Sunday, May 30, 2010

Satchel Makes First '45 Appearance & Jackie Is Perfect At The Plate

The Monarchs and American Giants returned to Chicago for a Memorial Day double header. Satchel Paige was on the mound for the Monarchs in game one. This marks the first time Satchel joined the 1945 squad. He was primarily a Monarch from 1940-1947, but he never really belonged to just one team. He was the ultimate free agent, making one-off appearances with any team willing to part with a big enough cut of the gate. Satch may have been traveling the country making such appearances, or perhaps he just got a late start on the season.

Satchel pitched six frames for KC, allowing two runs on just three hits and one walk. Satch struck out six. The Monarchs only managed one off familiar foe Gentry Jessup in the first six innings, so the Monarchs trailed 1-2 when Booker McDaniels took over for KC in the seventh. McDaniels shut the Giants out for his three innings, and the Monarchs managed to get three more off Jessup to claim game one 4-2.

In the second game, Hilton Smith went all seven innings and allowed just two runs but suffered a loss as Walter McCoy hurled a shutout for Chicago. The Monarchs managed just four hits off McCoy, and three of them belonged to Jackie. From the June 1 Kansas City Call: "Jackie Robinson had a perfect day at the bat in both games. He doubled, singled and tripled in the second. In the first, he walked three times and on his fourth trip to the plate singled." Not a bad day's work.

Satchel illustration by Steve Willaredt

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Barnstorming With American Giants Continues With Exciting Game In Racine

Horlick Field, Racine, WI, circa '40s (source)

Horlick Field entrance, 2003 (source)

Meeting in the fifth different city in six days, the rival Chicago American Giants and Kansas City Monarchs pulled into Racine, Wisconsin for a game at Horlick Athletic Field on Tuesday, May 29. (There is still a Horlick Field in Racine at the same site, though now a football field stands where the baseball diamond did. The original gate, seen above, still remains, and a baseball field is located next door.) Only 1,119 fans attended the game; some potential fans may have been deterred by "frigid weather." Happily, the Racine Journal Times regarded the game as newsworthy, publishing a detailed game summary and box score. Outfielder Walter Thomas, who had done some pitching early in his career, was the starting pitcher for the Monarchs, and was knocked around by Chicago before being replaced by Lefty LaMarque in the second inning. Thomas stayed in the game as right fielder. KC was down 3-8 after three innings. The Monarchs weren't done however, and pulled to within 6-8 after six. From the Journal Times:
In the crucial seventh frame, Jackie Robinson, KC shortstop and former UCLA All-American football and basketball star, led off with a double. (John) Scott hit his third triple of the evening to center field, scoring Robinson. Lee Moody doubled to count Scott, and (Chico) "Old Fellow" Renfroe, who played a sparkling game in left field for the Monarchs, hit a single to center to score Moody with the winning run.
The hardy fans who showed up were treated to quite a game. ("Old Fellow" Renfroe was 23 years old at the time...not sure where the paper came up with that nickname. He would replace Jackie at shortstop in 1946 and make the East-West all-star game.) John Scott had a remarkable day with three triples. Jackie, back in the three hole, went 3-for-5 with a double, bringing his hitting totals I've found for the year (including two preseason games) to 10-for-25 (.400). First sacker Lee Moody went 4-for-5, pacing the Monarchs' 15 hit attack. Moody's bat was on fire early in '45; in eight box scores I have for him to this point in the season, he had at least one hit in each, and had hit 15-for-34 (.441).

 May 31 Racine Journal Times

The two teams would meet yet again the next day in a Memorial Day doubleheader in Chicago, with Satchel Paige finally showing up to hurl for KC for the first time in '45.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Date With The Chicago American Giants In Milwaukee

After playing in Chicago the day before, the American Giants and Monarchs traveled to Milwaukee to square off on Monday, May 28. The Giants got the best of the Monarchs by a score of 4-2; Jackie had a rare hitless game against the hurling of Walter McCoy. Courtesy of John Holway, here's the May 29 Milwaukee Journal report:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Losing Effort In Chicago's Home Opener

May 27 was the fourth Sunday of the 1945 Negro American League season, but it was the first home game for the Chicago American Giants. Chicago fans were ready, as 18,000 came out to Comiskey Park to see the Giants take on the Monarchs. The two clubs were already quite familiar with each other; this was the third Sunday they'd met in the young season, and had squared off in many mid-week and preseason barnstorming contests. In all the '45 Giants vs. Monarchs games played before May 27 for which I've found results, Kansas City had won six of eight.

