Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exhibition Tour With Clowns Continues With Win In Houston

Buffalo Stadium, Houston, Texas

Sunday, April 29 found the Monarchs back in Houston, continuing a long exhibition series with the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns. Here's the game summary that appeared in the May 4th Kansas City Call:
"HOUSTON--With two outs in their half of the third inning the Kansas City Monarchs, minus the help of Barney Serrell, who skipped the Monarchs and went to Mexico to play, bunched hits by (Frank) Duncan, (Jesse) Williams, (John) Scott and (Jackie) Robinson, with a hit batsman sandwiched in between for four runs which was good enough for a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Clowns here Sunday night.

The Monarchs have lost two games to the Clowns at San Antonio, but hold a one game edge in the series."
The game was played at Buffalo Stadium, seen above. Houston served as a sort of home base for the mostly itinerant squad during spring training. Sometime in April, the Monarchs visited a couple of Houston-area high schools. Here's a report on that from the April 21st New York Amsterdam News:

As mentioned in the game summary above, Monarchs first sacker Barney Serrell jumped the team to play in Mexico. Serrell had played for Kansas City in 1942, '43 and '44. According to Baseball Reference, Serrell hit .406, .267 and .410 in those three seasons. He went 10-for-18 in the '42 Negro World Series. Serrell would return to the Monarchs between '49 and '51. According to Willie Bea Harmon in the May 4, 1945 Kansas City Call, "The Monarchs were said to have had one of the best line-ups in many seasons, but a hole was knocked into the sharp infield when Barney Serrell skipped to Mexico...(Lee) Moody, an outfielder, has been shifted over to first. He has held down the first sack before, but briefly during the last season."

The Monarchs and Clowns met again in Houston on April 30th, then in Waco on May 1st and Fort Worth on May 2nd. I haven't found results for those three games. We'll pick up with the Monarchs on May 3 in Dallas.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Long Tour With The Clowns Begins, Jackie Rips Inside-the-Parker

Pelican Stadium, New Orleans circa 1950s

On April 22nd, the Monarchs kicked off a 13 game exhibition series with the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns that took the teams from New Orleans to Houston, San Antonio, back to Houston, to Waco, Ft. Worth, Dallas, and finally Oklahoma City two weeks later. I've unfortunately only unearthed results from three of the games. The Kansas City Call did publish a game summary and full box score for the game on the 22nd that took place at Pelican Stadium in New Orleans, revealing that the Monarchs prevailed 4-0. A doubleheader was scheduled, but the teams barely squeezed in one game between showers. According to the April 27th Call,
Righthanders Hilton Smith and Booker McDaniels turned in a sparkling three-hit performance for Kansas City Sunday as their teammates pounded out 10 hits to whitewash the Cincinnati Clowns...Smith gave up two hits, struck out four and issued no bases on balls for the six innings he worked, while McDaniels yielded one single, blasted his fast ball past four hitters in the three frames he performed. Johnny Williams, Clowns' hurler, did not fare so easily. Shortstop Jackie Robinson, former UCLA gridiron star, hit a line drive to centerfield that was good for at least three bases, but turned the same into an inside-the-park home run when leftfielder Navarro juggled the hit momentarily...Jackie Robinson, who was praised highly by Manager Joe Cronin in his workout with the Boston Red Sox, turned in a brilliant bit of fielding and base running. He retired in the seventh inning because of an injured finger.
The box score shows Jackie hit 2-3, and credits him with a HR even though it sounds as though the left-fielder may have made an error that allowed Jackie to go from third to home. From the picture of Pelican Stadium above, you can see how a ball could rattle around in the outfield for awhile as Jackie tore around the paths.

I believe the two teams played another game in New Orleans the next night, then headed to Houston for games on the 24th, 25th and 26th at Buffalo Stadium. Those were followed by games on the 27th and 28th in San Antonio. The next game result I have is for April 29.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Wild Three Team Game in Memphis

The Monarchs were scheduled to meet the Memphis Red Sox in Memphis on Thursday, April 19th, but had some trouble getting there thanks to a train running late. According to the April 21stChicago Defender, "About 15 minutes after the game was scheduled to start, the Chicago American Giants took the field to 'pinch-hit' for the Monarchs. The Monarchs showed up about 9:45 and took the field in the fifth inning, taking up where the American Giants left off. The Giants were trailing by a 4 to 2 score." The Monarchs managed to come back enough for the game to end in a 10-10 tie after nine innings. It looks to have been a wild, see-saw affair, with the three teams combining for 20 runs, 26 hits and seven errors. The Monarchs scored two in the top of the ninth to tie it at 10, and shut down the Red Sox in the bottom of the inning to preserve the tie. Whether or not Jackie Robinson made it to Memphis for this game after trying out with the Boston Red Sox on the 16th is unknown.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tryout With Boston Red Sox

