A Great Player And A Great Leader

By Tony McClean
Updated: November 19, 2007

Frank Duncan

Frank Duncan

NEW HAVEN, CT.— Today, we take a look back at a man who touched the lives of two future Hall of Famers. Frank Duncan, who played with Satchel Paige and would later manage Jackie Robinson, was one Black Baseball’s best players and managers.

Duncan was born on February 20, 1901 in Kansas City, Missouri. He played on semi-pro teams in St. Joseph, Missouri, and Chicago before he was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1921.

One of the top catchers in the Negro Leagues, Duncan spent most of his playing career with the Monarchs. He was their first-string catcher during their glory years of the 1920s when the team won three consecutive league championships.

Duncan was behind the plate when Kansas City beat the Hilldale Club of Philadelphia in the first Negro World Series. He was also their playing manager for most of the 1940s, when the Monarchs were again, one of the premier teams in Black baseball.

Although his hitting was modest, he was an outstanding defensive catcher, who excelled at throwing out base runners and handling pitchers.

Paige, Hilton Smith, and Bullet Joe Rogan were just a few of the great pitchers he caught during his long, 28-year career. He also ran the bases well and earned the reputation as a tough, hard-sliding player.

His best seasons came in 1929-30. After hitting just .240 for six seasons, Duncan hit .346 in 1929 while helping lead the Monarchs to the Negro National League pennant. He followed that up with a career best .372.

He was also one of the finest managers in the Negro Leagues. Duncan left the Monarchs four different times to play with teams in Chicago, New York, and Pittsburgh, but always returned to Kansas City.

He became the team’s manager in 1942, leading them to two Negro World Series appearances. He was also Jackie Robinson’s manager in 1945 before the UCLA product would go on to the majors.

In 1948, Duncan began several years as an umpire in the Negro American League and also operated a tavern in Kansas City. He was married to blues singer Julia Lee and his son, Frank Duncan Jr., was also a baseball player.

When his son joined the Monarchs in 1941, it marked the first time in sports history that a father and son appeared professionally as active players on the same team.

It wouldn’t happen again in baseball history until Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr. pulled off the feat for the Seattle Mariners in the early 1990’s.

Frank Duncan died in 1973. But the memory of his contributions to the game still live on.

NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this story.