Booker McDaniels & Gentry Jessup

Pitchers Booker McDaniels and Gentry Jessup faced off for the third time of the year. Both  went the distance. McDaniels allowed eight Giants hits and Jessup allowed seven Monarchs safeties. Both struck out two and walked two. Sounds like an even match-up, but Chicago apparently did a better job of bunching baserunners in managing a 6-2 win. Monarchs manager Frank Duncan had Jackie Robinson in the the sixth spot of the batting order after batting him third in every game I've seen a box for before this one. Jackie had a 1-for-3 day with a double. (The three at-bats suggest he may have drawn a walk.) Rain fell through the final two innings, and the scheduled second game was called off.

From the June 2 Chicago Defender summary:
The Giants, all dolled up in their new uniforms, looked and played like a big league club. This of course does not detract from the performance of the Monarchs, especially Jackie Robinson, the Pacific Coast star who the Boston Red Sox owner said was of big league calibre. Jackie, who was recently discharged from the army where he served as lieutenant, handled nine chances in short perfectly. He contributed a double in the fourth with Moody on first but the Monarchs couldn't score as (Dave) Harper, who played stellar football at Clark college in Atlanta, looked at the third strike float by.

June 2 Pittsburgh Courier summary and box

Fay Young's "Through The Years" column, June 2 Chicago Defender

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Split With the American Giants in Columbus, Ohio

Red Bird Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Sunday, May 20th found the Monarchs meeting the Chicago American Giants at Red Bird Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The park, now known as Cooper Stadium, is still standing in Columbus, but no longer in use. 2008 appears to have been its last season hosting baseball. Developers are hoping to turn it into an automotive race track.

In the opening game of the double header, Jim "Lefty" LaMarque took the hill for the Monarchs. LaMarque was from the town of Potosi in eastern Missouri. His entire career in the Negro Leagues was spent as a Monarch, and spanned from 1942-51. According to Negro Leagues historian James A. Riley, LaMarque was "a hardworking, cagey hurler who was tough in the clutch. His sharp-breaking curve was his best pitch, but he had an assortment of effective pitches, including a blazing fast ball, a good drop, a screwball, and good control." According to LaMarque himself, from the book The Negro Leagues Revisited, "I won most of my games. I learned to have real good control. I guess my top speed was maybe 80 or 85 miles an fastball always moved. I couldn't throw a straight fastball, it just moved. I guess just the movement on the ball kept the hitters from hitting it as well as they could if it came straight at them. I think I was a pretty fair pitcher. Well, most people said I was." Lefty made the East-West all-star game in 1948 and '49.

On the bump for Chicago was veteran Sug Cornelius, one of the best Negro Leagues pitchers of the '30s. He was a three-time all-star ('35, '36 and '38). By 1945, 37 year old Cornelius was in his 18th year of Negro Leagues play. According to Riley, Sug was "a crafty right-hander with good control...had a superb curveball that he could 'throw around a barrel.' Other pitches in his arsenal included a good fastball, hard slider, screwball, drop, and change of pace."

Cornelius held a 3-1 lead over KC through seven innings, but his defense let him down in the final two frames. The Chicago Defender box score shows Giants shortstop Jesse Douglas (a former Monarch) committing four errors, which must have aided the Monarchs come-from-behind 6-4 victory. According to the game summary, Monarchs "first baseman (Lee) Moody hit the ball hard and timely as did Lefty LaMarque." Negro Leagues pitchers seemed to know how to swing a stick. Moody went 3-for-4 with two doubles. Jackie Robinson had a rare hitless game in three at-bats, bringing his three game hitting line to 2-for-10. After Frank Duncan caught opening day and Double Duty Radcliffe caught the second Sunday, Sammie Haynes shows up as the receiver on this third Sunday of the season. The rest of the Monarchs line-up remained consistent through the first three weeks.

