Recently, blogger Aaron began a blog that will follow the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs from the beginning of the season to the end. I asked and he was nice enough to answer a few questions.
Before I had the idea for the blog, I was just curious about Jackie's time with the Monarchs. I wanted details about such a crucial figure playing for one of the home town teams of KC's past. When I couldn't find enough to satisfy my curiosity online or in books, I went through the Kansas City Call from 1945 on microfilm at the Kansas City library. The Call was the "black paper" and covered the Monarchs fairly well. I began building a spreadsheet of the Monarchs season from that, and added to it from other sources. Once I'd constructed the season a fair amount, I felt like I should share it in some way. I think the blog "1924 And You Are There!!" must have planted the seed for the idea of writing about the season day-by-day, as it happened. As soon as that approach occurred to me, I was excited about it. For such a celebrated player, this is one part of his career that gets glossed over sometimes. Hopefully I can shed a little light on it.
So far I've been banging the posts out the night before. I feel like I'm back in school with homework due in the morning! Ideally I'll start working ahead to give myself a cushion.
The Kansas City Call. After that it's been the Chicago Defender coverage from the time period. And I've fleshed out what I've found in those two papers with various newspaper archives available online to members of the Kansas City and Mid-Continent libraries.
Yes, one of the cool things so far has been how willing other researchers have been to help. I sent a message to the SABR email list before starting the project, and received quite a bit of info courtesy of SABR members. A couple of members are apparently actively digging for me. I've been in touch with several published Negro Leagues researchers/authors whose work I admire, and they've all been very generous with information and positive about the project, which has been a thrill for me.
I had no idea that Jackie was already something of a sports celebrity before joining the Monarchs. He had an incredible collegiate career in multiple sports at UCLA, and was on a college all-star football team that played the Chicago Bears in 1941. He was well known enough that it was big news when he joined the Monarchs. The other thing that has surprised me is how little baseball background he had before joining the Monarchs. As far as I can tell, he didn't play any baseball in the four years before joining the Monarchs, but was a standout player immediately. Then he went to AAA in 1946, tore up that league, and was the NL rookie of the year in 1947.
Well, the ones they should know are the three Hall of Famers: Jackie, Satchel and Hilton Smith (though Hilton is probably still under-appreciated). Manager/catcher of the '45 team was 44 year old Frank Duncan, a Kansas City native and Monarchs stalwart. He was with the club from 1921-34, 37 and 41-47, and also would umpire games in Kansas City after retiring. Jesse Williams had the reputation of being a phenomenal defender in the middle of the infield, and shifted from short to second to allow Jackie to play short. Williams must have mentored Jackie quite a bit in '45. Pitchers Booker McDaniels and Jim "Lefty" Lemarque rounded out a fearsome quartet of starters to go with Satchel and Hilton. Monarchs greats Buck O'Neil, Hank Thompson and Willard Brown missed the season due to military service.