From the day that professional baseball teams in America had owners, black players were denied the right to play ball because the team owners had a gentlemen’s agreement not to allow black players into the mainstream game. That was until Branch Rickey broke the agreement and brought Jackie Robinson up from the Negro Leagues to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
The Negro League was the only way black baseball players could play the game as professionals. These players were, according to some baseball historians, better than many in the Major League. Nearly every state in the US had at least one League team. One of the best was the Kansas City Monarchs, recognised at the longest-running Negro League team in history.
Kansas City Monarchs: A Beginning
The Monarchs were formed in 1920 from two other teams, the 25th Infantry Wreckers (US Army all-black team) and the All Nations teams. The merging of these two teams was the brainchild of J.L.Wilkinson the owner of the All Nations team.
Rube Fosters, player for the Chicago American Giants and found of the National Negro League.
It was Wilkinsons vision to have the best team in the Negro Leagues, unfortunately, early on there was one team that was always standing in the way, the Chicago American Giants.
The Chicago American Giants were the most dominant team in the NL (Negro League) from 1910 to about 1930, the team was founded and managed by baseball player Rube Foster, he is also known for organizing the NNL (National Negro League) in 1920.
It was this team that the Monarchs had a problem with. It was not until Wilkinson fired the current manager, Sam Crawford, halfway through the 1923 season and replacing him with Jose Mendez, that things start to improve. This spurred on the team and won them the first of twelve league titles.
The 1924 season for the Monarchs was a banner season. The won the NNL I championship and then won the NNL World Series. The Monarchs top hitter for the year was Walter ‘Dobie’ Moore, a 28-year-old right-handed batter from Augusta, Georgia. He finished the season with a batting average of .365 and a slugging percentage of .534. The number one pitcher for the Monarchs in 1923 was Charles Wilbur ‘Bullet’ Rogan, a right-handed pitcher from Oklahoma City. His season ended with a win percentage of .762 and a 3.14 ERA. It would not be until halfway through WWII that the Monarchs would again win the NLWS.
The Monarchs had many players come and go over the length of its history, some of them buried deep in the annuls of history, some are known by only a few, but two are known by many. The first is Jackie Robinson who played for the Monarchs in 1945 for 26 games (much has already been written about Jackie Robins and is not repeated here), the other is Satchel Paige.
Bullet Rogan – Pitcher, Kansas City Monarchs
Leroy Robert ‘Satchel’ Paige was born on July 7th, 1906 in Mobile, Alabama. Satchel Paige was a right-handed pitcher and a member of the Monarchs team from 1940 to 1947.
He pitched his first game for the Monarchs against old rivals Chicago American Giants on Sept 12th 1940, striking out 10 batters. The Monarchs won the game 9-3.
Satchel would go on the following season, to appear in the East-West All-Star game. In 1942 he would appear in the 2nd and last Monarchs NLWS win. Paiges pitching in the series could be said to have ensured the sweep of the Washington-Homestead Grays. He pitched in all 4 games, pitching for 16 innings and striking out 18 batters.
The next 5 seasons with the Monarchs saw Paige removed from the 1944 East-West All-Star game, lose the 1946 NLWS against the Newark Eagles, and travel with Bob Feller on a baseball tour around the United States.
Into the Majors
On July 7th 1948, Satchel Paige signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians and made his pitching debut in the majors on July 9th, unfortunately, the Indians lost the game 4-1 to the St.Louis Browns. His first win came 6 days later on July 15th. Paige ended the 1948 season with 6-1 w-l (.857%) and an ERA of 2.48. However the 1949 season would not be so good, he finished the season with a losing record and was eventually released.
Some of the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs, Satchel Paige is far right.
Paige would again play in the majors, but not until 1951 when he was signed by the St.Louis Browns. He ended the season with 3-4 record and an ERA of 4.79. The 1952 season was an improvement over 1951, Paige finished with a 12-10 record and an ERA of 3.07. In 1953 he appeared in the All-Star game but finished with a losing record for the season winning only 3 games and losing 9, although he did have an ERA of 3.53. This was not, however, enough to keep him in the team and he was released at the end of the season.
Satchel Paige appeared in only one more Major League game. It was on Sept 25th 1965, he was 59 years old, he pitched for only 3 innings and when he finally walked off the field he was met with a standing ovation.
Leroy Robert ‘Satchel’ Paige died in 1982, he was laid to rest Forest Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Kansas City.
Kansas City Monarchs – The Facts
The Kansas City Monarchs won the NNL I/NAL league championship 12 times:
1923, 1924, 1925, 1929, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1953 and 1957
And won the NLWS twice in 1924 and 1942.
Of all the players that have worn a Monarchs shirt, thirteen have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:
- 1962 – Jackie Robinson
- 1971 – Satchel Paige
- 1974 – Cool Papa Bell
- 1977 – Ernie Banks
- 1996 – Bill Foster
- 1998 – Bullet Rogan
- 2000 – Turkey Stearnes
- 2001 – Hilton Smith
- 2006 – Willard Brown
- 2006 – Andy Cooper
- 2006 – Jose Mendez
- 2006 – Cristobal Torriente
- 2006 – J.L.Wilkinson (Founder)
The Kansas City Monarchs moved to the Negro Americal League in 1937, this ceased operation in 1962, and the Monarchs played up until 1965, mostly as a barnstorming team.
More than 140 players have played for the Kansas City Monarchs over its 45 years history. It was the determination and skill of players like these from all around the Negro League that eventually led the way to baseball integration. Jackie Robinson started this movement, but many have followed and will continue to follow in his footsteps.