The Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns faced each other in the second game of a doubleheader on August 18, 1937, in a battle of second-division teams. The Browns built a 6-1 lead against Willis Hudlin thanks to a three-run homer by Harlond Clift. The Tribe rallied in the sixth and had the bases loaded when Blas Monaco made his major-league debut pinch-hitting for John Kroner. The switch-hitter dropped a single into shallow left field to plate two runs. Monaco stayed in the game at second base. In the ninth he tripled with one out but was stranded in the 11-6 loss. The single and triple would be his only hits in a brief 17-game career that concluded after World War II.
Monaco was born November 16, 1915, in San Antonio, Texas. His father, Frank, was an immigrant from Italy who worked as a fireman for the city. His mother, Margarita (Garza) Monaco, was a native Texan with an Italian mother and Mexican father. The family welcomed Rosalie in 1918. Monaco attended Mark Twain elementary school before graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School. He was a fine all-around athlete. He made all-city in football as a 5-foot-10-inch senior. He was shifted from end to the backfield that year. Besides being a slashing runner, Monaco was a lethal blocker despite being listed at just 148 pounds.1 (By the time he retired from baseball in the fall of 1949 he was playing at 180 pounds.) His blocking was vital to the team’s success because the fullback weighed in at a mere 128 pounds.
He also earned all-city honors as a guard in basketball. On the baseball diamond he batted third or fourth and played second base. A switch-hitter from early in his career, Monaco had success from both sides of the plate, although he always considered himself a bigger threat from the left side. He played American Legion baseball in 1931 and 1932 for the San Antonio Americans. After graduation he played in the well-respected Sunday Morning League and with semipro squads that needed him. His squad won the Sunday Morning title and later in the year he joined the Public Service Team for its championship run.
Regarded as a powerful switch-hitter and a beautiful fielder, Monaco was signed by San Antonio native Jack Knight for his Fargo-Moorhead Northern League team in January 1935.2 Knight, a former major-league pitcher, signed many local talents for his Northern League franchise. In fact, the Twins held spring training in San Antonio, where Monaco won the third-base job. The team headed north in late April and played a few exhibitions before the season opened on May 7.
Opening Day was chilly and damp as the Winnipeg Maroons took on the Twins. Monaco went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his professional debut. The Twins and Maroons finished tied 9-9. Two days later the Twins tied Crookston by the same score. Winnipeg got off to a 6-0 start, the Twins opened 0-5 and were never able to narrow the gap in the first half. However, in the second half they put together a 14-3 start and pulled away for the title. This set up a best-of-nine championship series.
Monaco enjoyed a productive first season. But the long season took a toll on him and nagging injuries forced him to miss some late-season games. The Twins, led by batting champ Jim Shilling, led the league in hitting. Monaco batted .295 and launched 11 home runs. He became a fan favorite for his gritty play and spirit. On May 20, he went after Brainerd pitcher Ted Franks, who had hit him with a pitch. Monaco was restrained and later in the game was struck again, but this time he did not cause a ruckus. On July 24 in a close game, he stole home for the go-ahead run.
The Twins won the first game of the championship series, 6-1. It would be their lone victory as their pitching fell apart. The Maroons took five in a row, including a 23-8 thrashing in Game Five. A rested Monaco found his stroke and tied for the team honors in hitting at .333. Shilling batted a woeful .087.
Monaco returned to San Antonio and kept in shape by playing baseball in the fall and basketball in the winter. He was frequently singled out for praise in the newspapers for his smothering defense on opposing ball-handlers. He returned to Class D Fargo-Moorhead in 1936, but with Jack Knight ill, the team was taken over by Hal Irelan. Monaco was shifted to second base. The team struggled and finished in the second division.
Knight returned to the team in 1937 as did Monaco. The team finished in second place and made the playoffs. Monaco had an unusual season. His fielding average at second base dropped to .920, but his range factor went up to 5.23 from 4.84. He was on fire at the plate early; after a five-hit game on May 19 he was batting .393. Unable to maintain those lofty numbers, Monaco batted .327 to tie for the team lead and slugged at a .498 clip. The Indians purchased his rights in mid-August and he joined them, leaving the Twins undermanned for the playoffs. The Twins took care of Crookston in round one before dropping four of six to Duluth in the finals.
After his major-league debut, Monaco got one start. It came August 22 in Chicago. He went hitless in a 3-2 win. In September his rights were loaned to Buffalo of the International League. Back in San Antonio after the season, Monaco married Faye E. Schultz on October 12. Their son, David, was born the following year. Unlike previous years, there is no mention of him in the local papers playing baseball or basketball in the offseason.
In April 1938, Cleveland optioned Monaco to Oklahoma City of the Class A Texas League. This gave him an opportunity to play in front of the hometown San Antonio fans. In fact, the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs with San Antonio sweeping the series. Monaco batted .280, but lacked power. He collected only 26 extra-base hits in 143 games after having 27 in 84 games the previous season.
