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KANSAS CITY BLUES VS. THE KANSAS CITY KANSAS GIANTS - Phil S. Dixon

Forty+ years ago, a 94-year-old gentleman named Fred Langford introduced me to the Kansas City Kansas Giants. I loved baseball, and this history interested me on many levels. Mr. Langford, a former ball player himself, was very familiar with the names of the local Giants’ players and provided lots of insight on this team.[1] I dedicate the remembrance of this little-known interracial baseball series to him.

The all-white Kansas City Blues, under the management of Dan Shay, were coming off a 94-70 record and a second-place American Association finish in the league’s regular season. Members of the Blues needed extra cash to tide them over for the winter. They needed the money that an exhibition series could provide which resulted in the scheduling of a three-game set against the all-black Kansas City Kansas Giants in October of 1911. The Giants were an independent operation formed exclusively of African American players. They belonged to no league and were not a member of the National Association of professional baseball teams. Their schedule was a regional mix of games played against rival African American opponents. They claimed no titles or championships. One newspaper felt confident enough to call them the "Champion Negro baseball team of [the] Missouri Valley.”[2] An interracial series of this magnitude wasn’t allowed without permission from the National Association. That consent was given to the Blues in early October and noted in the Kansas City Journal:

Word was received yesterday from Secretary Frank Farrell of the National Association giving the Blues the privilege of playing the Kansas City Kansas Giants the best negro team in America at Association Park Saturday and Sunday.[3]

Over 5,000 people were expected at each game. As preparation for the much anticipated interracial tussle intensified, an article in the Kansas City Times titled, “Blues and Giants Play Twice,” was the appeal to purchase tickets. There was no shortage of interest among spectators for interracial sporting events. To assure publically that these games were serious business another article lamented:

The Blues are practically intact and will put as strong a line-up as possible in the field. [Nick] Maddox or [Lou] Fiene probably will pitch the first game, with [Bill] Powell or ‘Manager’ Rhoades for the second and [Chester] Brandom and [Harry] Siebert, with the useful and humorous Nicholas Altrock to fall back on in case the smokes get to hitting.[4]

The Times also offered a bit of promotion for the Kansas City Kansas Giants in an article that used the word “negro” no less than twice. There was no mention of the Blues being an all-white team. That was a given. By utilizing terms like “smokes,” and “dusky,” to describe the Giants, the Times was infusing coded racial bias into the reporting when none was needed. “Bad Eye” Jackson and Andrew Skinner were said to be the Giants’ choice for the series’ pitching assignment. Much more could have been said before the series started.

There were some prominent baseball figures among the Blues. William Joseph “Jap” Barbeau (1882-1969) a former member of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis in the majors was to manage the Blues during the exhibition series. He had been featured on baseball cards and was well-known to the baseball world. Left-handed throwing Nicolas Altrock (1876-1965) had won 19 games for the 1904 White Sox. He followed that season with a 23-12 record in 1905 and duplicated the feat by finishing with a 20-13 record in 1906 for these same White Sox.

The Kansas City Kansas Giants were a cast of unrecognized ballplayers with very little local and practically no national recognition, except for perhaps two individuals. Texan Otto Bolden (1880-1930), the Giants’ catcher was the brother-in-law of World Champion boxer Jack Jackson. Bolden had married Jack’s sister Lucy during the winter of 1909 at the Chicago home of her famous brother.[5] The Giants’ manager, “Topeka Jack,” Johnson, real name John Thomas Johnson (1883-1940), formerly of the Chicago Union Giants, doubled as a professional boxer with a regional reputation. He was not related in any way to the World Champion boxer Jack Johnson.


Hurley McNair - Kansas City Blues - 1911


A Saturday rain shower forced promoters to cancel the game on that day and schedule two games for the day after. The doubleheader opened at 1:50 p.m. sharp, just after church on Sunday, October 8, 1911. It was a cool afternoon and the field was damp from the previous day’s rain. Temperatures that day showed a high of 54 degrees. Game one was a pitcher’s battle between Bill Powell and Bill Norman that went into extra innings. The victory eventually went to the Blues, but the Journal informed its readers that the “Blues had no easy pickings.”[6] The Giants came out slugging, outhitting the Blues in both games. The same newspaper said, “The attendance was not in accordance with the class of ball played, but this was undoubtedly due to the weather conditions.”[7]

