Monday, November 17, 2008

Kansas City Goes Major League in '54 Following Browns in '53

The announcement in November 1954 that Arnold Johnson had bought the Philadelphia Athletics was “really big news” in Kansas City. Accompanying the announcement of the purchase came the added tidbit that Johnson planned to relocate the team to Kansas City. This was a decision that carried great import beyond the obvious sense that Kansas City had finally “arrived” with its belated entry into Big League professional sports.

The makeup of Major League Baseball began to change in 1952 when the Boston Braves indicated they would move their franchise to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The following year the American League St. Louis Browns announced removal to Baltimore where they would be known as the Baltimore Orioles. In 1954, it was Kansas City’s turn. Pride exuded from Main Street to Bannister Road, newly annexed into the city itself.

Once the move of the A’s to Kansas City was announced, city officials purchased Ruppert Stadium, added the upper deck to expand seating to 33,000, and made arrangements for everything but parking. This photo now graces the information kiosk at the site of the old stadium at 22nd & Brooklyn. (Click on photo to enlarge)


For close to 60 years, Kansas City had been home to a minor league franchise in what evolved into the American Association. The Kansas City Blues were white Kansas City’s pride and joy. When the owner of the New York Yankees purchased the franchise in 1939, renovated Muehlebach Field into “Ruppert Stadium” [modestly named for himself], and sent the New York team’s best farm players this way, it seemed we had reached the pinnacle.

Of course, there was another tenant at Muehlebach Field that continued to pay rent to play in Ruppert Stadium. The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League usually performed more successfully on the field although their attendance numbers often fell short of those attracted by the white Blues team. Interestingly, the Monarchs games featured integrated seating in the Stadium while the Blues required seating to be segregated by race.

During the years of the Blues and Monarchs co-occupancy of Muehlebach Field and then Ruppert Stadium, a number of current and future stars played for the teams. In their later Yankee-connected years, Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer and Whitey Ford spent parts of their careers toiling at 22nd & Brooklyn for the Blues. The Monarchs featured the likes of Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and, of course, Buck O’Neil.

One player actually played for both the Monarchs and the Blues in the early 1950s—Elston Howard. A gifted catcher, Howard eventually became the backup, and then successor, to Yogi Berra in the Yankees lineup, but he made his debut playing for the Monarchs. Later, he signed with the Yankees who, in turn assigned him to the Blues to gain more experience before joining the major league team. He went on to a solid career in the Yankees organization.

No comments:

Post a Comment