Dave Brown (SEAMHEADS.COM)

May 7, 1921: Chicago’s Dave Brown outduels Monarchs’ Rube Curry on Opening Day

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Dave Brown (SEAMHEADS.COM)Opening Day in 1921 for the Negro National League was a momentous occasion. These were not just Opening Days: these were the first games of the league’s second season.

The NNL had survived its first season. And like another league that launched in 1920 — the American Professional Football Association, eventually known as the National Football League — the fallout from the first season was minimal. The Cuban Stars West found a home in Cincinnati, becoming the Cincinnati Cuban Stars. The Dayton Marcos were the only team not to play in the second season of the NNL, being replaced by the Columbus Buckeyes, with Sol White taking over as manager.1

Surprisingly, it was Andrew “Rube” Foster’s own team, the Chicago American Giants, that had the opportunity to upset the NNL’s relative stability. The American Giants were invited to join a new integrated league, the Continental Baseball League, which was to compete with the American and National Leagues.2 The concern was put away when Foster’s partner, ballpark owner John Schorling, announced that the American Giants would not join the new circuit.3

The 1920 American Giants were the class of the NNL’s first edition, compiling a record of 43-17-2, according to the Seamheads.com database. Their opponent for Opening Day, the Kansas City Monarchs, won more games than the American Giants in 1920, but the Monarchs’ overall record of 44-33-2 left them 7½ games behind their opponents. The 1921 American Giants closely resembled their championship team of 1920. The infield was essentially unchanged: Leroy Grant at first base, Bingo DeMoss at second, Bobby Williams managing shortstop, and Dave Malarcher at third. Jelly Gardner would start the season in right field as he had in 1920, and Cristobal Torriente would resume his duties in center. Jimmy Lyons took over the left-field duties for Foster’s men. George Dixon and Jim Brown split the catching duties in 1920, and that would continue in 1921.

The Monarchs strengthened their 1921 roster with the addition of several men who joined upon their discharge from the US Army after World War I service. Lemuel Hawkins, a first baseman, and Bob Fagan, a second sacker, were the most influential. The outfield combination that had been so strong for the Monarchs was back in 1921 with Hurley McNair in left field, John Donaldson in center, and Bullet Rogan in right field when he wasn’t pitching. The Chicago Whip observed that the Army veterans “are said to be packing much diamond prowess and opinion has them lifting the Kansas City stock many points.”4

The Monarchs spent the offseason of 1920-21 plying their trade in the California Winter League. According to the Chicago Defender, the Monarchs won the championship, playing against big-league stars.5 The American Giants spent their winter in Florida, and then barnstormed their way north via Atlanta; Memphis; Montgomery, Alabama; and Hot Springs, Arkansas. A large crowd was expected for the opener, and the Defender recommended that “fans who are wise will get their tickets in advance and duck the rush.”6

The Defender expected that either Tom Johnson or Jack Marshall would get the Opening Day nod for the American Giants, but the newspaper was wrong. The pitching assignments went to Dave Brown for the American Giants and Rube Curry (Currie in the local Chicago newspapers) for the Monarchs. Brown was the staff leader for Foster in 1920 with a record of 13-3 and an impressive ERA of 1.82. Curry turned in a 10-11 record in 1920 with an ERA of 2.81. The springtime Chicago weather provided no interruption of the Opening Day festivities, and the outcome was as close as the Kentucky Derby, held on the same afternoon in Louisville, where Behave Yourself beat his stablemate Black Servant by a head.7

Neither team managed a hit until the fifth inning. The visitors were the first to scratch when second baseman George Carr found the outfield with a single, and advanced to second on Grant’s error on a pickoff throw from the catcher. Two outs later, Dobie Moore walked, and the Monarchs had their best chance of the day against Brown. The powerful Rogan was next up, but Torriente easily handled his fly to center, squelching the threat.8

Torriente led off the bottom half of the frame with a scorching single to center field for the American Giants’ first hit. He stole second base and moved to third on Lyons’ sacrifice. Malarcher dropped a perfect squeeze bunt, and Torriente scored the first run of the game. Foster’s American Giants led, 1-0.

The single run was all that Brown would need this afternoon, but Malarcher added an insurance run in the eighth inning for the final tally of the game. Brown pitched a complete game allowing only the one hit and three walks. He struck out nine. Curry was certainly a hard-luck loser, allowing only four hits and striking out seven in his eight innings pitched.

The teams played two more games in the series, with the Monarchs victorious by 3-1, avenging the Opening Day loss in front of one of the largest crowds ever to see a game at Schorling Park, and the American Giants winning the series on Monday with a come-from-behind 7-5 victory. When the season was over, the American Giants were champions again, finishing with a 44-22-2 record. The Monarchs finished in third place again – once more with more victories than the champions (54-41).

 

Sources

This article would not have been possible except for the work of the Seamheads.com website (www.seamheads.com), especially Kevin Johnson, who provided game results for all NNL games. In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, The Sporting News via Paper of Record, and the ProQuest Historical Newspapers Black Newspaper Collection, courtesy of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

 

Notes

1 Larry Lester, Rube Foster in His Time (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012), Kindle position 3121 of 5923.

2 “Want Chicago in New League,” Kansas City Star, January 25, 1921: 12

3 “American Giants Shy at Joining New Baseball League,” Waterloo (Iowa) Courier, February 12, 1921: 14.

4 “Kansas City Here Saturday, Sunday, Monday,” Chicago Whip, May 7, 1921: 6.

5 “League Season Opens Saturday at Giants Park,” Chicago Defender, May 7, 1921: 11.

6 “League Season Opens Saturday at Giants Park.”

7 Harvey Woodruff, “50,000 See Behave Yourself Win Derby,” Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1921: 17.

8 “Foster Takes 2 Out of 3 From Kansas City Nine,” Chicago Defender, May 14, 1921: 10.

Additional Stats

Chicago American Giants 2
Kansas City Monarchs 0


Schorling Park
Chicago, IL

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