Tag Archive | "Hilton Smith"

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
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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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Buck’s Favorite Year: The 1942 Kansas City Monarchs

“…1942 was my favorite year…the best team I ever played with. Someone once asked Newt Joseph who he would take with him if he could play in the majors, and Newt replied, ‘The whole Monarchs team.’ That’s the way I felt about the ’42 Monarchs. I do believe we could have given the New York Yankees a run for their money that year.” –Buck O’Neil, I Was Right On Time

The 1942 incarnation of the Kansas City Monarchs may have been the greatest Monarchs team of them all, and should be in the discussion for not just the best Negro Leagues teams but best teams in all of baseball. World War I was raging and beginning to rob the majors of players, but the Monarchs roster managed to stay largely untouched until 1943. The ’42 pitching staff was historically great, featuring Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith, plus Booker McDaniels, Connie Johnson, Lefty LaMarque and Jack Matchett. Behind the plate was Joe Greene, probably the second best catcher in the Negro Leagues at the time after Josh Gibson. Infielders included Newt Allen, Herb Souell, Jesse Williams, Bonny Serrell and Buck O’Neil. In the outfield roamed Willie Simms and power hitters Ted Strong and Willard Brown. Managing the squad was backup catcher Frank Duncan, a Kansas City native and Monarchs mainstay. The Monarchs had won the previous three Negro American League pennants, but only got better in 1942.

Pitchers Smith, Matchett, McDaniels, LaMarque, Johnson & Paige

Preseason

The team convened for the 1942 campaign in Monroe, Louisiana in late March, and bounced around the south for all of April, playing exhibitions in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. They met the mighty Homestead Grays for the first time in ’42 in a New Orleans doubleheader on April 26 that the teams split.

Regular Season

The season opened with a twin bill in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on May 10 versus the Chicago American Giants. Hilton Smith manned the mound for all nine innings of the first game for KC, while Chicago’s starter, Sug Cornelius, was chased in the second inning as the Monarchs rang up five runs. Smith allowed five hits and four runs—none of which were earned—and also went 3-for-5 at the plate as the Monarchs opened the year with a 7-4 victory. Satchel Paige got the call to start the seven-inning second game, and combined with Connie Johnson for a shutout victory.

The home opener came a week later with the Memphis Red Sox. From the Kansas City Call: “Under the auspices of the Monarch Boosters’ club, a mammoth inside the park parade started things off with a bang…Three bands, a drill team, and a mixed company of soldiers completed the units of the parade. Following the flag raising the game was on.” 10,000 Monarchs fans came out to Ruppert (later Municipal) Stadium, which was the largest crowd for a home opener in the league. Jack Matchett tossed a shutout in addition to his two hits. Paige again started the back end of the doubleheader, but Memphis ace Verdell Mathis got the better of him in a 4-1 victory for the Red Sox. The Kansas City Call ran a photo spread showing the integrated stands at the game with a caption calling out the white Kansas City Blues team for segregating the stands at their games at the same stadium.

Satchel Paige & Dizzy Dean

The next big game was an interracial exhibition at Chicago’s Wrigley Park against the “Dizzy Dean All-Stars” on May 24. According to historian Timothy M. Gay’s book Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert, “Most of Diz’s squad was made up of minor leaguers and major-league castoffs…The one genuine all-star was Cecil Travis.” A remarkable 30,000 souls turned out to watch. Dean had nothing left in his arm after throwing an obscene amount of innings between 1932-36. His name still drew fans though, and he sat down the first three Monarchs to start the game (perhaps with a bit of help from the hitters). Dizzy was done for the day. Satchel tossed six strong innings, followed by three equally strong frames from Hilton Smith. The Monarchs plated two in the eighth and enjoyed a 3-1 victory.

Kansas City continued steamrolling all comers. On June 9, Satchel and Booker McDaniels combined to no-hit a local squad in Dayton, Ohio, striking out a combined 16 and walking two. On June 18, the Monarchs faced the mighty Homestead Grays for the first time in the regular season. The game took place in Washington D.C.’s Griffith Stadium, home to the MLB Senators. The Monarchs dropped a heart-breaker, 1-2. The squads met again in Pittsburgh on July 21, and again lost by a single run, this time in the 11th inning.

In late July, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Landis disingenuously stated there was nothing keeping major league teams from signing blacks, and it was up to the individual owners. It sent a charge through the world of black baseball that integration could be near. The Call ran a story with the headline “Great Possibilities Herald the Dawn Of New Baseball Era.” Behind the scenes, Landis continued to ensure integration would not happen in his lifetime.