The seven-inning nightcap pitted Booker McDaniels against Gentry Jessup in a rematch of the opening-day starters. This time, Jessup and the American Giants enjoyed a victory. Jessup did it all, holding the Monarchs hitless through six before Lee Moody got the Monarchs' lone hit with a seventh inning single. The Monarchs failed to push a run across the plate. Jessup received no run support from his teammates, so he took care of it himself with an inside-the-parker to take the game 1-0.

May 26 Chicago Defender

From Columbus, the Monarchs toured through Indianapolis and Springfield, IL on the way to Chicago for a doubleheader scheduled for Sunday, May 27. They were to meet the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns in Indianapolis's Victory Field on the 23rd, but I've found no result. They stayed in Indianapolis for a contest with the Chicago American Giants on Wednesday the 24th that they won 6-4, then traveled to Springfield to beat the American Giants again, this time 7-4, on the 25th. Of the eight game results I've found to this point in the season, the Monarchs won seven.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

War Looms Large Over 1945 Season

Jackie Robinson's five months as a Kansas City Monarch coincided with momentous days in history as World War II came to an end. The war couldn't have ever been far from the minds of the players; many of them, including Jackie, were veterans themselves, and all had family, friends and/or teammates serving. Like all teams of the time, the Monarchs roster was heavily impacted by losing key players to military service. Some of the players missing were first baseman Buck O'Neil, outfielders Willard Brown, Hank Thompson, and Ted Strong, catcher Joe Greene, and pitchers Connie Johnson and Ford Smith. Buck served in a Navy construction battalion in the Pacific. He wrote this in his autobiography about his time in the Navy: letters from my old friends back in Kansas City, Hilton (Smith) and (Monarchs co-owners J.L. Wilkinson) and Tom Baird...They kept me appraised of the fortunes - or rather misfortunes - of the Monarchs, who finished last in 1944 and had to rely on a lot of new players, and a lot of old ones, too. They also enclosed clippings from the black newspapers so I could keep up with the Negro leagues. (The Negro leagues didn't exist as far as Stars and Stripes, the service newspaper, was concerned.) Those letters were so sweet.

Hilton wrote me about this one player he had recommended to the Monarchs, a football and track star at UCLA named Jack Roosevelt Robinson. The club actually did convince him to play shortstop for the 1945 season, and he did pretty good, batting .345, stealing a lot of bases and playing a decent shortstop. Jackie Robinson would electrify major league baseball in a few years, and he electrified the Monarchs in '45.
(As I've written here before, Jackie said it was "a brother named Alexander" that lead him to the Monarchs, but Hilton gets credit in some sources.)

I'm no World War II historian, but to provide context to Jackie's time with the Monarchs, here are some key events that took place while Jackie was with the Monarchs. These dates and events are sourced from websites Timelines of History and Timelines.
  • March 26 - U.S. Marines Secure Iwo Jima
  • April 1 - American assault on Okinawa begins; last campaign of WWII
  • April 11 - Americans liberate Buchenwald
  • April 12 - FDR dies in Warm Springs, GA; succeeded by Truman
  • April 28 - Mussolini executed
  • April 29 - Americans liberate Dachau; German Army in Italy surrenders to Allies
  • April 30 - Hitler commits suicide
  • May 7 - Germany signs surrender, ending European conflict
  • May 8 - V-E Day
  • August 6 - atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima
  • August 9 - atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki
  • August 14 - Japan surrenders

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Monarchs Hang Black Barons Out To Dry In Twin Bill

The Monarchs almost surely played some games between Sunday the 6th and Sunday the 13th, but I've found no record of them. Sunday was the day in the Negro Leagues; teams often barnstormed through smaller towns through the week in games that didn't count in the standings, but come Sunday, the crowds came out in their Sunday best, usually for a doubleheader (though game two was usually a seven inning contest). Not surprisingly, Sunday games also got the best coverage in the press.

