The 2023 baseball season has begun. This summer there will be plenty of opportunities to revisit baseball's oldest rivalries, and there are plenty to choose from. In the major leagues, the New Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs versus the Chicago White, and the San Francisco Giants vs. the Dodgers are some of the oldest rivalries. One rivalry you won't be hearing much about is occurring in the American Association. This rivalry is nearly 100 years old. The teams are the Kansas City Monarchs and Sioux Falls Canaries who began playing each other in 1931.
Both teams eventually went out of business, but now these storied franchises are back, well “kinda-sorta.” You see, the Monarchs were an African American franchise, charter members of the Negro National League that operated out of Kansas City from 1920 to 1955. Rex Stucker's Sioux Falls Canaries were a non-African American team he owned continuously from 1930 to 1953 in innumerable versions of the Nebraska State League, the Northern League, and Western minor Leagues. The Monarchs of 2023 are no longer members of any Negro League organization, and the Canaries are no longer an all-white team. And while neither team is the same as in the 1930s, there are enough similarities to warrant a conversation about their rivalry.
The two teams started playing each other in 1931, but Sioux Falls never played the Monarchs in Kansas City. As a barnstorming unit traveling around the upper Midwest, the Monarchs always went to Sioux Falls. In 1933, the teams also played at Hampton, Iowa drawing crowds of 3,500 fans. During the 1930s these fans, although in the grip of a prolonged depressed economy, happily plucked down quarters, fifty-cent pieces, and even dollars to see the two teams in action.
The Monarchs won most of these games. It should come as no great surprise because they were major-league players. Barred from participating in the National, American, and minor leagues all over the country forced owners J.L. Wilkinson and T.Y. Baird to place their African American team in the Negro National League. Baird operated his version of the Monarchs from his home in Kansas City, Kansas, the current home of the American Association Kansas City Monarchs.
During the 1920s, the original Kansas City Monarchs often barnstormed into Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota. With the Negro Leagues' total collapse in 1930, the Monarchs became an all-exclusive barnstorming unit. With a roster that featured such stars as Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Willie Wells, Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, John W. Donaldson, Andy Cooper, and Willie Foster they were a formidable squad. Although, not recognized as Hall of Famer players at the time, Stearnes, Bell, Wells, Cooper, Rogan, and Foster are today enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. Kansas City bested the Canaries in the rivalry’s opening game.
On July 22, 1931, the Monarchs captured a 12-5 lopsided win before a crowd of 1,400 the first time the two teams met. In that game, Carroll "Dink" Mothell and Donaldson had a trio of hits as pitchers; Cooper and Charlie Beverly hurled the team to victory over Canaries’ “Lefty” Beckwith. The two teams battled at Sioux Falls' Elmwood Park in a season-ending doubleheader. Sioux Falls captured 11-7 and a 2-1 win in 1931, beating Hall of Famer Willie Foster in twelve innings to edge the Monarchs by a run. Foster struck out ten in his losing effort. In the Canaries' 11-7 victory, Ralph Brandon hit a home run and a triple before a crowd of 1,100 cash customers. Having split their four-game series in 1931, the series continued in 1932.
On August 4, 1932, the Monarchs and Canaries met at Sioux Falls' American Legion Field. That night the speedy "Cool Papa" Bell of the Monarchs stole three bases. George Giles went 4-for-5 with a double as Bert Hunter pitched Kansas City to an 8-3 win. The teams also met the following year.
In 1933, the teams battled in Hampton, Iowa on July 19th. Kansas City captured a big 16-5 win that night when pitcher Chet Brewer limited Canaries batters to ten hits. George Giles, Newt Allen, Frank Duncan, and "Bullet" Rogan had a trio of hits each in the game. The large crowds that attended the Monarchs/Canaries games in Sioux Falls and Hampton saved the Canaries' franchise in the 1930s. These exhibition games were of immense importance to both teams.
Like the Monarchs of 1931-1933, the Monarchs of 2023 have a Kansas City, Kansas connection, and the Canaries still represent Sioux Falls. Both teams are members of the American Association. When the Canaries arrive in Kansas City on May 19, 2023, for a three-game series, there will be a renewal of a rivalry that started 92 years ago, well, "kinda-sorta." Who knows, maybe there's a future Hall of Famer in the park this weekend.