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1923 Kansas City Blues
Lloyd Johnson

 

 

1923 Kansas City Blues Promotional Folder Kansas City Museum Archival No.C1.503 Heller Family Collection

The Baltimore Shirt Company created the photo folder featured in this essay. The folder commemorates the Kansas City Blues winning the Junior World Series championship on October 25, 1923. The folder was a labor of love produced privately by a Kansas City company. Studio photographs were hand-glued to pages of the folder. It was created over time, since several players had not returned immediately from Baltimore following the final win. The photographs in the folder were made in a studio except for that of Series hero Ferdie Schupp, a winner of three Series games. His photo was a newspaper shot - complete with blocking.

 

About this time Kansas City, the town of 100 plus churches and 18 theatres, began to compare itself to other cities, most notably, Chicago and New York. Kansas City and Chicago were both perfecting a new, musical innovation called “jazz” but in 1923 New York & Kansas City discovered a kindred culture. That season, both cities won World Series championships and opened new ballparks for clubs that were financed by beer baron owners.

 

Into this highly-charged baseball atmosphere, Blues’ owner George Muehlebach introduced his best team ever. Faithful Kansas Citians rewarded him with record support and attendance. Other businesses wanted a piece of the action. Advertising was expanding, and local folks felt good about the economy and life in general. The Baltimore Shirt Company found a unique, then-new method to capitalize on the national pastime’s popularity. This promotional folder is the result.

 

Muehlebach began assembling the 1923 Kansas City Blues team in 1915 as he started investing in the club. He purchased the whole club in 1922, but forgot to buy the ballpark. Previous owner George Tebeau, who built Association Park at 9th and Olive in 1902, sold the ballpark to the railroad which ran tracks through the outfield. Muehlebach built a new park at 22nd and Brooklyn, near the original. He used a similar design but installed more seats.

 

The team and their new ball field set enduring attendance records. Their mark of 425,000 was not surpassed in the minors until 1945 by Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. The league mark was topped by Indianapolis in 1948, and the Kansas City attendance record fell during the first season of the American League Athletics. The Blues’ single-game mark of 23,105 was set Sunday, October 14th, 1923, in Game Three of the Junior World Series. This remained the minor league record until 1939 when 45,112 attended a game in Jersey City, New Jersey.

 

The 1923 Blues won 112 regular-season games plus five more in the Junior World Series. The squad is ranked by Minor League Baseball as the 18th greatest team in history. The Baltimore Orioles team, winners of seven straight International League pennants, whom the Blues bested, is ranked 19th.

 

The winning Blues set the all-time American Association record for team batting average with .316. The 1922 squad still holds the league mark for doubles with 355. The 1923 lineup featured 13 hitters over the .300 mark. Two batters, manager Wilbur Good and outfielder Bunny Brief, finished their careers with more than 3,000 hits. Three pitchers won more than 200 games. Arkansas-born Jimmy Zinn won 308 games. Zinn had pitched a one-hitter in front of the huge Sunday crowd in Game Three. Veteran Ray Caldwell almost made the 300-win figure with 293 victories, Herb Thormahlen posted 201, Roy Wilkinson, 178 and Schupp captured 178.

 

The 20 players represented in the Museum’s folder were the entire squad. Each took home a $1,658 share of prize money, the largest minor league championship amount to that date. Since all 20 teammates appear in the folder, it was likely made in January 1924, when most planned to reunite in Kansas City. (Additionally, the only player not signed to a 1924 contract was Glenn Wright who had been sold to Pittsburgh.) Catcher Bill Skiff spent the late fall in California helping teammate Pete Scott recover from an injury that had prevented him from appearing in the Series finale. Other team members had returned home to help with family businesses. Wichita local Beals Becker was in New York City vacationing with his wife. Blues players who spent the winter in Kansas City included Schupp, Wilkinson, Dutch Zwilling and Lew McCarty. Second baseman Jack Hammond stated that he would stay if he found a job.

 

Other Blues of note include Bill Skiff, who managed in the New York Yankee farm system, and skippered the Blues in 1949. Infielder Lena Blackburne was the first $1,000,000 player, inheriting a department store and other properties in Philadelphia as a 23-year-old ball player. He sat out 1911 before continuing his hardball career. His family had already started the Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud Company that still provides mud for rubbing-up baseballs. Another local star was Glenn Wright from Archie, Missouri. He set the National League record for assists by a shortstop, broken by Ozzie Smith in 1980.

 

Several veterans of the Blues came from New York: manager Good, and pitchers Ray Caldwell and Thormahlen all played for the Yankees. Outfielder Beals Becker and Schupp played on more than one New York Giants pennant team. Schupp even won a 1917 World Series game.

 

Whether it was on the field, in the front office, in the grandstand, or in the marketplace, the 1923 Kansas City Blues were stars worthy of commemoration.

 

 
   

Biography: Lloyd Johnson is a baseball historian, writer and consultant. He is the founder of the baseball information, research and consulting company Double Play. Johnson was formerly Executive Director (1985-1989) and President (1991-1992) of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He chaired the SABR National Convention in 1996, and the Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference, in Kansas City, in 2001 and 2006. Between stints with SABR Johnson, along with John “Buck” O’Neil and Larry Lester, founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and served as its first Director and Executive Director. He also brought the RBI program (Revitalizing Baseball in the Inner City) to Kansas City in 1992. As Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Library, Johnson helped to found the Leather Stocking Base Ball Club, a town ball team.

 

Johnson edited The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Third Edition (Baseball America) with Miles Wolff, as well as The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues (Hastings House). Recently published works are The Total Baseball Catalog and Baseball’s Book of Firsts, Fifth Edition. The Encyclopedia… won the prestigious SABRMacmillan Award for best baseball research book, and was also nominated for the Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

 

The Community Curator program of Kansas City Museum invites historians and history educators from the Kansas City community to share their perspectives on artifacts they choose from the Museum collection. Community Curator lectures are presented with the actual artifact presented along with the observations of our Community Curator. All images courtesy Union Station Kansas City.

 
         

 

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