One week after opening the season at home, the Monarchs were right back on their home turf, Ruppert Stadium, to meet the Birmingham Black Barons, on Sunday May 13th. (Every modern resource says the stadium was renamed Blues Stadium in 1943, but the Kansas City Call and Monarchs advertisements all refer to it as Ruppert in 1945, so I'll call it Ruppert too.) The Barons were reigning AL champions. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues credits the '44 Barons with a 48-22 record. The World War II years were relative lean ones for the Monarchs; their '44 record is given as 23-42. But this day early in the '45 season belonged to KC. Hilton Smith commanded both the mound and the batter's box in the first game, pitching a complete game and allowing three runs, plus going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, run scored and three RBI. Jackie went 1-for-3 with two RBI and an error. For the second straight Sunday, Herbert Souell tripled for the Monarchs. KC took the first game 7-3.

Booker McDaniels took the mound in game two, and allowed two runs in a complete game, though this was a seven inning affair. The Monarchs again scored seven runs. Second games of doubleheaders were usually not reported on as well as the first. As seen below in the Call's coverage, a box would often be reported for game one but just a line score and a brief mention in the summary for game two. The Chicago Defender report provided a little more detail about game two: "Booker McDaniels, ace Monarch right hander, although a wee bit wild during the early innings, settled to hold the Barons to seven well scattered hits to win the nightcap...The Monarchs hit the ball hard in their half of the fifth inning to sew the game up. Souell made three hits, driving in two runs and scoring two himself. He had a perfect day at bat."

There was a new face on the Monarchs this day as Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe made his Monarchs debut behind the plate in game one. The Chicago Defender reported that the Monarchs secured Radcliffe "from Birmingham in a cash settlement" (May 19). 44 year old catcher/manager Frank Duncan's knees must have been creaking pretty good by this point. Willie Bea Harmon of the Call wrote, "The addition of Radcliffe will release Frank Duncan for managerial duties and bolster the Monarch hitting power" (May 18). (The catcher position would actually prove to be a bit of a revolving door between four or five guys over the season, including Duncan.)

Here's the report from the May 18 Kansas City Call:

Elsewhere in the same issue, Willie Bea Harmon was effusive about what the Monarchs had shown so far:

RAMPAGING MONARCHS: The Monarchs have a hustling team and after seeing them defeat the Birmingham Black Barons, last year's pennant winners, we're willing to say that all things being equal the Monarchs have a top-heavy chance to win the pennant in the American league this year...From here the Monarchs will go to Columbus, Ohio, where they take on the Chicago American Giants for another series beginning on Sunday, May 20. The following Sunday the Giants and the Monarchs will play in Chicago for the first time this season. The Kansas Citians will return home on June 10, Sunday.
Harmon had this to say about Hilton Smith in the May 25th Call:

Hilton Smith, Monarch hurler who three years ago seemed likely to fill the pitching shoes of Leroy (Satchel) Paige as the Monarch's number one pitcher, is coming back into his own this year. Last season Smith suffered with his arm and was on the top-heavy Monarch sick list, which found Jesse Williams, shortstop suffering a broken arm. Smith did not seem to be able to get into the groove. His 1945 story, however, begins differently. He looks like the Hilton Smith of old which showed him to be a hitter as well as a pitcher. Frank Duncan, Monarch manager, always relied upon Hilton as his pinch hitter. Smith's game against the Birmingham Barons here points to brighter days. He held the mighty Barons' bats to five hits while getting a two-bagger and a single for himself.
Before the Monarchs and American Giants met in Columbus on the 20th, the Monarchs and Black Barons were to play games in Muskogee, OK on the 14th and Oklahoma City on the 15th. Negro Leagues researcher Wayne Stivers reports that the Monarchs won on the 14th by a score of 8-3; results for the Oklahoma City game have not been found.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Opening Day

Your 1945 Kansas City Monarchs in their home whites. Jackie is in the lower right; note his bandaged hand.

The 1945 Negro American League season, featuring the Cleveland Buckeyes, Birmingham Black Barons, Chicago American Giants, Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns, Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs, got underway on Sunday, May 6. The Monarchs opened up at home against Chicago. The festivities at the ballpark got under way at 2:00, with the first pitch scheduled for 3:00. According to the May 11 Kansas City Call, the pre-game ceremony “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.”

