December 28, 2020
On a mild Chicago afternoon on Oct. 20, 1924, the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team took the field against the Hilldale Daisies in the final game of the first Negro World Series. Tied at four games apiece, both sides pitched shutouts for seven innings, until Kansas City exploded for five runs in the eighth. One newspaper called the game “one of the best ever played in Chicago by any two teams.” Prize money for the winners amounted to just under $308 per person.
The series boasted five players who are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The Monarchs’ Jose Mendez both pitched and managed the team. Center fielder Bullet Rogan had a batting average of .396, as well as an 18-6 record as a pitcher that year. Thanks to a long-overdue decision by Major League Baseball last week, these stats are now part of the Major League record.
Those players and their teammates — including greats of the sport such as Dobie Moore, Heavy Johnson and Hurley McNair — are among hundreds whose stories are told in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. This year, the museum has been commemorating the 100th anniversary of the union of eight Midwestern team owners to form the Negro National League.
The league gave structure to a loose collection of teams that would barnstorm around the country playing whomever they could, whenever they could. In the first 10 years of the league, the Monarchs won the pennant four times.
The league thrived, and others were formed for African American players in the South and in the East. Sometimes, teams would play against a local college squad. Sometimes they would take on Major Leaguers. One day in 1925, the Wichita Monrovians even played against — and beat — Lodge No. 6 of the Ku Klux Klan in Wichita.
For 40 years, the leagues showcased the incredible ability, excitement and sportsmanship of baseball icons such as Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Their talent and their example helped to broaden the appeal of baseball across the country and break down the barriers of segregation.
Earlier this month, following a yearlong effort, the Negro Leagues Baseball Centennial Commemorative Coin Act was signed into law. We were proud to work together, and with Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick, to build broad, bipartisan support for our bill that memorializes the legends of the Negro Leagues and their remarkable impact on our nation.
The new coin honors the players whose love of the game transcended race and society’s limits. Profits from the sale of the coins will help the museum preserve and share this special piece of our history.
It tells the story not just of organized baseball, but of an important part of the story of our nation. Negro League teams contributed to the development of vibrant arts, entertainment and business communities.
The story of baseball is certainly not the entire story of America. And in this pandemic year, no single museum could be expected to educate and inspire more than a small share of the people it normally reaches. But we all gain from having professionals and institutions continue to teach new generations the powerful lessons of tolerance, persistence, diversity and equality.
After the Monarchs’ decisive victory, supporters threw them a victory party at a local restaurant, while the Daisies caught an 8:30 train home to the suburbs of Philadelphia. Thanks to the work of places such as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, both teams will be remembered and celebrated for many years to come.