An early 1900s baseball team, who were remembered Sunday at a Kansas City Royals game, is showcased in a display at an Ottawa museum.
The Royals paid tribute to the famous Negro Leagues team, the Kansas City Monarchs, Sunday as they played the final game of a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves. With fans dressed in period or snazzy clothing, the Royals donned navy and cream colored jerseys with Monarchs in block letters across the chest as they bested the Braves 4-2 in a 13-inning game.
But did you know the famed Monarchs, winners of 10 league championships and champion of the first Negro Leagues World Series in 1924, dabbled in baseball in Franklin County?
“The Monarchs would generally play a couple of games a day in different towns when they were barnstorming,” Mike Webber, a baseball historian at the Franklin County Historical Society, said. “Maybe they grabbed an early train out of KC to Ottawa to play a game from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then caught a train to Fort Scott and played a 3:30 p.m. game there. They generally got paid by splitting the gate with the home team, so they would send fliers to promote the game in advance.
“Generally what they would do is play a local team, like here in Ottawa one time they played the Ottawa Republicans,” Webber said. “Sometimes they would play a team that traveled with them. In fact there was an official league game in Garnett when they faced another Negro League team. Usually it was a local team, though, and they put on a little bit of a show to go along with the game, kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters but not quite to that level of the clowning.”
The Monarchs — who churned out players such as Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Buck O’Neil — came to the county about a half dozen times including twice to the annual Modern Woodmen of the World picnic in LeLoup, Webber said. The team played in Ottawa in 1925, 1931, 1932 and 1933.
The fraternal benefit society put on the picnic in LeLoup, where thousands of people would descend on the small, northwestern Franklin County town. Baseball games, along with other games such as foot races and sack races, a ladies ball and tin cup race and nail driving contest — as well as a baby show — took place in the two-day event, Diana Staresinic-Deane, Old Depot Museum manager, said.
“[There was] a prize for the handsomest old bachelor, a prize for the prettiest old maid, prizes for prettiest baby girl under one year, prettiest red-headed baby. I find that so weird. ...It must have been quite a time.”
At the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, a baseball exhibit, “Small-Town Ball: Playing America’s Game in Ottawa,” exploring the sport’s past in the county, is on display through July 31. The exhibit houses an original poster advertising the Monarchs playing at the 1929 Modern Woodmen of the World, a replica Monarchs jersey, equipment, photos of old town teams and famous baseball players from the area including Lou McEvoy, who played for the New York Yankees, and Willie “Willie the Knuck” Ramsdell, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs.
“Notably missing from Franklin County’s history are high school teams,” Deborah Barker, Franklin County Historical Society executive director, said in a previous news release. “During the late 1800s and early 1900s, baseball was considered a low sport, encouraging drinking, tobacco chewing, and gambling, and many high schools refused to incorporate baseball into their athletic programs.”
At the university level, baseball was one of the first sports played at Ottawa University. By 1876, OU had its own team.
But those wanting to learn more about the Monarchs can attend a Franklin County Historical Society event planned for 7 p.m. July 21 with Phil Dixon, an African American sports enthusiast with a focus on Negro Leagues baseball.
Dixon, originally from Kansas City, Kansas, has studied baseball for more than 30 years, according to Herald archives. Dixon brought his knowledge to Ottawa in a presentation last year, where he spoke about the Monarchs and their impact on local communities including several in Franklin County. The free event, “A Baseball Revolution: The Kansas City Monarchs in Our Hometown,” will be at the museum.
“What [my presentation] allows me to do is this: talk about the Monarchs and the goodwill and positive race relationships that the Monarchs brought into the community during a difficult period of history,” Dixon said previously. “The Monarchs would come in and play the local town team, and this is in the golden age of city and professional baseball.”
?Kate Shelton is a Herald staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter at @kshelton323