Great pitching boosted Monarchs
1942 Kansas City team named third best in history
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.
C.J. Moore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.