Tag Archive | "Kansas City Monarchs"

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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Wilkinson Made Monarchs The Pride Of KC

When the historic meeting to form the Negro National League took place in Kansas City in February, 1920, seven owners of teams collaborated with sportswriters, legal advisers and other influential community leaders. What they created was the premier league in which blacks would showcase their talents, generate economic opportunity, and eventually earn entrance to the segregated major leagues. At that meeting, every face in the group was black. Except for one.

Of course Negro league player and owner Andrew “Rube” Foster deserves much of the credit for bringing the parties together and rallying support with the power of his personality. Foster touted unity and sacrifice amongst the competing owners and insisted upon excellence both on and off the field. For his role in pre-integration baseball, Foster was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

But the one white man in the room that day, J.L. “Wilkie” Wilkinson, probably ranks second in influence for the formation and success of the Negro National League. The lone white owner in the league, Wilkinson was not just accepted into the ring. He commanded such respect from his black peers, in fact, that he was voted secretary of the league at its inception. Wilkinson was accorded such a position because he was known not just as a proponent of great baseball, but of the betterment of life for blacks.

And it was Wilkinson who founded and shepherded the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, “Cool Papa” Bell… all the greats associated with the Monarchs owe a debt of gratitude to Wilkinson.

Understandably, most who dreamed of creating a Negro league to rival the “white leagues” of the time desired that 100% of league teams be owned by blacks. To preserve unity, promote prosperity of black business owners, and generate pride in the black community, white owners were not to be considered. But Wilkinson would be the exception.

Wilkinson had earned the respect and trust of whites and blacks from day one. As a young pitcher in Des Moines, IA, he was voted by his peers to manage a team that was left in the lurch by a dishonest manager. His desire for racial harmony led him to form the barnstorming All Nations team in 1912, which featured blacks, whites, Cubans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Asians, and even a female player.

The All Nations organization was more than just baseball, it was entertainment. When they rolled into town, often in their own private railroad car, they brought with them an orchestra and a wrestling team, tents, bleachers and fences. The players did everything from setting up, selling tickets and playing the instruments. This team was not just a novelty however – it produced several stars of the soon-to-be-created Negro National League and was purportedly capable of challenging major league teams of the era.

The All Nations moved in Kansas City in 1915 to access the larger black population and transportation center. World War I caused the All Nations, and many other organizations, to disband, and in 1920 Wilkinson was ready to own a new team when the Negro National League came calling.

Foster tried to pull the league together without Wilkinson, but no leader of suitable clout existed in Kansas City, which was viewed as a critical location for the league. A well-entrenched business leader and baseball man, Wilkinson brought instant credibility to his new team, the Kansas City Monarchs, which he pulled together from members of the defunct All Nations team and an army team from Arizona known as the 25th Infantry Wreckers.

“Wilkie gets credit for being the outstanding baseball promoter in the country and a believer in winning teams,” wrote Fay Young, a sportswriter for the Chicago Defender.

Although some disliked that the white owner was earning a profit off the work of black teams, his own players didn’t seem to mind. While management of Negro league teams was often cut-throat and chaotic, Wilkinson modeled generosity. He once mortgaged his home to make the payroll of his team and was known for loaning money or advancing the salary of players during the off-season. The civic-minded owner scheduled numerous benefit events for organizations such as the Negro National Business League, the Red Cross, the NAACP, the Salvation Army, and a host of churches, hospitals and youth organizations.

Wilkinson astutely empowered black assistants to assume key leadership roles and to represent the franchise in public. He remained in the background while Dr. Howard Smith, superintendent of a Kansas City hospital, and the team’s secretary, Quincy J. Gilmore, took more visible roles.
The Monarchs quickly became a model franchise and the pride of Kansas City’s black community. Wilkinson did his best to make sure the team was professional and respectable. Eager to portray a gentlemanly image, Wilkinson bought each new player from small towns and rural areas a new suit of clothes.

Wilkinson was one of the best at developing potential players at semi-pro “farm clubs.” He revived his All Nations team to season promising youngsters, and he traveled with the Monarchs on barnstorming trips to watch for unsigned players. He spotted O’Neil while playing exhibition matches against a team called Winfield Welch’s Acme Giants of Shreveport, LA.

Everyone in Kansas City wanted to be a Monarch, and Wilkinson held open tryouts. The Monarchs also encouraged many of the semi-pro and community teams in Kansas City as a means not only to feed players to the Monarchs, but also to build pride amongst the black community and to give opportunity to aspiring ballplayers. Often barnstorming teams were sent out under the name “Monarchs” with several of these aspiring players as an opportunity for them to gain experience and to showcase their abilities. Wilkinson also trusted his players to recommend prospects they had met in their travels. He signed Jackie Robinson on the recommendation of one of his star players, Hilton Smith.

