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A Memorable Classic
While Hitler ruled in Germany, American soldiers participated in the infamous “Bataan Death March”.
A obscure low-budget movie called “Casablanca” made its debut that year as well.
In the majors, the St. Louis Cardinals won a club record 106 games en route to the National League pennant and a 4-1 World Series triumph over the Yankees.
For fans of Negro League baseball, the summer of ’42 was one of the most memorable seasons of all-time. The Kansas Monarchs dominated the West, winning the Negro American League crown with a 28-10 mark.
In the East, the Homestead Grays (21-11) outlasted the Baltimore Elite Giants to win the Negro National League, their sixth straight pennant. It would lead to a classic World Series showdown between two of black baseball’s glamor franchises.
A DOMINATING STAFF
The Monarchs got a stellar season from catcher Joe Greene, who was named the East’s Fleet Walker award winner. A starter in the East-West All-Star Classic, Greene led KC in batting average (.366) and was second to teammate Willard Brown in homers.
But Greene also helped anchor one of the greatest pitching staffs in baseball history. To no one’s surprise, it was led by Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, who finished 7-5 that season.
Right handers Booker McDaniel (6-0), Jack Matchett (8-2), and Hilton Smith (4-3) were among the other starters along with an 18-year old phenom named Connie Johnson.
He went 4-0 during his brief run with the big club.
Just how dominate was this staff? Matchett (1.56 ERA), McDaniel (1.76), and Paige (1.95) finished 1-2-3 in the league’s ERA race. Paige, who was named to the All-Star Classic, also led the league in strikeouts.
A FIGHT TO THE FINISH
While the Monarchs’ staff got all the hype, the Grays’ pitchers weren’t slouches. Knuckleballer Raymond Brown led the staff with a 13-4 record while his 1.29 ERA was the best in the West.
Left hander Roy Partlow also went 7-1 for the Grays that year.At the plate, the Grays offense was led by Josh Gibson.
The Hall of Fame catcher literally carried Homestead during the season. After playing the previous two years in Mexico, Gibson came back to reek havoc against Negro League pitching.
His 14 homers led the league while he finished fourth in the batting race with a .347 clip and was named a starter for the East in the All-Star Classic. The Grays took the East pennant by three games over Baltimore.
THE FALL CLASSIC
Just before the series started, Monarch shortstop Jesse Williams made a friendly bet with Gibson that he’d have more hits in the series than the slugger. Williams would prove to be prophetic about his performance and the series outcome.
In Game One, Paige and Matchett combined on a two-hit shutout as the Monarchs blanked the Grays 8-0. Two days later, K.C. would take a 2-0 series lead with an 8-4 win behind the pitching of Smith and Paige.
Paige relieved Smith which led to one of the most memorable confrontations in Negro League history. Nursing a four-run lead and with a man on in the ninth, Paige called out manager Frank Duncan and his infielders.
He said he was going to intentionally walk the next two batters, loading the bases to face of all people — Josh Gibson. Despite the protests of Duncan, his teammates, and even team owner J.L. Wilkinson, Paige was adamant about facing his ex-teammate in this situation.
Then came the confrontation. First pitch, a sidearm fastball that whizzed by Gibson for strike one. Pitch two was another fastball that hit the outside corner for strike two.
Finally, Gibson dug in ready for another fastball when Paige fooled him. Ol’ Satch threw a curve that again hit the outside corner for the strike three. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the greatest moments in baseball history.
The Monarchs went on to win the series in five games. Paige pitched in a portion of all five games, striking out 24 batters in 25 1/3 innings. Kansas City pitchers held Gibson to a .154 batting average, getting just two hits in 14 at-bats.
The light-hitting Williams, who hit .236 during the regular season, hit .471 during the series with eight hits in 17 at-bats. Williams would later say,’”He (Gibson) didn’t know what I knew. We had better pitching than they did”.
NOTE: The Complete Book Of Baseball’s Negro Leagues and the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues contributed to this article.