Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Federal League Kansas City Packers

Home opener, April 16, 1914. The Chicago Whales, with Hall of Famer Joe Tinker at short, defeated KC 3-2.
The Federal League existed 1913-15, and Kansas City had a team in the loop for the last two and a half of those three seasons. The Fed, then and now considered an independent minor league in 1913, placed one of their original teams in Covington, KY. The Covington Blue Sox suffered from poor attendance to the point that they needed to locate mid-season. KC was their landing spot in late June, and the franchise became known alternately as the Packers and the Feds. Gordon & Koppel Field at 47th & Tracy was their home yard.

The loop declared itself a major league in 1914 and began poaching what talent they could from the American and National. The Federal is indeed considered a major league for the 1914 and '15 seasons, though the talent level lagged behind the two established majors. One of KC's additions was George Stovall, a KC native that had been a below average/above replacement level first baseman in the American League since 1904. He'd been a playing manager for the previous three seasons, a dual role that he continued for the Packers in '14 and '15. But they didn't add any awe-inspiring talent. The 1914 squad liked playing in KC alright, squeaking out a 37-36 home record, but overall went just 67-84, good for sixth place in the eight team league. The team didn't draw particularly well, and the league announced they would be relocated to Newark, NJ for 1915. But KC ownership fought back, serving a lawsuit to the league that successfully blocked the transfer.

The fans came out in much bigger numbers in 1915, putting up some of the highest attendance figures in the league. There was very little turnover on the roster, so no expectation that the Packers would make much noise in the standings. But they were a much improved team and actually held on to first place for a significant chunk of the year. They faded slightly and finished fourth with a respectable 81-72 record buoyed by their 46-31 ledger at home. It was the first winning record by a major league team in KC's history after the Unions and Cowboys never sniffed .500 in their four combined seasons in the 19th century. 1915 was also the last winning record by a major league team in KC until the 1971 Royals.

Despite the increase in attendance, the owners had gone bankrupt by the end of 1915 and the team was taken over by the league. During the '15-'16 off-season, an agreement was reached between the AL/NL and the Federal that put an end to the Fed by partially absorbing it into the AL & NL. With no ownership group left in KC, the Packers were not a part of the deal, and KC fans had to wait 40 years for the official return of major league baseball. 

Exterior of Gordon & Koppel Field

My best guess at the orientation of Gordon & Koppel Field. Assuming the game in the top photo was being played in the afternoon, the shadows would be approximately right. And baseball historian Lloyd Johnson has written that long home runs would end up in Brush Creek.



How great are those sweaters?

Sources:
"Kansas City in the Federal League" by Bob Cole in the book Unions To Royals
"Kansas City Baseball History" tour pamphlet by Lloyd Johnson
The Federal League of Baseball Clubs by Robert Peyton Wiggins

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Top 100 & KC Connections: 11—20

11. Satchel Paige • P • 1927—1965
Was the ultimate free agent, and probably played for more teams than any other player. But from 1941—47, he had a relatively steady run as a Kansas City Monarch (though he still occasionally pitched for other teams between Monarchs starts). Paige was loyal to the team after owner J.L. Wilkinson gave him a job at a time when his arm went dead in the late '30s. KC became his home for the second half of his life, and he even pitched three shutout innings for the KC A's in 1965 at the age of 59. His legacy remains strong in KC with Satchel Paige Field at Swope Parkway and 51st, Satchel Paige Elementary at Indiana and 75th, and his final resting place at Forest Hill Cemetery, Troost & Gregory.

12. Lou Gehrig • 1B • 1923—1939

Played in at least two exhibitions in KC: His Larrupin' Lou's faced the Bustin' Babe's on October 15, 1927. Gehrig and Ruth presented a refrigerator to Children's Mercy Hospital while in town. Gehrig also played in his last ever baseball game in KC on June 12, 1939. Gehrig had been inactive for six weeks due to a mysterious ailment, but gave it a go in an exhibition against the Blues to please the fans. He came to the plate once, grounded out weakly to second, and came out of the game. He left straight from KC the morning after for the Mayo Clinic, where he soon received his diagnosis of ALS.

