- J.L. Wilkinson and the Kansas City Monarchs by William A. Young
In recent years, there have been a substantial number of books written about the Negro Leagues and those who were a part of them. J.L. Wilkinson and the Kansas City Monarchs is as informative as any of them and is a fantastic addition to this segment of baseball literature. It is the long overdue story of one of the most significant men many baseball fans have probably never heard of. This important story needs to be told and William A. Young has done a phenomenal job in telling it. [End Page 236]
Both the lack of record keeping in the Negro Leagues era, as well as the loss of many records which did exist, have made it difficult in many instances to establish factual narratives. Young has been very thorough in researching the surviving material to bring the important story of Baseball Hall of Fame member J.L. Wilkinson to life, as evidenced by seventeen pages of footnotes. Adding to this are extensive quotes from those who knew Wilkinson, including many who played for him as Kansas City Monarchs.
Wilkinson was the team owner who first introduced stadium lighting and night games to professional baseball, doing so a full five years before a Major League game would be played under lights. In the words of Buck O'Neil, "I do believe that if it wasn't for [Wilkinson's] lights, Negro baseball wouldn't have survived the Depression" (77). He was also one the first if not the very first team owner to field interracial teams, doing so as early as the 1910s and doing it with great success, both on the field and at the box office. He is also credited with, among other things, resurrecting the career of Satchel Paige. One of the great lessons Young gives the reader is the fact that these and other decisions Wilkinson made weren't driven solely by profit but by the quality of man he was.
The author has done an exceptional job of letting Wilkinson's record as a businessman, baseball man and human speak for itself without making personal judgments. That quality makes the reader wonder even more, why it took so long for the Major Leagues to integrate and what could have happened if he had been a big-league club owner in the first half of the twentieth century. Wilkinson's son Dick best summarized his father when he said, "He just lived baseball. That's all he did … He was the kind of guy who didn't care what color someone was. He just wanted to see how good they could play baseball" (182). That point is proven countless times in J.L. Wilkinson and the Kansas City Monarchs.
This book will be appreciated by baseball historians and casual fans alike. The fifteen-page appendix includes team rosters and seasonal records for Kansas City Monarchs teams Wilkinson's ownership from 1920 to 1948. As noted by the author, there are obvious contradictions in some of the records but the research has been meticulous and he has noted any discrepancies. Scanning those rosters is a great reminder that J.L. Wilkinson had an eye for talent as well as any owner in the Negro or Major Leagues has ever had.
This volume presents a lot of Negro Leagues history and features several photographs of players from that era. It is not only the story of an era of baseball history but a thorough biography of a remarkable man who was central to [End Page 237] that story. J.L. Wilkinson and the Kansas City Monarchs will be a worthy addition to the library of any baseball fan.