The Monarchs were not just one of the teams in the Negro National League. In many ways, they symbolize the game as it was played by blacks before integration. Because the league was formed in the city, and because the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is now located there, Kansas City proudly bears the memory of Negro League baseball.

Truly the team for which everyone wanted to play, the Monarchs fielded some of the greatest players in the Negro league era. Seven current Hall of Famers elected as Negro leaguers – Bell, Bill Foster, Paige, Bullet Joe Rogan, Smith, Turkey Stearnes and Willie Wells — played for Wilkinson’s Monarchs, as did Robinson and Ernie Banks who were voted in for their play in the integrated major leagues.

Wilkinson never got rich running the Monarchs, and finally sold the team in 1948, at age 74. He had little to show for his 50 years in baseball and died at age 90. But a 1986 Baseball Hall of Fame panel assigned to recognize key contributors to the Negro leagues made Wilkinson one of 17 special inductees. Thus Wilkinson will never be forgotten – the lone white man who helped create the Negro National League and piloted its most successful team, the Kansas City Monarchs.

Much of the information for this article was taken from Janet Bruce’s 1985 book The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball. I would strongly recommend this book to any KC sports fan.

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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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Meeting A Negro League Legend

Historical research and the proliferation of information on the internet has allowed today’s baseball fan to learn more about the Negro Leagues than in times past. But in 1991, my knowledge of Negro League baseball didn’t go much further than the movie Bingo Long’s Traveling All-Stars.

So when I was told that a former Negro Leaguer was living right there in my college town of Manhattan, KS, I didn’t have much opportunity to research his career. Little did I know that George Giles, living right under our noses, was one of the best players of his era.

I heard he ran a bar that sat in isolation on the south side of Manhattan. To call it a “bar” was a real stretch, however. There were hardly any tables or chairs in the one room where George’s bartending consisted of pulling bottles out of a refrigerator. There was no sign to speak of – if you hadn’t known the bar was there, you’d never have found it. On the porch sat one seat removed from a van – a nice enough spot for an old black man to watch the cars go by.

Today I can appreciate that George Giles was named the sixth-best first baseman in the history of Negro League baseball by the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. (Buck O’Neil was fourth on the list.) He was often called “the black Bill Terry,” which I guess is supposed to be a compliment. Reports from various peers called Giles an excellent fielder, a fast runner and solid contact hitter.

Giles starred on Negro League teams in both Kansas City and St. Louis. Born in Junction City, KS, his career began with a tryout with the famed Kansas City Monarchs when he was just 14. Deemed too young to play on the big club, Giles signed a contract on his 15th birthday, but first suited up for the minor league Kansas City Royal Giants in 1925. He joined the Monarchs at the age of 18, playing the 1927 and 1928 seasons in KC.

Giles joined the St. Louis Stars for 1930 and 1931, helping that team win back-to-back Negro National League pennants. He also suited up for the Monarchs from 1932-1934 and again in 1939. In the days of player stealing, barnstorming and winter league excursions, Giles bounced around with several teams all over the nation. In 1935, at just 25, he served as player/manager for the Brooklyn Eagles.

Giles retired from baseball in 1939, at just 30 years of age. He said in interviews that the hardships of the Negro Leagues and the irritation of racism forced him to give up the game at a relatively young age. Giles didn’t sugarcoat the discrimination that kept him out of the major leagues. He told David Craft, author of The Negro Leagues: 40 Years of Black Professional Baseball in Words and Pictures:

“The racism we faced while I was in the Negro Leagues was one of the things that eventually pushed me out of baseball…. I was treated like a second-class citizen in my own country by people who knew they hated me before I could even say ‘Hello’

“People say to me, ‘George, you were born too soon to be one of the ones to make it to the big leagues’…. [But] I was born in the United States of America. I’m an American, not a foreigner. For years, foreigners came here and had more opportunity than I had”

Upon giving up the game, Giles worked in the civil service at Fort Riley, KS for years, and operated a hotel as well as the bar in Manhattan. Along the way, he had four sons, one of whom, George, Jr., played minor league baseball from 1953 to 1955.

Though racism denied George Giles, Sr. the chance to play in the major leagues, he did have the satisfaction of seeing his grandson, Brian Giles, play against the best players regardless of race for six seasons in the 1980s, primarily with the New York Mets. A slick-fielding, light-hitting middle infielder, Brian Giles was born in Manhattan in 1960 to George Giles, Jr.

The elder Giles died on March 3, 1992. But in January of 1991, fortunately for me, an unenlightened 21-year-old college student, I had the chance to meet him at his humble bar.

The article that came from that meeting was printed in the Kansas State Collegian on Jan. 25, 1991 and will be reprinted in I-70baseball.com later this month as part of our ongoing look at Negro League Baseball in honor of Black History Month.

