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

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