August 13 brought another one-run loss to the Grays in D.C., though KC beat all nine of the other teams they faced on the eastern road trip. On August 16 was the East-West all-star game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Ted Strong, Willard Brown, Joe Greene, Buck O’Neil, Hilton Smith and Satchel Paige all represented the Monarchs on the West squad in a losing effort. The regular season came to a close at the end of August, and the Monarchs had waltzed to a fourth straight American League pennant with a winning percentage north of .700. Most years, this would have been the end of it, but the rival American and National Leagues had reached an agreement to stage a Negro World Series–the first one held since 1927. The Monarchs would face their nemesis from the NL, the Homestead Grays.

World Series

Game One: September 8, Washington D.C., Griffith Stadium

Buck wrote in his autobiography: “For a fan of black baseball, a Monarchs-Grays World Series was a dream come true, although we were definitely the underdogs. The Grays, who had not only Josh Gibson but Buck Leonard, Sam Bankhead, and Vic Harris, had beaten us all four times we played them that season, although they were all close games. Satchel had lost three one-run games to them, so he was hopping mad. And our young guys, Jesse Williams, Bonnie Serrell, and Herb Souell, didn’t know enough to be scared.” Satchel and Jack Matchett kept the Grays in check, and the Monarchs broke through late in the game to pull off an 8-0 victory.

Game Two: September 10, Pittsburgh, Forbes Field

This was the game in which Satchel intentionally loaded the bases to pitch to–and strike out–Josh Gibson. Hilton and Satchel both pitched, but the Monarchs needed a late-game comeback to escape with an 8-4 win.

Game Three: September 13, New York, Yankees Stadium

Satchel pitched yet again, and, combined with Matchett and slugging KC batters, the Monarchs found themselves one win away from a World Series title. Ted Strong and Willard Brown hit back-to-back homers to the short right field fence of Yankees Stadium.


Game Four: September 20, Kansas City, Ruppert Stadium

The Monarchs had the chance to win the crown in front of their home fans, but the Grays were not fighting fair in game four. Apparently not the most graceful losers, the Grays brought in ringers from the Newark Eagles, most notably starting pitcher Leon Day. Day pitched a “heckuva” game according to Buck, and beat Satchel 4-1. However, the Monarchs protested to the league, and the game was nullified. The Monarchs were still up 3-0 in the series, but the KC fans had been cheated in the only game that took place in KC.

Game Five: September 29, Philadelphia, Shibe Park

Game five was to be played on the 27th at Wrigley, but was canceled due to cold and rain, so it took place in cold Philadelphia instead.

Again quoting Buck: “Satchel was scheduled to start, but at game time he was nowhere to be found. We were trailing 5-2 in the fourth when Satchel finally showed up. Seems he had gotten one of his many speeding tickets…on his way to Philly. Nothing could stop us, not cops, not judges, not the weather, not Josh Gibson…Satchel shut down the Grays the rest of the way, while we rallied for seven runs, thanks in part to an inside-the-park homer and a triple by yours truly, who had three hits in all. What a thrill!”

Satchel had pitched in all five games. (His numbers from the four games that counted: 16.1 innings, eight hits, five runs, 18 strike outs and three walks.) The ’42 Monarchs were champions of black baseball, and had cemented their spot among the most legendary teams of all time.


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Jackie Robinson & The 1945 Kansas City Monarchs, Part II

If you have not already, you may want to first read part one of this article here.

Second Half: July 5—September 3

After the disappointing finish to the first half of the season, the Monarchs started the second half in Muskogee, Oklahoma on July 7 against the Birmingham Black Barons. Jackie started things off with a bang, homering twice in the contest. Lefty LaMarque held the Barons to just one run while hurling a complete game, and the Monarchs put up six runs. The two teams met again the next day, this time in KC, and Jackie continued to terrorize Barons pitching, hitting 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and three RBI. After a 2-for-4 game on the 16th, Jackie had hit safely 35 times in the 70 at-bats I’m aware of to that point.

Satchel & Jackie, 1945

On the 22nd, the Monarchs were in Detroit for a double header vs. the Memphis Red Sox. 25,000 fans turned out for a classic day of baseball. Satchel Paige pitched a rare complete game in the first half en route to a 3-1 win. Jackie put on quite a display of Negro Leagues small ball: Following a Herb Souell triple, Jackie laid down the squeeze. Souell scored and Jackie reached first safely. Then he stole second, then third, and raced home safely on a dropped ball at the plate. Hilton Smith topped off the double header with another victory for the Monarchs.