A mere 21 days and roughly six games after joining the Monarchs, Jackie Robinson found himself in Fenway Park, "trying out" for the Boston Red Sox. He was joined by Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes (who went on to be the 1950 National League rookie of the year) and Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars. According to the April 28th Afro American,

"The players were brought (to Boston) by Wendell Smith, sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, obviously to put to a test the promise of Boston major league club-owners to give players of all races an opportunity to make their teams. These promises were exacted by City Councilman H.Y. Muchnick, who threatened to fight the issuance of licenses for Sunday baseball unless the owners abandoned their jim-crow policy of employment of players."
Wendell Smith would be a key player in Jackie's signing with the Dodgers and Jackie's life; according to Nick Scala,

"One of the first people with whom (Branch) Rickey consulted at the start of his search was Smith, who wrote about the Negro Leagues for the Courier. It was Smith who recommended Robinson to Rickey, and the rest is baseball history. Smith’s history didn’t end with that recommendation, though. The former West Virginia State pitcher roomed with Robinson in 1946, when Robinson starred on the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliate in Montreal, and again during Robinson’s rookie season with Brooklyn in 1947, covering each historic moment for the Courier."
To placate Muchnick and the city council, Red Sox brass gritted their teeth and acquiesced to the try out. Smith knew it would generate plenty of press and force a few more eyes open to the gross injustice of segregation. The tryout in Boston came on the heels of a similar occurrence in Brooklyn at the beginning of the month in which Dave "Showboat" Thomas and Terris McDuffie were sprung on the Dodgers with a demand to have a look at them.

Robinson's performance in Boston stood out. The
Afro American reported that, "Robinson, swinging with smooth precision, reached the left field fence with several batting practice hits." The Chicago Defender said he "smacked two long drives that would have been homers in a ball game." Boston coaches said the right things, that they were "impressed" and the players "looked good."

Some selections from press coverage at the time:

Wendell Smith's eye-witness account from the April 21 Pittsburgh Courier:

Willie Bea Harmon in the April 20th & 27th
Kansas City Call:

"It is significant that Smith chose Jackie Robinson, Monarch shortstop as one of the players to make the tryout. In Robinson the Monarchs and Smith have two aces in the hole...If baseball is any one thing, that thing is big business. Robinson's name means big business if he can play ball. He is a rookie, but he's a great one according to Diz Dismukes and Manager Frank Duncan of the Monarchs...He's doing better than well at short and is hitting, too, according to Dismukes. Robinson's name is still magic in Sportdom, since he set such a great record at UCLA sometime back in football."

"...all (the three players at the tryout) got for their trouble was a little sweat, a train ride at the expense of the
Courier and a lot of mumbo-jumbo about how good they looked. That statement might lead one to believe that nothing was gained from the three donning Red Sox suits and working out...but that is not so. Don't you know that the Sporting getting the issue before the baseball public and don't you know that what the public demands it gets...Everytime a colored player dons a suit in one ofthe major league camps he breaks down one of the bars that keeps him from playing on major league teams. Don't you know that although Wendell Smith...was given the run-around at first that with the help of Councilman H.Y. Munchnick of Boston, Robinson, Jethro and Williams were given tryouts. Munchnick is a white man who has interested himself in the unwarranted discrimination against colored players...There are others like him...Let us continue to fight."
April 19th Sporting News:

"Three Negro players - first of their race ever given a tryout by a major league team (in Boston) - worked out at Fenway Park, April 16. Manager Joe Cronin and his coaches inspected the candidates for more than an hour, but as no Sox players joined the drills, it was difficult to get a line on the hitting of the aspirants. They will be given a later trial here."
April 28th Chicago Defender:

Howard Bryant has a fascinating chapter about the try-out in his book Shut Out. You can read it here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Loss In Memphis While Jackie's In Boston

While the rest of his Monarchs teammates finished a three game series with the Memphis Red Sox in Memphis on April 15, Jackie Robinson was in Boston for a date with a different Red Sox team. (More on Jackie's tryout with the Boston Red Sox tomorrow.)

The Monarchs lost a high scoring affair, 8-9. Some normally fantastic pitchers had off-days on both sides. Booker McDaniels for Kansas City allowed four runs in a short appearance. Monarch Hilton Smith gave up four runs in 4.2. Red Sox ace Verdell Mathis was touched for five runs in three innings. Neil Robinson was the offensive hero for Memphis, going 4-4 with two home runs. He plated the winning run with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. With Jackie out of the game, Jesse Williams slid back to his familiar spot at shortstop for the Monarchs, and had a nice 3-4 day at the plate. The
Chicago Defender reported that Monarchs owners J.L. Wilkinson and T.Y. Baird, "came over from Kansas City and saw their hirelings defeated."