The 1939 and 1940 seasons were lost years for Monaco on the diamond. He injured a knee in 1939 spring training and was optioned to New Orleans of the Class A Southern Association. He had barely returned to action when he reinjured the leg on a slide on May 16. Monaco spent part of 1940 playing in the Mexican League, but opted not to remain there in 1941.3 He returned to full-time play in 1941 in the Eastern League with Class-A Wilkes-Barre and with Cedar Rapids in the Class B Three-I League. The fans took an immediate liking to him when he lashed three singles, two doubles, two triples and a home run in the first three games. The Raiders made the playoffs and defeated Decatur for the championship. The following year the Raiders put together an offensive juggernaut. In mid-August all four infielders and the catcher were hitting over .300.4 Monaco at age 26 was one of the old-timers on the squad; only catcher Lou Kahn and third baseman Phil Seghi were older. Monaco led the team with a .326 average, led the league in runs scored, and helped the Raiders to their second title. He was selected as all-league at second base.
Cleveland sent Monaco to Baltimore of the International League for the 1943 season. He played first base in a 21-inning tie with Toronto on April 22, 1943. He recorded 31 putouts and went 2-for-8 at bat. At the time, the game was the longest in league history. (As of 2017 the record is 33 innings, set by Pawtucket and Rochester in 1981.) The Orioles finished in the second division. Monaco batted a mere .243 but did coax 127 walks.
The 1944 season was a magical one for the Orioles. Monaco’s draft board classified him 4-F, or ineligible to be drafted, during the winter. He was joined by Stan Benjamin, Sherm Lollar, Felix Mackiewicz, and Howie Moss to make a powerful lineup. Moss was the MVP of the league and Monaco racked up 167 walks to set the table for the sluggers. He scored 135 runs to lead the league and his .477 on-base percentage was second to Mayo Smith’s .495. The team endured the July 4 conflagration that claimed their ballpark. Unexpectedly, Monaco was called for a draft physical in July and despite the bad knees was declared draft-eligible. He was never summoned for induction. Baltimore went on to win the league title and then the Junior World Series over the Louisville Colonels.
Over the winter, Monaco found work in the defense industry and when the season rolled around he chose to be voluntarily retired and continue his war effort in the work force. He was reinstated the following winter. In the spring of 1946, his hot hitting earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster of the Cleveland Indians. Teams had to cut down to 30 players by June 15. Monaco, a utilityman, never needed his gloves because he saw duty only as a pinch-hitter (0-for-6 with a walk) and pinch-runner (5 times, scoring twice). Cleveland sold him to Seattle in the PCL in late May to reach the 30-man limit.
Blas and Faye drove cross-country to Seattle. He played only 33 games with the last-place Rainiers. He did break a seven-game losing streak with a two-run homer against Sacramento shortly before his sale to Newark in July. The family made another trek across the continent to join the Bears. Between the two teams he played in 74 games and batted .206. He went to spring training in 1947 with the Bears, but was sold to Kansas City of the American Association in March.
The Triple-A Blues were a Yankees farm club and listed Hank Bauer, Cliff Mapes, Jerry Coleman, and Gus Niarhos on their roster. Monaco was used at first, second, and third by manager Billy Meyer. His hitting improved to .257, but more importantly he was second on the team in on-base percentage at .455. The Blues took the pennant by eight games, but lost to Milwaukee in the first round of playoffs. Rowdy Dick Bartell took over as manager in 1948. With a young Al Rosen at third base, Monaco found himself playing in the outfield as well as infield. He responded with a .288 average and a team-leading on-base percentage of .467. But the Blues pitching struggled and the team finished far off the pace.
The final stop in Monaco’s baseball journey was with Dallas Eagles in 1949. It was a veteran club with nine players older than the 33-year-old Monaco. He played mostly second base and batted .253. He set the table the best he could for Jerry Witte, who launched 50 homers, but the Eagles finished out of contention. Monaco was sold to Little Rock in 1950 but he was released on March 23 when he refused to report.5 The family settled down in San Antonio. He eventually became an electrician for the city’s Public Service Board and worked 27 years for the. agency
Monaco played semipro baseball around the city for a few years before leaving the game for good. He died on February 10, 2000. Faye had preceded him in death in 1992. He left behind his son, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was buried with Faye in Holy Cross Cemetery in San Antonio.
Thank you to Sylvia Reyna at the San Antonio Public Library for her help in locating an obituary. Statistics are from Baseball Reference where available. The first edition of The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball was the source for team records.
This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Warren Corbett.
1 “North and South Sides Evenly Matched for Grid Battle,” San Antonio Express, November 30, 1933: 9.
2 “Monaco Signs to Play for Jack Knight,” San Antonio Light, January 5, 1935: 7A.
3 “Monaco y Dukes no han enviado sus contratos,” Prensa (San Antonio), February 23, 1941: 13.
4 The Sporting News, August 20, 1942: 5.
5 “Missions Release Infielder Monaco,” San Antonio Express, March 24, 1950: 10.