Tag Archive | "Satchel Paige"

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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Black History Month: Bob Trice

Imagine yourself back in 1953 in Philadelphia. You are on the mound for your major league debut, and you walk out to a thunderous boo. You begin your warm ups, and the booing continues. The game wears on, and nothing changes. You look at the opposing pitcher, Don Larsen of the St. Louis Browns, and he is dealing out there, making your teammates work for every run. The game finishes, and the booing just will not wear down. You walk out of Connie Mack Stadium, and the people just will not stop annoying you with booing and threatening words. However, you continue on your path to the hotel room and realize that you set the standard for integration for the Athletics organization. This is the day that Bob Trice made history, on September 13, 1953.

Bob Trice broke the color barrier for the Philadelphia Athletics at Connie Mack Stadium, and set the precedent for future Athletics teams, which would later move to Kansas City. His impact on the organization was more than just a sideshow attraction. He made it possible for not only African-American players like Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson, but for Latino players like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Sanchez, and Salvador Perez on the current 40-man roster. His numbers were not outstanding, and his minor league success did not carry over into the Major Leagues. He was a combined 9-9 with an ERA around 6.70 in his three seasons in Philadelphia and Kansas City. He also had 28 strikeouts and 60 walks in 152 innings pitched.

Trice will never be remembered in the same way as the greats, like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, or Roberto Clemente for running into a lot of prejudice and playing exceptionally well, but the people of Philadelphia will always remember the day he stepped on the mound and showed his skills against Don Larson. The stadium at the intersection of Lehigh Avenue and North 21st Street was filled to see how Trice would perform for a struggling A’s team, and even though he did not earn the victory, he set the bar relatively high with his first start. He threw eight innings, letting up five earned runs, no walks, and two strikeouts.

As we watch Royals baseball this spring, we will see a newly transformed team, with all sorts of different players from different parts of the world. From Mike Moustakos to Jarrod Dyson, Bruce Chen to Jonathan Sanchez, we see many different colors and ethnicities, and we should be thankful to the man that helped them be a part of the team. Thank you Bob Trice, for helping to make Baseball the game it is today.

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Wizardry: One Author’s Ranking of Greatest Fielders May Surprise

Neifi Perez was actually a good defensive shortstop. Amos Otis wasn’t as good a centerfielder as he was reputed to be. And Frank White wasn’t as good with the glove as some of his1970s second base contemporaries.

Those are just some of the assertions by Michael A. Humphreys in Wizardry: Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Fielders Revealed.

(Humphrey’s starting lineup of all-time greatest is at the end of this article)

The development of sabermetrics has changed how we analyze and discuss baseball. But I must be honest that when I try to study overly sophisticated statistical measures, my head sometimes starts to spin and my eyes go out of focus. As a writer, I tend to want to leave the heavy lifting to someone else, focusing more on the story, less on the calculus.

But I was intrigued enough by Humphrey’s individual defensive rankings in his recent book that I gave it a casual perusal, skimming the math to get to the findings.

My personal opinion: there are two sides to the coin of player analysis. You may prefer one over the other, but no matter what you believe, the beauty is in the debate.

Like the classic argument of “Who was better? Williams or DiMaggio? Mantle or Mays?” There is joy to be had in comparing the greatness of individuals.

Some would rely upon the eye-test. A Supreme Court Justice once reportedly said concerning pornography that he couldn’t define it, “but I know it when I see it.” Applying this logic to player analysis, some fans base their judgments upon what they see. Or what others have seen. To them, the eye doesn’t lie.

Problems with this approach are that our opinions are skewed by perception, legend, bias, etc. Evaluation of Negro league players depends almost entirely upon this method. Statistics mean virtually nothing when trying to include a Satchel Paige or a Josh Gibson in the discussion.

And it would seem obvious that some players benefit from perception, while others are penalized. Some guys make great plays look easy, while others seem constantly to be diving and grinding. That perception affects our judgments.

On the other hand, some fans choose to eschew subjective observation, relying instead upon complicated formulas to render empirical judgments.

But as Mark Twain famously said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Sometimes, it would appear, sabermatricians endanger themselves of missing the forest for their study of the trees.

Mr. Humpreys would fall in the second category. Using his “Defensive Regression Analysis” and accounting for everything from the stadiums to the Dead Ball Era to his “Talent Pool Adjusted Runs” (having to do with integration), Humphreys does more calculating than a NASA engineer.

Ready for his sales pitch?

“Michael A. Humphreys shows how to apply classic statistical methods to estimate runs saved by fielders going back to 1883. Humphreys tests his results against other fielding measures, including published ratings based on proprietary batted ball location data, and explains their respective strengths and limitations… Position by position, Humphreys identifies and profiles the greatest fielders of all time…”

My eyes just went bleary. Are you like I was, ready to skip the math lesson and get on to what we really want to see – where Kansas City Royals rate according to Mr. Humphreys?

