leagues, gaining the reputation of a Negro baseball preparatory school. Some teams actually formed alliances with major league teams, as the Monarchs allied themselves with the New York Yankees. The Monarchs would ship four players to the Yankees in 1949 and 1950, including future MVP Elston Howard.

Integration changed not only the segregated white leagues but also the Negro Leagues. The need for an all-Negro league disappeared after integration, but the exhibition of major league prospects kept black baseball going for nearly a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

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The Cardinals In Time: Hanging On By The Man

During the offseason we have been taking a look at the past, giving readers a timeline of St. Louis baseball throughout history. Last time we learned about Enos Slaughter’s mad dash in the 1946 World Series and how the Cardinals reacted to Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the majors.

What can be said about the Cardinals in this time period besides: they were not very good. After winning 95 games in 1949 and fighting down to the last game of the season for the pennant with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team tumbled, bumbled, and crumbled to a measly 78-75 record in 1950. After four strong years as the skipper for the Cardinals, Eddie Dyer was so embarrassed by his team’s performance in his fifth year that he quit before owner Fred Saigh could think to fire him.

The only bright spot was, of course, Stan Musial. Musial was on a tear, winning his fourth batting title in just his age 29 season, and turning in a second place finish (all while on a fifth place club) in the MVP race. While Stan was putting up a .346/.437/.596 tear, no one else on the team made it about a .290 batting average and no pitcher could make it to even 15 wins and an ERA under 3.15.

Coming into 1951, Saigh handed the reigns of the team over to longtime shortstop Marty Marion. While only 33, Marion was already feeling the end of his playing career. His one season managing the Cardinals was actually his last full season playing as well as his last in St. Louis. Despite having someone the rest of the team respected leading the charge, the team itself was just not that good. They did improve from the year before and finished with an 81-73 record, and while this did propel them from fifth to third in the National League, they were still fifteen and a half games out of first.

The ace of the staff in 1951 was Gerry Staley. Allow me to read your mind by saying, “WHO?” Really, who were these guys in the Cardinals rotation? The only names that still had relevance were Max Lanier of the Mexican League fame and Harry “the Cat” Breechen, but both of them were 35+. Howie Pollet’s best days were behind him. No other pitchers are even noteworthy for something small.

1952 brought a third manager in as many years in Eddie Stanky. Stanky was on the tail end of a solid playing career spent with the Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Giants, and Cardinals. He spent three plus years at the helm for the Cardinals, but never finished above third place in any of those years. Besides Stanky playing bits of the season from the bench, the only remarkable name on the Cardinals’ bench was Gene Mauch. Yes, that Gene Mauch who went on to manage for 27 years with the Phillies, Expos, Twins and Angels. His one season wearing the birds on the bat was completely unremarkable, as he only appeared in seven games and had four plate appearances, but he was there!

The team again climbed a bit in the standings, again finishing third at 88-66, but this time only eight and a half back from the Dodgers. Interesting names on the team (or at least interesting to me) included Vinegar Bend Mizell and Lefty Chambers, who pitched, outfielder Peanuts Lowrey, and backup shortstop Virgil Stallcup. Regulars Musial, Enos Slaughter, and Red Schoendienst were the stalwarts of the lineup, all hitting over .300 and trying to keep the lineup afloat, but they were outmanned by teams like the Dodgers and Giants who had long since broken the color barrier on their team.

At the end of the 1952 season, Fred Saigh got himself in hot water with the IRS, who claimed that Saigh had evaded paying income tax. He was sentenced to fifteen months in a federal prison, and decided to sell the team. While he received many lucrative offers from groups in Milwaukee and Houston, Saigh wanted the team to stay in St. Louis, so he sold the team to Gussie Busch, owner of Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. While Saigh was hurt that his honor had been taken, he did get the last laugh, as he purchased stock in Anheuser-Busch after selling the team. Forty years later, the roughly $6 million dollars he invested in the company had been turned into closer to $60 million dollars!

Gussie Busch was a character. While his original plan to rename Sportsman’s Park “Budweiser Park” was thwarted, he countered with Busch Memorial Stadium, a name that has now graced the façades of three different stadiums for the Cardinals. When he came in, he wanted to do anything and everything to win, and was willing to spend whatever it took. He quickly dropped over $300,000 on three players:

Memo Luna was purchased from Mexico. He was so excited that he was becoming a Cardinal that he pitched a doubleheader that night, and never pitched a full game afterward. Alex Grammas was purchased as part of a trade with the Reds, and never came to be anything more than a good field/no-hit shortstop. The real piece here was Tom Alston, a first baseman from San Diego Padres, who were at the time a Pacific Coast League Triple A team.

Alston was an interesting case in that he became the first African-American player that ever wore the birds on the bat. He was supposed to be a star, or at least that was what Gussie Busch thought. He was never really interested in scouting or looking for good talent, instead taking the word of the first person that talked to him and dropping the money to get the player.

Alston was not ready for 1953, but based on his career 91 games spread out over four seasons, he would not have made a difference. One of the real stories of the 1953 season was the emergence of Harvey Haddix, who came out of nowhere to win 20 games as a 27 year old with only seven games experience in the majors before the year started. Alas, Haddix and Staley, who won 18 games in his best professional season of his career, could not keep an entire pitching staff afloat.

Likewise, Musial and Schoendienst could not prop up an otherwise lackluster lineup. Red had probably his most productive year in his career, actually swiping the team batting title away from Musial for the first time in years. The team finished at 83-71, again in third, where they seemed to have become quite cozy.

Third would have been a dream in 1954, as the team tumbled to a 72-82 record and sixth place in the eight team National League. This was their worst finish since 1932, in which the team finished with the same record under Gabby Street.

The real story in 1954 was a young outfielder by the name Wally Moon. While not a great fielder, his bat did the talking for him, as he was a contact hitter with just enough pop to make him noticeable. His arrival in St. Louis was controversial as Busch and company sent longtime fan favorite Enos Slaughter off to the Yankees to make room for Moon on the roster. In his very first at bat, he arrived to the plate with chants of “We want Slaughter” raining down on him. His response was to hit a home run right then and there. He carried that strong bat all the way to the Rookie of the Year award, winning out over other notables of Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Gene Conley.

How far could Moon, Musial and company carry the team? Could they haul them back into contention?

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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