The 2021 All-Star Game shined a national spotlight on the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, who not only was the American League’s starting pitcher, but also led the major leagues in home runs going into the game, with 33. Comparisons have been made to Babe Ruth, who won 89 games as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox before moving to the outfield full-time with the New York Yankees. However, if Ohtani keeps pitching and hitting, a closer analogy could be made to Bullet Rogan, one of the early stars of the Negro National League.
Charles Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, also known as Bullet Joe, pitched and played the outfield for nearly his entire Hall of Fame career, which began with a Black United States Army regimental team in Hawaii in 1916 and continued, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs, until 1938.
Rogan was part of the Monarchs lineup when the NNL began in 1920. His performance in a series against the Detroit Stars a year later demonstrated his dynamic talents as a pitcher and hitter. On July 24, 1921, the 27-year-old Kansas City ace beat Detroit on the mound, 4-2,1 and the next day he hit a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth inning, spurring the Monarchs to an 8-7 win over the Stars.2
Rogan pitched from the stretch with no windup and threw side-arm, keeping the ball low. His pitching repertoire employed a fastball, curveball, forkball, and changeup.3 As a hitter, Buck O’Neil said it best: “You saw Ernie Banks hit in his prime – that was Rogan.”4
While Negro Leagues ballplayer stats were still being unearthed as of 2021, Monarchs historian Phil S. Dixon estimates that Rogan’s lifetime statistics, including semipro and military games, exceed 350 wins, 2,000 strikeouts, 2,500 hits, 350 home runs, and 500 stolen bases.5 Arguably Rogan’s finest season came in 1925, when he batted .360 and was 15-2 on the mound in the regular season with a 1.74 ERA, leading the Monarchs to their third consecutive NNL championship. In the championship series, he was 3-0 as Kansas City beat the St. Louis Stars in seven games.
In 1921 Rogan went 16-8, pitching 22 complete games with an ERA of 1.72. He batted .305 and hit at least six home runs. One of those wins and at least one of the homers came in a pivotal five-game homestand against Detroit in July.
The Monarchs had got back into town from a long road trip on the evening of July 22 for their series with the Stars. They had been away from home since they swept the Columbus Buckeyes in a three-game series in late June;6 since then, they had played the Chicago American Giants,7 Cincinnati Cuban Stars,8 and Indianapolis ABCs9 on the road. The Monarchs were tied for second place with the American Giants in the eight-team NNL and could go into first with a positive showing against Detroit.
It would be challenging, since the Stars were the best-hitting team in baseball at the time10 (they would ultimately finish fifth in batting with a .262 average), but they had struggled since early July, losing series to the St. Louis Giants, the Buckeyes, and the Cuban Stars. And Kansas City was generally healthy at the time. Legendary outfielder Pete Hill, now 38 years old, was Detroit’s player-manager. The pitching staff included Bill Gatewood, who had thrown the NNL’s first ever no-hitter in June, and future Monarchs stalwart Andy Cooper, who later joined Hill, Rogan, and Kansas City pitcher José Méndez in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Each game started at 3:00 P.M. at Association Park,11 the Monarchs’ home ballpark from 1920 to 1922. (The franchise then moved to Kansas City’s Muelebach Stadium, also known as Municipal Stadium, later the home of the American League’s Kansas City Athletics and Kansas City Royals.) Behind Sam Crawford’s pitching and shortstop Dobie Moore’s home run, the Monarchs won the opening game on July 23, by 5-1, which kept them tied for second place with the American Giants.12
Rogan, the starting pitcher for the second game, struck out seven batters and allowed seven hits in Kansas City’s 4-2 win. To give a sense of his star power in only the NNL’s second season, an estimated 7,000 people were in the stands for the Sunday afternoon game13 and Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson made $2,060.08 ($31,269.02 in 2021 dollars) in gate receipts.14
Cliff Bell was Kansas City’s starting pitcher for game three on July 25. The fastball thrower pitched six seasons with the Monarchs (1921-26) and the high point of his career came when started two games in each of the 1924 and 1925 Negro World Series.15 He posted a 9-4 record in 1921.
Against Detroit, Bell had a perfect game through seven innings and the Monarchs led 2-0 against Gatewood. Newspaper coverage credited Moore at short and Bob Fagan at second with outstanding defensive plays to preserve Bell’s gem.16 But in the eighth, the Stars rocked Kansas City for two runs and Rube Curry relieved Bell with the bases loaded and none out 17 A right-handed curveball thrower with great control whose best years were yet to come, the 22-year-old Curry was dealing with an arm issue at the time.18 The Stars scored the go-ahead run, but Curry retired the side to keep the deficit at 3-2.19
The Monarchs responded with three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 5-3 lead. In the ninth, Detroit capitalized on some of Kansas City’s five errors in the game to score four runs for a 7-5 lead. (The Detroit Free Press noted that “frequent errors were made by both teams.”20)
Detroit brought in Bill Holland to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth. But Monarchs catcher Frank Duncan, like Holland a 20-year-old with a long future in Black baseball ahead of him, reached base. Rogan then blasted a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers to tie the game. The Monarchs then scored the winning run on two consecutive singles for an 8-7 victory, with Moore’s third hit of the afternoon driving in George Carr with the game-winner.21
Kansas City beat Detroit 5-2 the next day to make it four in a row.22 In the fifth game of the series, the Monarchs beat the Stars 6-5 with a run in the bottom of the 10th inning to sweep the series.23 The sweep knocked Detroit out of first place and put the Chicago American Giants into first based on winning percentage, with Kansas City being a close second.