The Cleveland Buckeyes had the Monarchs’ (and everyone else’s) number in 1945. After losing all five contests against them in the first half, the Monarchs had one last chance to beat them on July 24. Jackie homered, but the Monarchs fell short yet again to the Buckeyes. Jackie left an impression on Cleveland manager Quincy Trouppe, who wrote this in his memoir 20 Years Too Soon: “…I played against (Jackie) in Cleveland, and he overpowered my pitcher’s curve with a line drive into the left-field stands. I knew then he had the makings of a top pro. When a young player breaks into pro ball hitting the curve with authority, you can expect to see him develop into an excellent hitter.”

From Cleveland, Jackie and his teammates Jesse Williams and Booker McDaniels headed to Chicago for the East-West all-star game. Jackie was the starting shortstop for the West in spite of having been a pro player for just four months. He had a rare rough day at the plate, going hitless in five at-bats, but finished off the 9-6 victory for the West by spearing a sharp grounder behind second and nailing the runner at first.

Jackie’s final month as a Monarch started with a long road trip through the east that passed through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, DC, Wilmington, New York, Boston and Baltimore. The mighty Josh Gibson put a crimp on the start of the trip with a game winning home run for the Homestead Grays on August 7th. The teams met again the next night, and pitcher Hilton Smith held the Grays in check this time, allowing just three hits and two runs. Jackie displayed a bit of his famous base-running; from the Pittsburgh Courier: “With (Lee) Moody at bat and (John) Scott on first, the fleet-footed Robinson came home from third when Josh Gibson tried to nail Scott attempting to steal second. Robinson slid in under Jackson’s return throw to Gibson.”

His base-running prowess was on display again in Boston on August 13th in the first ever night game played at Braves Field; from the Boston Chronicle: “Jackie gave the fans thrill after thrill by his brilliant fielding, base running and hitting. His drag bunt, his delayed steal of third, and his stealing home with the opposing pitcher looking right down his throat, unable to do anything about it, were his three sensational plays. Jackie proved why he is the talk of the country. He acts like a big leaguer, hits like a big leaguer, thinks like a big leaguer, throws like a big leaguer, and he fields like a big leaguer at shortstop.”

Jackie’s last game with the Monarchs for which I have a box score came on August 16. Jackie hit 1-for-3, bringing his overall total to 41-for-99 (.414). In regular season games against Negro American and National League opponents, I have Jackie at 23-for-53 (.434). Jackie probably played in over 100 games with the Monarchs, and the 99 at-bats I have for him come from just 26 games. These numbers are mere hints at how Jackie fared, but, paired with the rave reviews he received from newspapers all over the country, they leave the clear impression that he was a phenomenal player in 1945.

Heading into an August 19th doubleheader with the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns in Cincinnati, the Monarchs second half record stood at 10-4 (in games I know of anyway). They were still in the running for the second half crown, but the Clowns put a dent in their plans with a sweep of the two game set. The two clubs met each other in Nashville the next night, and Satchel Paige delivered a dominating performance: 15 strikeouts, 1 walk, and 4 runs allowed in a 6-4 victory.

The Monarchs next traveled to Chicago for a four game set with the American Giants over August 24-27. The Monarchs had a series to forget on the field, dropping all four contests and falling out of contention for the second half title, but there was a monumental event off the field. The Brooklyn Dodgers, in the person of scout/coach Clyde Sukeforth, made their first contact with Jackie at the game on Friday the 24th. Sukeforth convinced Jackie to travel with him to Brooklyn, where Jackie and Branch Rickey had their famous meeting on August 28th. After agreeing to join the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ triple-A team, for the 1946 season, Jackie headed home to Los Angeles, and his five months as a Kansas City Monarch were over.

The Monarchs continued their late-season slide, dropping the last six games for which I have a result. (The Cleveland Buckeyes cruised to a second half title, making them the undisputed champs of the American League. They took home a World Series after defeating the National League champion Homestead Grays.) The regular season may have been over, but the Monarchs weren’t done playing ball just yet. They barnstormed through the south with the Clowns for much of September, and called it a year with a shutout victory over the Clowns in New Orleans on September 30.

Your 1945 Kansas City Monarchs

I’ve covered the 1945 Monarchs in depth here.

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