Powell (1885-1967), formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates and later the Chicago Cubs mowed down Giant after Giant in rapid succession. He struck out 13 and did not walk any batters. He allowed eight hits. Powell’s strikeouts hadn’t stopped the Giants who were leading 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Norman had been pitching just as strong, minus the strikeouts, allowing just two hits. His teammates were hitting for extra bases. Norman and Oscar Moss (1880-1967) had doubled; Robert “Ginney” Robinson added a triple. The Blues had obtained no extra-base hits up to this point. In the ninth inning, catcher Tony James homered over the right field fence to tie the game at 2-2, setting the stage for extra innings. The Giants eventually lost, when three consecutive singles and an error gave the Blues a one-run advantage in the tenth inning. Norman ended the game with a 5-hitter, with three of those hits coming in the destructive final inning.

Game two, which started directly after the opener, pitted Hurley McNair (1888-1948) for the Giants against Harry Seibert for the Blues. Seibert allowed five hits, walked none, and was pulled out of several tight spots by double plays behind him. McNair was the better pitcher. He allowed just one “scratch” hit, a single by “Spike” Shannon.[8] Darkness and the length of the first game forced the umpire to stop the second game after 7 innings with the pitchers engaged in a 0-0 battle. The Topeka Plaindealer a minority weekly boasted, “The Giants showed no yellow streak, but played a brilliant game.”[9] Later that night it was decided that a play-off be scheduled for the day after to satisfy the tie ending.

When the teams returned on Monday for the series finale, the action on the diamond was competitive. The Blues’ led by pitchers Altrock and Maddox, who struck out seven and walked none, gave the Blues an 8-2 victory. Their batters got the better of Harry “Rube” Washington and McNair who combined for two strikeouts and three walks. Despite these advantages, the Blues were outhit 9 to 6 in actual play.

Although defeated in the series, the Kansas City Kansas Giants demonstrated that their skills had advanced to the level of competition offered by American Association teams. The giants’ batting reigned supreme as they logged five extra-base hits, while the Blues collected three, which included a pair of doubles and a home run. The series' official scorers credited Giants’ batters with 22 hits and a .227 team batting percentage. The American Association Blues obtained a mere 12 hits in the s as a team and batted a wrenching .141. And, there was more to be considered.

Eight (8) men, or 57% of the 14 players that participated in the three-game for the Blues, were former major leaguers. Additionally, five (5) men, or 36% were future major leaguers, and one (1) man played in the majors during the 1911 season. Altogether, 71% of the Blues’ roster performed in the American or National Leagues before retiring from professional baseball. Of those that performed in the National or American Leagues, a list comprised of; Rockenfield, Downey, Schaller, Corriden, and Barbeau, each finished with a .250 or less lifetime batting average. O'Connor at .263 and Shannon at .259 were the only players to bat above .250 lifetime.

The Plaindealer, in sheer optimism, demanded that organized white professional baseball “Give the Negro only half a chance.”[10] Encouraged by what they had witnessed, the progressives at the Plaindealer couldn’t have predicted that another 35 years would pass before Jackie Robinson would play in the minors! Meanwhile, writers of baseball history in newspapers, magazines, books, and eventually radio would continue with the problematic false narrative that the greatest baseball players in America were white.

[1] A photograph of Mr. Langford can be located on page 117 of my book, The Negro Baseball Leagues, A Photographic History. [2] Negroes Surprise in Great National Game,” Topeka Plaindealer, 13 October 1911, 1. [3] “Blues Beat Leavenworth; Play Indian Team Today,” Kansas City Journal, 5 October 1911. [4] “Blues And Giants Play Twice,” Kansas City Times, 8 October 1911. [5] “Marries Jack’s Sister,” Tulsa World, 02 September 1920, 1. [6] “Win In Tenth, 3-2 And Tie Next, 0-0,” Kansas City Journal, 9 October 1911. [7] “Win In Tenth, 3-2 And Tie Next, 0-0,” Kansas City Journal, 9 October 1911. [8] “Win In Tenth, 3-2 And Tie Next, 0-0,” Kansas City Journal, 9 October 1911. [9] Negroes Surprise in Great National Game,” Topeka Plaindealer, 13 October 1911, 1. [10] Negroes Surprise in Great National Game,” Topeka Plaindealer, 13 October 1911, 1.

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