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· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Kansas City Monarchs Baseball·
It’s Friday, July 29, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. The day is heating up. It will be a scorcher.
The past week had been a challenge for Sheriff Fay Brown, 36. He was skilled at catching criminals, but having them behave and keeping them locked up in an old jail, was another matter. Every day, prisoner Bill Coyle was acting crazier; like a bad virus, Roy Jones was mimicking Coyle’s destructive behavior; and Truman Reynolds was still missing after the wholesale escape ten days earlier from the lower bull pen.
For sanity sake, Fay desperately needed a baseball game.
Fortunately for him, the entertaining Kansas City Monarchs, as promised, were arriving in town. The National Negro Champions were barnstorming their way across Kansas. They would play the local Booster Boy’s at 5 p.m.
Fay planned to watch the game from the covered grandstand at Booster field in Carey’s Park with his nephew, Lee Hamilton. Lee was Occie and Syd’s boy. Fay hoped he’d get an opportunity to meet Lee’s girlfriend, Ruth Krehbiel, but he understood the odds were against that happening. “If you like,” Fay had told Lee, “bring a friend, my treat.”
Two days earlier, Lee had celebrated his nineteenth birthday. Adults, especially parents, uncles, and aunts, had not been invited to the festivities. Actually, Fay didn’t want to know if his nephew was in violation of the prohibitory alcohol law, especially since he was sheriff. Warning a nineteen year-old to be careful was unwanted advice and immediately ignored.
Fay loved baseball. If the curious public kept their eyes on the ball, and didn’t get into his business, the Monarchs-Boosters game would give him nearly two hours of uninterrupted pleasure. But he understood the public’s widespread interest in unruly prisoners. He was an elected official; they were concerned taxpayers. Besides, he, like all law enforcement officers, relied on the community’s help in catching criminals and passing bond issues to build secure, modern jails.
Earlier in the day, Fay and three of his deputies had shackled eight of their hard-boiled bunch, mutineers, and taken them to the reformatory while repairs were made to cell doors and locks at the jail. The doors had been damaged in yet another escape attempt, this one from the upstairs bull pen, the most secure of the two.
At the reformatory, in jest, Superintendent Ed Frizell had told Fay, “If we could keep your prisoners, we’d put them to work manufacturing new state license tags for 1928. We’re producing four thousand a day. The secretary of state just told me yesterday that the tags were the most perfect ever used by the State of Kansas.”
Sheriff Brown had laughed at the thought of this group of prisoners being trusted to do anything. “I wish we could send them to Lansing’s coal mine today,” said Fay, “only they’d blow it up before noon. If you put these scoundrels anywhere near your new machinery, they’d have it torn up and broken down before you finished a cup of coffee.”
The license plates are perfect,” continued Frizell. “They have blue figures painted on a white background. They’re rolled in the bake oven at temperatures between 170 to 180 degrees.”
At the crowded ball park, speaking to Lee, Fay said, “For the past few years, your Uncle Dallas of Kansas City, Missouri, has bragged about the Monarchs. The colored ball team is so talented that it beat the Kansas City Blues, a white, American Association (AA) minor league team, for the city’s championship in 1922.”
“I remember Uncle Dallas saying he had given up on the Blues that season,” commented Lee.
“That same year, the Monarchs beat Babe Ruth’s All-Stars in both games of a doubleheader in Kansas City,” continued Fay.
“Are these the same players that played back then against the Kansas City Blues?” asked Lee.
“No, not the exact squad, because players move from team to team, but it has a lot of the same athletes,” replied Fay. “Last summer, the Monarchs crushed our home team, 18-0. Most of those colored players are suited up today.”
“Do you think we’ll get beat that bad tonight?” asked Lee.
“I hope not. The Boosters are talking about how they believe the game will be competitive, but I doubt it,” said Fay. “The Monarchs claim that they’ve only lost three exhibition games out of several hundred played. No doubt, just keeping the score close will be an uphill battle for the Boosters. We’ll see soon enough. ”
“I was hoping ‘Bullet’ Rogan would pitch tonight,” continued Fay, “but they might be saving him for tomorrow night against Wichita.”