Ultimately, the Monarchs ended NNL play in 1921 in third place behind the American Giants, who won the second of three consecutive NNL championships, and the St. Louis Giants. In 1923 Rogan won the first of three consecutive championships with Kansas City; Rogan and the Monarchs won a fourth NNL title in 1929. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Seamheads.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and Retrosheet.org websites.
1 “Monarchs Win Again,” Kansas City Kansan, July 25, 1921:3.
2 “Monarchs Won in Ninth,” Kansas City Star, July 26, 1921: 8.
3 James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994), 677.
4 John B. Holway, Bullet Joe and the Monarchs (Washington: Capital Press, 1984).
5 Phil S. Dixon, Wilber “Bullet” Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010), 5.
6 Kansas City swept a doubleheader from Columbus on June 27 by scores of 5-3 and 12-1. “K.C.’s Win Two Games From Columbus,” Chicago Whip, July 2, 1921: 7. The Monarchs completed the series sweep a day later with a 4-2 win. “Buckeyes Lose Again: Monarchs Take Final Game of Series Yesterday, 4 to 2,” Kansas City Kansan, June 29, 1921: 9.
7 The Monarchs lost four of six games to the American Giants from July 3-7. “American Giants Beat Kay Sees in Sunday’s Tilt: Drive Currie off Mound in First Frame, Donaldson Finishes Tilt,” Chicago Defender, July 9, 1921: 10; “American Giants Drop Two Games to Kay Sees: Monarchs Take Both Morning and Afternoon Tilts on Fourth of July,” Chicago Defender, July 9, 1921: 10; “Williams Pitches No Run, 1-Hit Game Against K.C.”; “American Giants Take 1-0 Battle,” Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1921: 12; “Amer. Giants 10; Kas. City 4,” Chicago Tribune, July 8, 1921: 13.
8 Kansas City won three of five games in Cincinnati July 9-13. “Monarchs Beat Stars,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 10, 1921: 20; “Stars Defeat Monarchs: Cubans Down Kansas City Club by Score of 2 to 1,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 11, 1921: 6; “Cubans Score Another: Defeat Kansas City and Move Closer to Third Place,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 12, 1921: 5; “Detroit Stars to Play,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 13, 1921; “Detroit Stars Next: Kansas City Club Makes It Three Out of Five from Cubans,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 14, 1921.
9 The Monarchs and ABCs split a six-game series July 16-20. “A.B.C.s Outslugged,” Indianapolis Star, July 17, 1921: 31; “A.B.C.s Pick Off Twin Bill from Monarchs, 7-4, 1-0,” Indianapolis Star, July 18, 1921; “Monarchs Pound A.B.C. Hurlers for 7-3 Win,” Indianapolis Star, July 19, 1921: 8; “Monarchs Even Up [sic] Series by Defeating A.B.C.s, 4-2,” Indianapolis Star, July 20, 1921: 10; “A.B.C.s Swamp Monarchs in Final Game, 11 to 3,” Indianapolis Star, July 21, 1921: 11.
10 “Monarchs Play Here Tomorrow,” Kansas City Star, July 22, 1921: 15.
11 “Detroit Stars Here Today,” Kansas City Star, July 23, 1921: 3.
12 “Monarchs Tied for Second,” Kansas City Kansan. July 24, 1921: 14; “Kansas City 5; Detroit Stars 1,” Chicago Defender, July 30, 1921: 11.
13 “Monarchs Win Again.”
14 Phil S. Dixon, The Monarchs 1920-1938 Featuring Wilber “Bullet” Rogan The Greatest Ballplayer in Cooperstown (Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Mariah Press, 2002), 141.
15 Riley, 377.
16 “Monarchs Won in Ninth.”
17 “Detroit Stars Lose Again,” Kansas City Kansan, July 26, 1921: 8.
18 “Cuban Stars Here Tomorrow,” Kansas City Star, July 29, 1921: 10.
19 “Monarchs Won in Ninth.”
20 “Stars Losers at Kansas City,” Detroit Free Press, July 26, 1921: 18.
21 “Monarchs Won in Ninth.”
22 “Made It Four in a Row,” Kansas City Star, July 27, 1921: 8.
23 “The Monarchs Cleaned Up,” Kansas City Star, July 28, 1921: 11.
Kansas City Monarchs 8
Detroit Stars 7
Kansas City, MO
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