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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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Remembering The World Champion 1962 Kansas City A’s

With all this talk recently about the 25th anniversary of the 1985 World Series, I thought we should take time to look back at another Kansas City baseball championship.

True KC baseball fans know the Royals aren’t the only local team to win it all. The Kansas City Monarchs won the Negro Leagues World Series twice, in the 1924 and 1942.

And then there’s the little-remembered 1962 World Series title won by the Kansas City Athletics.

It’s probably little remembered because it didn’t really happen. But this is a minor detail we’ll dispense with right now:

In “reality,” the New York Yankees won the 1962 World Series. In that same “reality,” the Kansas City A’s finished in ninth place, next-to-last in the American League, with a 72-90 record.

But, darnit, those Yankees have 27 World Championships to their name. When it comes to Major League Baseball championships, Kansas City has one.

So, by golly, on behalf of all Kansas Citians, I’m claiming the 1962 World Series for the Kansas City A’s.

What gives me the right to do this? The simple fact that without the Kansas City A’s, the New York Yankees would not have won nearly as many world titles.

Recently on the I-70 Baseball Radio Hour, we interviewed Tom Clavin and Danny Perry, the authors of “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero.” To research for the interview, I read their wonderful book, which was reviewed on our website here. The book reminded me that Maris, in the years before his Yankee greatness, was a member of the Kansas City A’s, and like so many members of the A’s, he was shipped off to New York for chicken feed.

The A’s and the Yankees had what was called a “special relationship.” There’s a great passage in the book describing the “relationship” in this quote from Merle Harmon, the announcer for the A’s:

Ernie Mehl was the big, tough, loud, cigar-chomping sports editor of the Kansas City Star. He was the ringleader, along with Kansas City sportswriter Parke Carroll, in getting Arnold Johnson to buy the A’s and move them to Kansas City [from Philadelphia]. Mehl was a good friend of Del Webb, who along with Dan Topping owned the Yankees. Webb made his money as a construction magnate and real estate developer, and when Johnson needed the 19,000-seat [Kansas City] Blues Stadium transformed into the double-decked Municipal Stadium in just ninety days, who do you think the contract went to? The Dell Webb Construction Company. So Johnson was beholden to Webb, and Carroll, the new A’s GM, would do anything for his good friend Yankees GM George Weiss.

How’s that for a headlock? The owner of the Yankees literally built the stadium the A’s played in. Arnold Johnson, who apparently cared little for baseball and was only involved to make money, was happy to ship players to the Yankees for not much in return, because his intention was to move the team to Los Angeles, and low attendance at Municipal Stadium would help him get out of a city lease.

If it’s beginning to sound like the plot of the movie Major League, you’ve just about got your mind wrapped around the situation.

Incidentally, the Brooklyn Dodgers beat Johnson to the punch, moving their team to LA before Johnson had a chance.

The “special relationship” continued somewhat after Johnson died and Charlie Finley bought the team in 1960, even though Finley insisted the relationship was over. The damage was done, though. The Yankees already had all of the Athletics’ best players.

Including Roger Maris, who had a pretty good season for the Yankees in 1961.

Since ‘61 is so special to Yankees fans (Maris hit a then-record 61 homers, Mickey Mantle hit 54, and the team defeated the Reds in five games for the title), I’ll leave that one alone.

We’ll take 1962.

And that makes sense, really. The 1962 Yankees included a goodly handful of players they received from the A’s for little to nothing, and four of those players – Maris, Clete Boyer, Hector Lopez and Ralph Terry – were essential to New York’s winning season and their seven-game World Series win over the Giants.

In fact, Terry – who was sent from Kansas City along with Lopez to New York for (I swear I’m not making these names up) Johny Kucks, Jerry Lumpe and Tom Sturdivant – was the 1962 World Series MVP. In the regular season, he compiled a 23-12 record with 14 complete games, 298.2 (!) innings pitched and 176 strikeouts. In the World Series he was 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA.

Lopez played in 106 regular season games for the ’62 Yanks, hitting at a .275 clip over 335 at-bats.

Clete Boyer played in 158 games for the Yankees in ‘62, batting .272 with 18 home runs. He really shined in the World Series, batting .318 with a .833 OPS. He was sent to New York for a handful of players you’ve never heard of, or the equivalent of about 15 gallons of Gatorade.

And Maris was no slouch, either. Although he didn’t quite live up to his 1961 numbers, he mashed 33 taters, hit .256 and clubbed 100 RBIs with an .840 OPS in 1962. The Yankees acquired him for two impressive names, Don Larsen and Hank Bauer, but Bauer was at the end of his career and Larsen had fallen off sharply since his one shining perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

So guess what, Yankee fans? Now your team has only won 26 world titles. We’re claiming 1962.