“It’s hot, you thirsty?” asked Fay, as he wiped his forehead with his pocket handkerchief.
“Yes, Uncle Fay,” said Lee, as he swatted a mosquito on his arm. “Are you?”
“I’m hungry too, let’s each get a hot dog,” said Fay. “T. J. Bixler’s Famous Root Beer for me. What flavor do you want?”
“I like the Cherry and Cola,” answered Lee.
“Hold on,” said Fay, “Here,” he said, as he handed Lee some money. “Would you mind getting the refreshments? I see someone I want to talk to.”
Fay approached James Woodson, 33, city dog catcher, and said hello.
“Hello, Sheriff,” replied Woodson. “Are you playing on the Boosters tonight?”
Fay laughed, “I don’t think our court house team would make it past the first inning. Actually, I’m recovering from a long day of work.”
“I heard about your prisoners rearranging the furniture,” said Woodson.
“They’re spending the night as guests of the reformatory while we try and get their cages reassembled,” said Brown. “You get any results back on that mad dog you shot?”
“A local chemist tested the head for rabies and concluded the results were negative,” said Woodson. “No rabies.”
“Oh, that’s good news for the neighborhood,” said Brown.
“Yes, it is,” agreed James.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said Fay. “When a dog’s violent, and acting mad, and biting people and other dogs, whether he’s got rabies or not, he’s got to be put down. Take the shot.”
“Yes, the best we can do is our best,” said James. “Not everyone understands, like you, that putting dogs down is part of my job.”
“Thanks for helping keep the community safe,” said Fay. “Well, I’m going to get back to my nephew. Enjoy the game.”
“Have a good night,” said James, “Nice talking with you.”
“I think I recognize the colored man you were talking to,” said Lee. “Is he the city dog catcher?”
“Yes, James Woodson. He’s a good man,” said Fay.
“Would you hire him on the sheriff’s office?” asked Lee.
Fay was silent for a moment before answering, “I’d have to think about it.”
Dave Snell, a slow-ball artist, was the starting pitcher for the Boosters, but he couldn’t fool the accomplished batters of the barnstorming team. Snell lasted six innings while giving up ten hits and nine runs, before relief pitcher, southpaw Dennis Buckley took the mound to complete the game.
In the fourth inning, Fay said, “There’s an extra-base hit!” as he watched a screaming ball sail high over the head of Brewer, Monarch’s left fielder. Sprinkle, the Boosters second-baseman, was picking up speed as he rounded first, expecting at least a double. But, Brewer leaped high into the air and snagged the ball.
Standing up, Lee yelled, “What a catch!”
The Monarchs were a fast team. One of their trick plays required the infielders to catch and throw the ball quickly to one another. Fleming of the Boosters cracked a hard grounder to third base, fielded by Newt Joseph.
“Watch Joseph throw to first,” said Fay. “He’s got a good arm. He scoops up the ball and makes the throw without even raising up.”
But Joseph did not throw the ball to first base for an out. Instead, he tossed it around the horn. Joseph to Allen at shortstop, Allen to second baseman Orange, Orange back to Joseph, and finally, Joseph to Giles at first base. The umpire made a fist with one hand and flexed the arm forward. Fleming was out!
The crowd of Negroes, Mexicans, and whites erupted, united in appreciation for the visiting team’s showmanship, despite their home team being closer to defeat. It was another inning without a Booster run.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Monarchs ahead 9-2, and no outs, Duncan, the catcher, walked to the pitching mound and talked with Young. Upon Duncan’s return to home plate, Young proceeded to miss the strike zone twelve times in a row, consecutively walking three batters. The bases were loaded.
The unusual strategy kept the home crowd in their seats, despite the heat.
However, using an arsenal of fast balls, curve balls, and sliders, Young masterfully struck out the next three batters. The inning was over. No hits, no runs, no errors, and three men left on base. The game was over. Final score, 9-2, in favor of the Kansas City Monarchs.
Fay and Lee were hot, but happy. It was a game to be remembered.
“If they weren’t Negroes,” said Fay, “I’m sure some of the players would be in the majors on teams like the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals. Really, these guys are that good.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.