Celebrating Jackie’s Legacy (Part Two)

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: April 16, 2009

Jackie Robinson KANSAS CITY — While Jackie Robinson was the first, he wasn’t the only Negro Leaguer to break racial barriers in the Major Leagues. The following is a list of his fellow Kansas City Monarchs who helped integrate Major League Baseball:

Hank Thompson: The versatile Thompson played parts of four seasons with the Monarchs (1943, 1946-48) primarily at third base and holds the distinction of breaking barriers on two Major League teams and in both the American League (AL) and National League (NL). Thompson left the Monarchs and took the field with the St. Louis Browns (AL) on July 17, 1947. On July 4, 1949, Thompson became the first Black to play for the New York Giants (NL). In the 1951 World Series, Thompson, Monte Irvin and Willie Mays (all former Negro League players) formed the first all-Black starting outfield in Major League Baseball history.

Ernie Banks: Before he became known as “Mr. Cub” and an eventual Hall of Fame shortstop, Banks played shortstop for the Monarchs for two seasons (1950 &53). He became the first Black player for the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 17, 1953 taking the field with the Cubs three days before former Monarch Gene Baker joined him. The two Monarchs would form the Major’s first Black double play combination. In 1954, Banks and Baker were both named to the The Sporting News all-rookie team. While both players became wildly popular in Chicago, Banks would have a stellar career slugging 512 home runs. Banks was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Elston Howard: A native of St. Louis, MO, Howard joined the Monarchs in 1948 as a 19-year-old outfielder and played with the team for three years before signing with the New York Yankees in 1950. The Yankees converted him to a catcher. After several productive years in the Minor Leagues, Howard became the first Black player to take the field with the Yankees on April 15, 1955 and got a hit in his first plate appearance. Howard also homered in his first at bat in the ’55 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1960, Howard assumed the majority of the catching duties from legendary Yankee Yogi Berra and in 1961 had a breakout season hitting .348 with 21 home runs and 77 RBI.In 1963, Howard was named the AL Most Valuable Player, becoming the first Black player to win the MVP honors in the AL.

John Kennedy: Kennedy played shortstop for the Monarchs in 1956 before having his contract sold to the Philadelphia Phillies that same season. A superb fielder, Kennedy had led the Negro League American League in hitting for much of the ’56 season. On April 22, 1957, Kennedy became the Phillies first Black player entering the game in the eighth inning as a pinch runner in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. While Kennedy earned a place in baseball history, his Major League career was brief as he played in just five games with the Phillies and recorded only two plate appearances before being sent back to the Minors. He retired from baseball three years later.

John “Buck” O’Neil: With the exception of Kennedy, all the players on this list played for O’Neil, who began managing the Monarchs in 1948. At the end of the 1955 season, O’Neil joined the Chicago Cubs as a scout. He traveled throughout the South searching for talented African American baseball players and is credited with bringing formidable talents such as Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Oscar Gamble, Lee Smith, and Joe Carter to the Cubs. In 1962, the Cubs named O’Neil the first Black coach in Major League Baseball history. Sadly, O’Neil never got the opportunity to coach on the field, which he says was one of the few disappointments he had in his more than 70 years in the game.

NEXT: Robinson’s history in the Negro Leagues.