13. Tris Speaker • CF • 1907—1928

Never played in KC that I'm aware of, but he did become heavily involved with the Blues for a brief time. Along with two partners, Speaker purchased the Blues before the '33 season. Speaker planned on being the field manager in addition to overseeing all personnel, contracts, and scouting issues. He realized quickly that it was too much, and stepped down as manager almost as soon as he started. He and his partners sold the team a couple of years later. (Info from Timothy M. Gay's book Tris Speaker.)

14. Stan Musial • OF/1B • 1941—1963

Definitely played a KC exhibition in '43, and could have played a couple of others. Also singled in his lone plate appearance at the '60 All Star Game.

15. Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander • P • 1911—1930

16. Mickey Mantle • CF • 1951—1968

Sent down to the Blues after a slow start to his rookie season in '51. The legend goes that he was ready to quit baseball until his father came to pick him up in KC and gave him a hard time about quitting. In 40 games with the Blues, crushed 11 homers and a 1.096 OPS. Returned to Municipal as a MLB visitor for 114 games (26 HRs, .983 OPS).

17. Roger Clemens • P • 1984—2007

19 games at Kauffman: 12-4, 2.05 ERA.

18. Lefty Grove • P • 1920—1941

19. Bullet Rogan • P/CF • 1915—1938

Spent much of his childhood in Kansas City, KS. Starred for the Monarchs from 1920—38 and managed them '26—'34 and '36. Also umpired home games for many years after his playing days. Buried at Blue Ridge Lawn Memorial Gardens in KC.

20. Josh Gibson • C • 1930—1946

Visited KC to face the Monarchs.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Top 100 & KC Connections: 21—30

21. Eddie Collins • 2B • 1906—1930

22. Martin Dihigo • P/IF/OF • 1923—1945

Likely made a number of trips to KC to play the Monarchs. 

23. Cy Young • P • 1890—1911

24. John Henry Lloyd • SS • 1907—1929

In addition to an unknown number of trips to KC as a visitor, suited up for the Monarchs in a post-season exhibition series against the KC Blues in 1921. The Monarchs usual shortstop, Dobie Moore, was injured, so the Monarchs brought in Lloyd. I'm not sure how Lloyd performed individually, but the Blues won the series 4-2. 

25. Randy Johnson • P • 1988—2009

Hurled 13 games at Royals/Kauffman Stadium with a 2.58 ERA and rather ridiculous 103 strikeouts in 87.1 innings.

26. Rickey Henderson • LF • 1979—2003

Played at Royals/Kauffman 95 times, more than any other stadium that he never called home. Swiped 59 bases and put up an .843 OPS (compared to a career .820).

27. Christy Mathewson • P • 1900—1916

28. Mike Schmidt • 3B • 1972—1989

MVP of the 1980 World Series, which included three games at Royals Stadium. Schmidt homered twice in those three contests.

29. Nap Lajoie • 2B • 1896—1916
Played and managed games against the Blues at KC's Association Park as a member of the Indianapolis Indians in 1918, his last year in baseball.

30. Tom Seaver • P • 1967—1986

Pitched just four regular season games (32.2 innings) at Royals Stadium, plus one inning at the '73 All-Star Game.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top 100 & KC Connections: 31—40

31. Alex Rodriguez • SS/3B • 1994

Has killed the Royals in general: His 1.071 OPS against them is the highest among players with at least 500 PAs, and his 48 homers are second only to Jim Thome's 49. But more of that damage has been done with the Royals on the road. While actually playing in KC, Rodriguez has "just" a .959 OPS and 18 dongs.

32. Greg Maddux • P • 1986—2008

Never faced the Royals, in or out of KC, even though there was inter-league play for the last 12 years of his career.

33. Jimmie Foxx • 1B • 1925—1945

34. Albert Pujols • 1B • 2001

Went to high school and one year of college in the KC area, and seems to enjoy returning and crushing the Royals at Kauffman, where he has hit a ridiculous .335/.426/.671 in 40 games.

35. Joe Morgan • 2B • 1963—1984

Had a good All-Star Game at Royals Stadium in '73 by walking, doubling, and scoring two runs. Returned for five games during the last season of his career as a member of the A's.