Sources: 4/20/45 Kansas City Call, 4/21/45 Chicago Defender

Two years later on April 15, 1947, Jackie debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baseball fans know April 15 is not tax day - it's Jackie Robinson Day!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Loss To the Black Barons In Atlanta

Ponce De Leon Park, Atlanta

The Monarchs met the Birmingham Black Barons in Atlanta's Ponce De Leon Park on Wednesday, April 11th at 4:30. Ponce De Leon is famous for two trees that were in play in center field that are clearly seen in the top picture. It's the only game played in Atlanta during Jackie's tenure with the Monarchs that I'm aware of. However, I don't believe Jackie was in Atlanta for this game; I believe he arrived in Boston on the 11th along with Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter and baseball integration crusader Wendell Smith to pressure the Boston Braves and/or Red Sox into trying out Jackie and two other Negro Leaguers.

From the April 12th Atlanta Daily World:
"...the Birmingham Black Barons, American Negro League champions of 1944, went on to defeat the Kansas City a score of 5 to 2 before a fair-sized crowd of fans...On the mound for the Barons was Leroy Wellmaker, native Atlantan...Wellmaker was touched for only four bingles the eight innings he toiled and was great with runners on the hassocks. He fanned five Monarchs, and walked none for a grand day's toil.

Opposing him were (Booker) McDaniels, stellar Kansas City tosser, who spaced seven hits nicely the seven frames he toiled, and (Steve Enloe) Wylie, who gave up two smashes the two innings he tossed. Relieving Wellmaker and doing nicely in his stint was (Earl) Bumpus, who displayed a fast ball which was baffling to his enemy batters.

The Barons took an early lead, pushing over three tallies in the first inning, and in the second they added another. They scored their fifth run in the fourth and that was all for them. The Monarchs tallied one run each in the fourth and the seventh and they were done for despite several scoring threats which were short lived."
From here, the Monarchs and Memphis Red Sox were to play two games for which I haven't found results: April 12 in Memphis and April 13 in Little Rock.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sunday Doubleheader in Birmingham

April 14, 1945 Chicago Defender

After making the 640 mile trek from Dallas to Birmingham, the Monarchs met the Birmingham Black Barons for a Sunday double header on April 8 at Rickwood Field. The Monarchs took the first game 7-0, and the Chicago Defender reported that "Jackie Robinson had a big day afield and at bat in this game. He drove in the first pair of Monarch runs with a line drive to left center." This is the first box score I have from 1945 spring training. Jackie shows up with a 2-4 line at the plate with a run scored and a stolen base in the first game. A box was not published for the second game, which the Monarchs dropped 0-2.

From here, the Monarchs were to play two games for which I haven't found results: April 9 & 10 vs. Birmingham Black Barons in Montgomery, AL.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Two More Spring Training Tilts Vs. American Giants

After the Monarchs met the Chicago American Giants in Houston on the 2nd, the two clubs headed up for a game in Ft. Worth on the 5th and one in Dallas on the 6th. Beyond the scores, I have no detailed information on these games. From the April 14th Chicago Defender: "The Chicago American Giants and the Kansas City Monarchs played their final game of a three-game series here (Dallas) Friday, April 6, the Monarchs winning, 8 to 4. The Giants defeated the Monarchs at Ft. Worth the night before in what looked to be a mid-season game by a score of 3 to 2." The Monarchs and American Giants wouldn't meet again until opening day in Kansas City on May 6th.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Monarchs Defeat Chicago Giants"

Monday, April 2nd saw the Monarchs taking on the Chicago American Giants in Houston in "the first exhibition game Monarchs first stringers have competed in" (4/6 Kansas City Call). It's unknown whether Jackie played in this game or not. Monarchs skipper Frank Duncan may have wanted players who hadn't played the day before in San Antonio to see their first game action of the spring. Monarchs hurlers Booker McDaniels and Jack Matchett shut down the American Giants.

April 6, 1945 Kansas City Call

Thursday, April 1, 2010

First Game

After five days of training with the Monarchs in Houston, Jackie made the 200 mile jump to San Antonio for his first game action on Easter Sunday, April 1. The Monarchs split into two squads with most first stringers remaining in Houston and a second team heading to San Antonio to meet an all-white club called Engle's Minor League All Stars. Charlie Engle was the team's organizer and namesake. Engle had a long minor league career stretching back to 1927 and had been in a few MLB games as well. He patched together a team with some other minor leaguers and some players from the nearby Aviation Cadet Center (now Lackman Air Force Base). The teams met at Tech Field, which is no longer standing, but there are a couple of ball fields on the site today.

Tech Field
Jackie managed one hit in seven at-bats, two stolen bases, and, according to the April 7th Chicago Defender, "showed up well at shortstop, accepting nine chances with but one error and figuring in three fast double plays." The game was a 14-inning affair that ended at a 4-4 deadlock.

(The Defender write-up refers to the Monarchs squad as "yannigans," which apparently is an out-of-use term meaning rookies and second-stringers, though some first-stringers, such as Lefty LaMarque and Hilton Smith, were part of the game.)