How the Kansas City Monarchs became the city’s favorite sports team in the 1920s

Photo of the Kansas City Monarchs. Currie, Donaldson, Blattner, Crawford, Carr and Moore are identified in the image. Photo provided by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc.

The Kansas City Sun’s front-page headline on Saturday, June 5, 1920, was undeniable: “K.C. BASEBALL CRAZY.”

“The Kansas City Monarchs, famous at once, represent us, and have already become the pride of local fans, both colored and white,” wrote Chas. A. Starks.

A hundred years ago, Kansas City was home to a charter member of the Negro National League. Baseball was segregated at the time, and Starks’ “represent us” statement nodded specifically to readership of the black-owned newspaper.

By that Christmas, the Sun was able to declare the craziness here to stay.

“Kansas City proved to be the best Negro baseball city in the League,” read an article in the Sun’s Christmas Day edition. “Negro baseball is here to stay. One hundred thousand White and Negro fans attended the Monarch games at Association Park the past season without the least bit of friction. Baseball used to be a barroom game, but it is now a social function.”

Before the founding of the Negro National League, African-American players on barnstorming teams were generally treated badly by team owners and booking agents.

Chicago American Giants manager Rube Foster changed this dynamic. He met with a Midwest coalition of black team owners on February 13, 1920, in a Kansas City YMCA. J.L. Wilkinson, founder of the Kansas City Monarchs, attended the meeting as the only white team owner.

The Sun faithfully covered the Monarchs while the Kansas City Star didn’t cover the Negro National League’s foundation or the Monarch’s debut.

The Monarchs had a lot of success, far outperforming the white team with whom they shared Muehlebach Field, capturing ten pennants and winning the first Negro League World Series in 1924.

Famous players on the Monarchs roster included pitchers Charles Wilber “Bullet Joe” Rogan and Satchel Paige. Monarchs shortstop Jackie Robinson broke the major league baseball color barrier in 1947 and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Monarchs’ thirty-year run was the longest of any Negro Leagues team, and the club sent more players into the big leagues than any other.

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