Starting lineup for Chicago:

Ralph Wyatt, SS
Jesse Douglas, 2B
Dolly King, RF
Art Pennington, 1B
Clyde Nelson, 3B
Jimmie Crutchfield, CF
Johnny Bissant, LF
Herb Barnhill, C
Gentry Jessup, P
Gentry Jessup

And for the Monarchs:

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

Booker McDaniels

Jackie had impressed manager Frank Duncan in spring training enough to be slotted in the three hole for his first regular season game. The Chicago Defender reported a crowd of 12,000, the Pittsburgh Courier said 15,000, and the Call only said a “record breaking crowd filled the Ruppert Stadium.” (Capacity was around 17,000 in the single deck days of Muehlebach/Ruppert/Blues/Municipal Stadium.)

The American Giants got on the board first in top of the second after Crutchfield was brought home after tripling. The Monarchs came right back with the tying run in the bottom of the inning thanks to a triple from Souell and a double by Moody. The Monarchs took the lead for good in the third “when three bases on balls, Souell’s second hit of the day, a double to right, a stolen base and an infield hit produced three runs” (May 12 Pittsburgh Courier). Jackie plated a run in the sixth inning with a double, and the Monarchs prevailed 6-2. He was also credited with a stolen base and a run scored for the game. Booker McDaniels went the distance for KC, allowing 4 or 5 hits (depending which paper’s box score you’re looking at) with 3 or 4 strikeouts and 1 walk. According to the Call, McDaniels “appeared jittery during the second inning, settled down…and turn(ed) them back in one-two-three order in five of the nine innings.”

Here’s the box from the Pittsburgh Courier:

Willie Bea Harmon, sports editor of the Call, liked what he saw from the Monarchs:

The Kansas City Monarchs have it. They’ve got the hustle, the spirit and they want to win. The Monarchs looked greater on the field Sunday than they have looked since their World Championship days. The outfield looks good, although it did not have an opportunity to demonstrate it. The infield seems to be a ‘stonewall of defense,’ as Hayward Jackson says. However, Moody has been shifted onto the first…Moody makes up in hits for any possible loss of defense. Booker McDaniels was never better than he was Sunday. The Monarchs have a great chance to win the league championship and know it. The Monarchs battle with the Birmingham Black Barons next Sunday should prove just how good the Monarchs are.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jackie Art By Steve Willaredt

Kansas City artist Steve Willaredt is proprietor of the blog "Battle Royale with Cheeze." All this month, he'll be posting illustrations of Negro Leaguers. The first in his series is the above portrayal of Jackie Robinson.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Victory In Dallas As Spring Training Winds Down

May 4 Dallas Morning News

By May 3rd, the Monarchs were approaching the end of their exhibition tour with the Clowns, and opening day of the regular season was just three days away. As you can see in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it game summary above, the Monarchs "trounced" the Clowns this day in Dallas, with Booker McDaniels and Jim "Lefty" Lemarque on the hill for KC. Does that say the Clowns committed twelve errors?!

The Monarchs and Clowns were to close out their series the next day in Oklahoma City, but I haven't located a report on that game. So for our purposes, this wraps up spring training. Click the chart below to see what I've managed to piece together from the 1945 preseason. Unfortunately just two box scores have been found from games Jackie played in, boxes that show him going a combined 4-for-7.

Jackie had been with the team for about five weeks at the end of spring training (though he missed quite a bit of time on the trip to Boston). He garnered rave reviews throughout, apparently showing no rust in spite of having not played much ball for years. Thanks to the Wendell Smith orchestrated tryout with the Boston Red Sox, his name was already in the mix of prospects for the Major Leagues.

One important aspect of the time-line for '45 that I haven't been able to come up with is when Branch Rickey and the Dodgers began being interested in Jackie or at which exact games they had scouts. Whether or not they would have scouted him in the preseason, I just don't know.

Here's what the spring training road trip looks like mapped out. The team bounced over 4442 miles in just 34 days.