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02/13/07 10:00 AM ET
Great pitching boosted Monarchs
1942 Kansas City team named third best in history
By C.J. Moore / Special to MLB.com
With Nos. 5 and 4 decided, here is No. 3 on the list of greatest teams in the history of black baseball. Few argue about the quality of this ballclub's deep pitching staff. It featured Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith, who might have been the best one-two combination in the history of baseball. With Buck O'Neil's and Willard Brown's bats in the lineup every day, the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs also boasted plenty of offensive firepower to complement Paige and Smith. Here is the Monarchs' story. In 1942, just before World War II and integration would water down the talent pool in the Negro Leagues, businessman J.L. Wilkinson assembled the best Kansas City Monarchs team in the history of the storied franchise. Wilkinson's Monarchs had three future Hall of Famers and six All-Stars. A year later, the nucleus of his team would be spread across the world. Four of the '42 All-Stars left to fight the war, while six Monarchs left in all. Q.J. Gilmore, the team's traveling secretary and a frequent contributor to the Kansas City Call, wrote in a May 1942 article that this Monarchs team was the "best team in nearly a decade. Team has youth -- balance." Negro Leagues historian Phil Dixon agreed. "That team right there is the last great Monarch team prior to the war," said Dixon. In '42, the Negro Leagues World Series returned after a 15-year absence, which gave the leagues their first true champion since 1927. "For years, teams would use the world championship banner loosely, and usually it would be the Homestead Grays or the Monarchs who really used it a lot," Dixon said. "So this was a way of settling that." And the '42 Series was worth the long wait. Wilkinson's Monarchs played Cum Posey's Homestead Grays in a best-of-seven series. At the time, the Grays featured three Hall of Famers: catcher Josh Gibson, first baseman Buck Leonard and third baseman Jud Wilson. The Monarchs' lineup, however, wasn't as feared, even with Brown. "Willard Brown could rival Josh Gibson any day of the week," Dixon said. Yet it was Gibson and the Grays who were labeled the clear-cut favorite, even in Kansas City. Two lefty Roys -- Roy Partlow and Roy Welmaker -- led the Grays pitching staff, and Call sports editor Sam McKibben wrote that the Monarchs would struggle against them. McKibben predicted the Monarchs would win a game or so, but the Series would go to Homestead. Satchel Paige had something else in mind. In Washington, D.C., Paige pitched the first game for Kansas City, and he shut out the Grays on two hits. The less-heralded Monarchs lineup beat up on Welmaker, scoring eight runs on 14 hits. For Game 2, Partlow and Smith started at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The Monarchs' lineup again outscored the Grays, 8-4. Game 3 was played at Yankee Stadium, as it was common practice for the Negro Leagues to play their World Series games in other ballparks. Paige started again in Game 3, and he not only beat the Grays, he toyed with them. As the legend goes, Paige intentionally walked the bases loaded at one point in the game so he could face Gibson, an old teammate. Paige then proceeded to tell Gibson he was going to throw him three straight fastballs. He did just that, and Gibson struck out.
The Series went on to Kansas City, where Posey tried to prevent the sweep by bringing in ringers, a common practice of the time, said Brian Carroll, a professor at Berry College and an authority on black baseball. Posey added four players. Three came from the Newark Eagles -- Hall of Fame pitcher Leon Day, left fielder Lennie Pearson and right fielder Ed Stone -- and one from the Philadelphia Stars -- shortstop James "Buster" Clarkson.
Because of the roster additions, the Monarchs played the game under protest. The Monarchs would lose the game, 4-1, but the league upheld their protest, which wiped away the loss.
"The Grays probably did it a little too much," said Carroll of the practice of using ringers. "They probably indulged themselves more than the norm, which got the Monarchs all upset."
The Series then went on to Philadelphia. In Shibe Park, Monarchs manager Frank Duncan decided to go with Paige again to try for the sweep. One problem: The game was about to start, but Paige was nowhere to be found.
Without Paige to turn to, Duncan went with Jack Matchett, and the Monarchs fell behind early, 5-2.
Right before the fourth inning, Paige showed up. He said he had been arrested for speeding in Lancaster, Pa., on his way to the game and was fined $3.
Upon arrival, Paige immediately entered the game and held the Grays scoreless the rest of the way. The Monarchs came back to win, 9-5, and swept a Series in which they were only supposed to win "a game or so."
In '42, the Monarchs played more than 100 games, but they played only 15 at home. Famous for their barnstorming, the Monarchs made more money playing on the road than they did in Kansas City, though the city supported the franchise well. When the Monarchs were in town, the city treated their games like the circus: They were a really big show.
"People dressed up in their bests to go to the ballgames," said Dewie Alexander, a former batboy and the lone living member of the '42 team. "You didn't see any jeans."
What made the Monarchs a big drawing card was Paige, the ultimate showman. His mouth never stopped running, and he never stopped entertaining.
While the people came to see Paige, he might not have been the team's best pitcher. That label belonged to his usual reliever, which was Smith. Paige often pitched three innings, and Smith would come to finish the game. It was a business move, because fans would get their Satchel, and the Monarchs would get their win.
"It's an oft-told story that 'Double Duty' Radcliffe would say you better get your hits off Satchel because when Hilton comes in, you're not going to get anything," said Raymond Doswell, curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "That's how good he was."
From 1939-42, Smith was the best the game had to offer. He went 93-11 over those four seasons, with his best year coming in 1941, when he went 25-1. He won 20 or more games in each of his 12 seasons with the Monarchs.
"From 1940 to 1946, Hilton Smith might have been the greatest pitcher in the world," the late Buck O'Neil said in Janet Bruce's book "The Kansas City Monarchs."
It bothered Smith, a Hall of Famer, that he didn't receive the attention he deserved.
"I took my baseball serious; I just went out there to do a job," Smith said in "Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues." "But Satchel was an attraction. He'd produce and clown a lot. I guess it really hurt me."
Yet Smith's role on the '42 Monarchs was every bit as important as Paige's. Together, they made the '42 Monarchs great, but they wouldn't have been able to carry the team alone. They got plenty of help from O'Neil, Brown, right fielder Ted Strong, catcher Joe Greene, shortstop Jesse Williams and others.
A year later, they would struggle. Their top hitters went off to war, which left Smith and Paige to keep the title in Kansas City. But the Monarchs finished fourth in the Negro American League during the second half of the '43 season, according to records in the book "Only the Ball was White."
Wilkinson's Monarchs would not return to the Series until 1947, when they lost to the Newark Eagles. But it wasn't the same Negro Leagues in '47, and it certainly wasn't the great Monarchs team of '42.
Tuesday, Feb. 19: No. 2
C.J. Moore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.