Tag Archive | "Negro American League"

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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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


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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He Belongs In Cooperstown

This week, Major League Baseball bid adieu to an amazing ambassador, an on the field superstar, and a lifetime Chicago Cub. Ron Santo had passed away and it brought attention to the fact that he is not in the Hall Of Fame. Baseball fans would join Cubs fans in open wonderment on how Santo was not in the Hall Of Fame based off his work on behalf of baseball as an ambassador alone. Kansas City fans did more than that, they understood.

John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil spent a mediocre 12 seasons playing in the Negro American League. Throughout his playing career, O’Neil developed relationships with many players that crossed his path and became a true student of the game. He would break the color barrier in Major League Baseball for coaches, becoming the first African-American coach. He was named a coach for the Chicago Cubs in 1962 and is recognized for agreeing to the terms of Lou Brock’s first professional contract.

Years after his retirement, O’Neil would become one of the most interviewed and well spoken experts on Negro League and Baseball history. He would work tirelessly to see fellow Negro League players receive proper honor by getting them inducted into Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall Of Fame. He would sit on the voting committee for the Hall Of Fame from 1995 to 2001, inducting one Negro League great each of those six years. O’Neil served on a Veteran’s committee from 1981 to 2000. In 1990, O’Neil led the charge to establish the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 2006, the Baseball Hall Of Fame and Museum held a final vote for players and coaches associated with the Negro Leagues, electing 17 people for induction. Buck O’Neil would speak at that induction ceremony. O’Neil was not one of those 17 players, a fact that many people thought broke his heart. O’Neil himself would say this on the matter:

“God’s been good to me. They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.”

O’Neil would fall ill later that year, succumbing to a long life and passing away at the age of 94 on October 6, 2006. He was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, posthumously, on December 7, 2006. The Hall Of Fame honors a player every three years with the “Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award”.

Despite all of his achievements, all of his work for baseball and his communities, and every accolade afforded to Buck O’Neil, his place in Cooperstown has yet to be achieved. Due to the current rules in place in Cooperstown, that fact may never change.

Maybe someday Ron Santo will be inducted for all that he has done for baseball. When he is, Kansas City fans will rejoice to see justice served for a well deserving player. For now, they will have to be satisfied with that justice being served for another player instead of Buck O’Neil.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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