36. Joe DiMaggio • CF • 1936—1951

The Yankees made quite a few visits to KC during DiMaggio's career to play exhibitions against the Blues, the Yank's top farm team at the time. Played at least two, but possibly as many as seven, exhibitions in KC. 

37. Mel Ott • RF • 1926—1947

38.

Bounced between Negro leagues teams quite a bit, but was a Monarch in '31, '34, and '38-'40.

39. Frank Robinson • RF/LF • 1956—1976

Played 47 games in KC (45 at Municipal, 12 at Royals).

40. Willie Wells • SS • 1924—1948

Played for the Monarchs for a hot second in '32, and was a frequent visitor throughout his long Negro leagues career.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top 100 & KC Connections: 41—50

41. Pedro Martinez • P • 1992—2009

Made one start at Kauffman Stadium each year from '98-'02, and the Red Sox won all five games. Pedro had a 2.19 ERA with 39 Ks and 5 walks allowed in those games.

42. Kid Nichols • P • 1890—1906

Moved to KC at around 12 years of age and spent four seasons playing for KC minor league teams (1887-88, 1902-03). Combining those four seasons, Nichols had a 2.32 ERA and an 81-33 record. Was a co-owner, manager, and pitcher for the 1902 & '03 KC Blue Stockings. Remained a KC resident throughout his life, where he owned bowling allies and a theater after retiring from baseball. 

43. Roberto Clemente • RF • 1955—1972

The Pirates played an exhibition against the Royals in Kansas City in 1970, but I don't know whether Clemente played or not. There was a posthumous tribute to him at the KC-hosted '73 All-Star Game.

44. Carl Yastrzemski • LF • 1961—1983

Lots of trips to KC: Faced the A's at Municipal 59 times, the Royals at Municipal 19 times, and 55 games at Royal Stadium.

45. Bob Gibson • P • 1959—1975

46. Cal Ripken, Jr. • SS • 1981—2001

102 games at Royals/Kauffman Stadium.

47. Johnny Bench • C • 1967—1983

Hit one of the longest home runs in Royals/Kauffman Stadium history at the '73 All-Star Game.

48. Eddie Mathews • 3B • 1952—1968

Started the '60 All-Star Game at Municipal, then sneaked in three regular season games in KC against the A's in 1967 during his brief stint in the AL.

49. George Brett • 3B • 1973—1993

Yeah.

50. Wade Boggs • 3B • 1982—1999

Royals Stadium was one of his most common places to visit, where he played 91 games and hit slightly worse than usual.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Top 100 & KC Connections: 51—60

51. Willie Foster • P • 1923—1938

Pitched briefly for the Monarchs at the tail end of the '31 season.

52. Sadaharu Oh • 1B • 1959—1980

53. Bert Blyleven • P • 1970—1992

34 games in KC (seven at Municipal, 27 at Royals): 2.84 ERA, 16-13. Also took the loss in the '73 All-Star Game after giving up a couple runs in one inning of work.

54. Biz Mackey • C • 1920—1947

Visited KC to face the Monarchs an unknown number of times. Faced KC in the 1924, '25, and '46 Negro Leagues World Series.

55. Phil Niekro • P • 1964—1987

Made just seven appearances at Royals Stadium (3.80, 4-2).

56. Warren Spahn • P • 1942—1965

57. Jose Mendez • P/IF • 1907—1926
The playing manager for the inaugural 1920 Monarchs. Mendez was with the team through '26, and led them to pennants in '23, '24, and '25.

58. Steve Carlton • P • 1965—1988

Appeared in two regular season games at Royals Stadium, allowing no runs in 8.1 innings. Also faced the Royals in the '80 World Series, though he did not pitch in KC.

59. Ken Griffey, Jr. • CF • 1989—2010

71 games at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Managed 10 homers, but overall had just a .784 OPS.

60. Al Kaline • RF • 1953—1974

Played 135 regular season games at Municipal Stadium that featured 19 homers. Also appeared in the '60 All-Star Game at Municipal, in which he hit the AL's only homer. Made eight appearances at Royals Stadium in the last two years of his career.