Should teams like Cleveland of baseball’s American League and Washington of the National Football League consider changing their names to names formerly used by Negro League teams? Why not, it has happened before. The American League Kansas City Royals are the best example.
Over 30 years ago in 1985, I penned this story for The Kansas City Call newspaper, a historic Black publication in the Midwest. My mission was to continue informing the public about the accomplishments of the underappreciated Negro Leagues. At the time there was no museum and very few books to support, or substantiate my efforts. My story involved the American League Kansas City Royals and how they were named. I sat at my typewriter and completed this article for the May 10, 1985 edition of The Kansas City Call newspaper. Below are a few excerpts from that original article.
Kansas City has a history of names that signify leadership. There was the Monarchs of the Negro National League, and the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League. At that same time Kansas City had an annual October event name the American Royal Parade. Jump forward to the year 1968, the same year the Athletics moved from Kansas City to Oakland, California. For the first time since the turn-of-the century Kansas City found itself without a professional baseball franchise. Shortly thereafter through the pioneering efforts of Ewing Kauffman, Kansas City was selected as an expansion American League team and scheduled to begin play with the start of the 1969 season. A contest was held to see who could create a clever name for the new American League team. If anyone submitted the name Monarchs, I’m sure it was given little to no consideration. The name Monarchs clearly signified an African-American team. When the name Royals was submitted it caught the committee’s attention. The name Royals signified European leadership and there was local recognition of the name connected to the annual parade.
Therefore, the name Kansas City Royals was selected. To most, the name was bright and original. Exactly how original was the name? There were many African-American fans of baseball around the city who would gladly give the actual origin of the Royals name, but no one asked.
Baseball history takes us back to 1917, when baseball pioneer Ben Powell, born June 2, 1882 in Houston, Texas, relocated to Kansas City and organized the first Royals team. They were an all African-American unit. Powell, a former player himself, began his baseball career in Austin, Texas around 1908 as a catcher for the Austin Red Juniors. After his arrival in Kansas City, he worked as a Janitor and managed his team on the side operating as both the owner and manager. They were a championship semi-professional outfit from the beginning.
Powell had great ambitions for his team. He was in baseball long enough to see some of those dreams fulfilled. No other semi-professional manager in Kansas City had trained such a large number of professional ball players for the Negro National League. Edward “Eddie” Dwight, formerly of the Kansas City Monarchs was a shortstop on Powell’s 1920 team. Rube Tyree from nearby Liberty, Missouri, who later pitched for the 1920 Chicago American Giants, started his career with the Royals. Another one of Powell’s prized recruits was Herlen Ragland of Kansas City, who played with several Negro League teams including the Columbus Buckeyes in 1921. Theodore Stockard who played shortstop with the Cleveland Tate Stars in 1927 was another Kansas City Royals’ product. Roosevelt “Chappie” Gray, the comedic catcher from Kansas City, Kansas also got his start with Powell’s Royals.
In 1925, a big time local gambler named Piney Brown, who was later the subject of Big Joe Turner’s “Piney Brown Blues,” a song written and recorded in 1940, acquired team from Powell. Brown kept the Royals name alive for several more years. Through his association with the Royals, George Giles ended up as the starting first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1927 after playing one season with Brown's Kansas City Royals. In 1928, Brown changed the team’s name to the Royal American Giants and moved the operation to Marshall, Missouri ending the local reign of the original Kansas City Royals.
Ben Powell the originator of the Kansas City Royals was held in the highest of regard. The Kansas City Call acknowledged, “Everybody who knows anything about semi-professional baseball knows of the K.C. Royals. And when one thinks of the club, one’s mind instinctively thinks of Ben Powell.”
I’m nearly certain that Ewing Kauffman, his associates, and all the others that agreed to name the new American League team the Kansas City Royals, had never heard of Ben Powell. Powell died in Kansas City, Missouri on July 24, 1954 without realizing his contribution to major league baseball history and the name for which he should always be connected.