“…1942 was my favorite year…the best team I ever played with. Someone once asked Newt Joseph who he would take with him if he could play in the majors, and Newt replied, ‘The whole Monarchs team.’ That’s the way I felt about the ’42 Monarchs. I do believe we could have given the New York Yankees a run for their money that year.”
–Buck O’Neil, I Was Right On Time.
The 1942 Negro Leagues World Series was a baseball dream come true.
It had everything that you would ask for from a Fall Classic. In total, seven Hall of Famers took to the diamond. You want a great match-up between a pitcher and hitter? 1942 had that with Satchel Paige versus Josh Gibson. You want controversy? 1942 had that too. Try this one on for size. One team is getting manhandled and so what do they do? They recruit players from other teams to come play – no joke! Want another one? Five different stadiums opened their gates and not one official win was recorded in Kansas City.
The Kansas City Monarchs came into the World Series from the West and the Homestead Grays from the East. It was the first time since 1927 that the East and West met after the collapse of the Colored Eastern League. Sometimes you don’t always get the best two teams playing for a championship. That was not the case in 1942.
Kansas City was good. I mean GOOD. Kansas City won more than 70-percent of their games in 1942 and won their fifth Negro American League tile in six seasons. Not to be outdone, the Grays fielded a team loaded with huge bats and names. Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard led Homestead who had beaten Monarchs ace Paige twice in extra innings in the preseason.
Kansas City jumped out to a quick one game to none lead in the series after getting great pitching performances from Jack Matchett and Satchel Paige holding the powerful Grays to just two hits en route to an 8-0 win. The Monarchs scored runs every inning from the sixth frame on aided by six Homestead errors.
Paige took the mound in relief again in Game 2. The Monarchs led 2-0 and would increase that bulge to 5-0 before the Grays would get on the board for the first time in the series scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth. Kansas City would tack on three more runs in the ninth and would increase it’s World Series lead to 2-0 with an 8-4 win. What many remember from this contest was the crafty Paige getting out of a bases loaded jam by striking out Gibson on three-pitches.
Game three in New York’s Yankee Stadium saw a role reversal. Satchel Paige started the game but was relieved by Matchett after just nine-batters and giving up a two-run blast to Howard Easterling. It was the first Gray lead of the series. Kansas City went on to score nine runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series with a 9-3 win.
Things would get odd- to put it lightly – before Game 4 would officially get in the books. Seventy-one years later, it’s still difficult to believe or describe.
Here goes – it was common practice to schedule a second game to form a doubleheader as weather, stadium availability and other factors came in to play. So Game 4 would be played right after the Monarchs Game 3 win. It would be counted as an exhibition and the Monarchs won easily 5-0. I don’t understand it to this day. A game that doesn’t count in the middle of a World Series just seems crazy.
You thought that was nuts? A WEEK later (and you thought TV schedules extended series these days!) the Grays and Monarchs would battle once again. This time in Kansas City’s Ruppert Stadium as the home team tried to wrap things up in front of the home crowd.
The Grays were a MASH unit with several players banged up. So Homestead signed players from the Philadelphia Stars and Newark Eagles – namely pitcher Leon Day to play for the Grays the remainder of the series. Kansas City played the game under protest and day held them to just one run as Homestead won their first game of the series 4-1. But in going with this story, it did not count and another game was scheduled as a committee formed by members of both leagues upheld the Monarchs protest.
Monarchs secretary and business manager William “Dizzy” Dismukes stated “We didn’t play the Homestead Grays. We lost to the National League All-Stars.”
The final game of this most unusual and talent laden series took place in Philadelphia after originally being scheduled in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Weather moved the contest to Shibe Park and the Monarchs starting pitcher Satchel Paige was MIA. Once again Joe Matchett was called upon to start the game and struggled giving up five unearned runs in 3 2/3 innings. Paige, after being stopped for speeding (can’t make this stuff up) immediately relieved Matchett once he arrived at the stadium. Paige held the Grays scoreless the rest of the way as Kansas City would battle back finally taking the lead with two-runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to win the game 9-5 and the series four games to none.
The 1942 title would be the last for the Monarchs while the Grays would return to the World Series the next two seasons winning them both. In honor of this incredible story we have released a commemorative t-shirt in tribute to the 1942 World Champion Monarchs team that can be found online and inside the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. If you have a chance to get down to the museum on 18th and Vine, swing by the gift shop and pick one up.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)