What he found was certainly intriguing.

My favorite of Humphrey’s conclusions was that Willie Wilson was the second greatest left fielder of all time.

“Wilson also saved more runs in left field per 1450 innings than any other left fielder in history; the only reason Wilson isn’t the greatest left fielder in history on a career basis is because his team moved him to center… could credit Wilson with another dozen or so runs for holding base runners, which makes sense because Wilson could cut off batted balls that dropped in for hits and get them back into the infield so quickly.”

Also on the plus side for Royals fans, George Brett was twelfth in the Modern Era (1969-1992).

Humphrey’s formulas show Rey Sanchez (KC from 1999-2001) was the best defensive shortstop of the contemporary era, and second greatest ever.

That’s cool. But according to the same standard, Neifi Perez was fourth best in the contemporary era. You’ll have a hard time convincing many KC fans of that.

There were other findings Royals fans will take exception with.

Humphrey states Otis was greatly overrated as a centerfielder.

“The Historical Abstract describes Otis as a ‘magnificent’ fielding center fielder, but (various statistical standards) indicate otherwise. Otis was a solid fielder until about 1976… Otis fell off after age thirty, as seems to happen to many center fielders, and consistently played worse than his backups…”

Freddie Patek also appears to have been overrated, according to the stats. Either Humphrey’s standards are wrong, or else the perception of Patek was, because it was his glove that kept him the lineup while his bat was certainly a detriment.

Most shockingly, White was rated EIGHTH in the Modern Era at second base, judged by one statistical measure. White may be an example where statistical measures just can’t tell the whole story.

Humphrey rates White ninth overall, which isn’t bad. But amazingly, three players who played the same position in the same league at the same time – Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, and Bobby Grich – were ranked higher. That means that, according to Humphrey, while White was winning those eight Gold Gloves, he was actually getting outplayed by several other guys in the same league.

I don’t buy it.

There are many other controversial findings in the book.

Humphrey believes Gold Gloves don’t go to the best defenders. He says they tend to be given to good all-around players who had an exceptional season defensively in the early stage of their career. From that point on, they continue to win them repeatedly even when their skills decline.

His greatest case in point: Ken Griffey, Jr. Griffey won 10 straight Gold Gloves, but according to Humphrey’s analysis, Junior “was never clearly better than average when he was winning all those Gold Gloves.”

Other vastly over-rated centerfielders include Torii Hunter (9GGs). Steve Finley (5GGs) and Bernie Williams (4GGs). Humphrey says Joe DiMaggio was over-rated as a center fielder, and was actually not as good at the position as his lesser-known brother Dom.

According to Humphrey, Johnny Bench doesn’t make the top ten at catcher, while contemporaries Gary Carter, Jim Sundberg, Steve Yeager, and Bob Boone do.

Of interest to Cardinal fans:

Humphreys finds Albert Pujols the third greatest defensive first baseman of all time. He says Pujols should be considered the greatest all-around player to ever play the position.

I’ll keep Cardinal fans waiting to see who Humphrey has number one at first base.

By one standard of measurement (Talent Pool Adjusted Runs), Frankie Frisch came out as the greatest second baseman of all time.

Shortstop Marty Marion came out on the short end of some statistical analysis, which Humphrey tried to address.

At third, Scott Rolen ranks sixth best all time, while Terry Pendleton comes in tenth. Ken Boyer ranked third among third baseman in the Transitional Era (1947-1968).

Vince Coleman and Lou Brock are considered liabilities in left field, according to Humphrey’s research, while Lonnie “Skates” Smith was actually on the plus side.

Stan Musial was a very solid left fielder, while his contemporary Ted Williams was one of the worst at the same position.

Brian Jordan was ranked the sixth best right fielder of all time, while Reggie Sanders was rated ninth.

Jim Edmonds was viewed very favorably defensively and deserves Hall of Fame consideration, according to Humphrey.

What may seem like heresy, Humphrey’s system finds Ozzie Smith behind Mark Belanger in the Modern Era, and just ahead of Garry Templeton, the much better hitter he replaced. On Humphrey’s all-time list, Smith ranks third.

If you are like me, you may not agree with some of Humphrey’s conclusions. But let me remind you, these are not his OPINIONS. They are his FINDINGS, based on statistically thorough, yet unbiased, mathematical processes.

Are you ready for Humphrey’s starting lineup of the greatest fielders of all time, based strictly on his statistical research?

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Keith Hernandez
2B: Joe “Flash” Gordon
SS: Mark Belanger
3B: Brooks Robinson
LF: Rickey Henderson
CF: Andruw Jones
RF: Roberto Clemente

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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


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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