How do you like them Big Apples?

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey@i70baseball.com.

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Jackie Robinson & The 1945 Kansas City Monarchs

The 1945 Monarchs were far from being one of the best Monarchs squads put together, but their historical significance is great thanks to the impact their shortstop would soon have on baseball and America itself. Below is a look at the pre-season and first half of the season that Jackie Robinson spent with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Pre-Season: March 20—May 5

The Monarchs began convening in Houston on Tuesday, March 20th. Players trickled in over the next several days. Jackie had to conclude his basketball coaching duties at Samuel Houston College in Austin before making his way to Houston on the 27th. The Chicago Defender reported that Jackie “looked good” in his first workouts. According to Arnold Rampersand’s biography, Jackie was dismayed that “Spring training consisted of actually playing baseball games rather than getting prepared for the coming season.” He only had five days to shake off the rust before competing in the Monarchs’ first pre-season exhibition on April 1, an Easter contest in San Antonio against the mysterious Engle’s Minor League All-Stars. According to the Defender, Jackie “showed up well at shortstop, accepting nine chances with but one error and figuring in three fast double plays.” The teams dueled for 14 innings before ending the game in a 4-4 tie. The Monarchs stuck to the South during the pre-season, playing games in San Antonio, Houston, Ft. Worth, Dallas, Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta, Memphis, Little Rock, New Orleans, Waco and Oklahoma City. Their opposition was usually the Chicago American Giants, Memphis Red Sox or Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns.

Just 21 days after joining pro baseball, Jackie was in Fenway Park trying out for the Boston Red Sox—sort of. Politicians and sportswriters were holding the Red Sox brass’s feet to the fire on integration, and basically forced them to hold the tryout that also included Negro Leaguers Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. (Jethroe went on to be NL rookie of the year in 1950.) Boston coaches said the right things after the tryout, that they were “impressed” and the players “looked good,” but to no one’s surprise, none of them were pursued by the Red Sox. But Jackie’s name was already in the mix of potential players to integrate MLB.

The pre-season exhibition schedule lasted over a month, and in the few game results I’ve scraped together, the Monarchs went 6-6. Jackie hit 4-for-7 in the two games for which I’ve seen box scores.

First Half: May 6—July 4

The Negro American League season was split into halves, with the winners of each half to face each other in a league championship. The first half kicked off in Kansas City’s Ruppert (or Blues) Stadium at 22nd & Brooklyn. The Monarchs faced a familiar foe in the Chicago American Giants. Pregame activities commenced at 2:00, and the first pitch was scheduled for 3:00. The Monarchs batting order looked like this:

1. Jesse Williams, 2B
2. Walter Thomas, RF
3. Jackie Robinson, SS
4. John Scott, CF
5. Herbert Souell, 3B
6. Othello Renfro, LF
7. Lee Moody, 1B
8. Frank Duncan, C
9. Booker McDaniels, P

The Monarchs cruised to a 6-2 victory, and Jackie had a fine debut with an RBI double, stolen base, and a run scored. Jackie continued tearing the cover off the ball throughout the first half—he hit .481 in the 12 games I have his numbers for in the first half.

Future Hall-of-Famer Hilton Smith had a day to remember on May 13 when he pitched a complete game victory in addition to going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, run scored and three RBI. The third Hall-of-Famer from the ’45 squad, Satchel Paige, debuted with the team on May 30 in Chicago. Satch gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in six innings of work, and struck out six. Jackie had a banner day at the plate that day: he was perfect with three walks, two singles, a double and a triple in seven plate appearances combined in the doubleheader. The Monarchs first eastern swing of the year started on June 17 with a game in Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Stars. Jackie started the Monarchs winning rally with a single.

A week later, the Monarchs faced a stacked Homestead Grays team in Washington D.C. Seven future Hall-of-Famers took the field that day. In addition to three Monarchs (Jackie, Hilton & Satchel) the Grays featured Jud Wilson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson. Jackie had another perfect day, this time reaching base safely in all eight plate appearances over the doubleheader.

The team had a hot start to the year and was 14-5 through June 17. Things fell apart from there however, and they dropped eight of their last nine games to finish third in the Negro American League. They would have to take the second half if they wanted a shot at the league championship.

Final first half standings from the July 6 Kansas City Call:

Cleveland Buckeyes 28 5 .783
Birmingham Black Barons 23 10 .697
Kansas City Monarchs 17 14 .548
Chicago American Giants 16 21 .432
Cinci-Indianapolis Clowns 13 24 .351
Memphis Red Sox 12 29 .293

I’ll cover the second half soon here at i70baseball.com. I’ve relived the 1945 Monarchs season in depth at my blog Jackie With The Monarchs.

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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.

April

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:

Wilber "Bullet" Rogan

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.

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