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Bill Monroe

William Monroe
Nicknames: Bill

Career: 1896-1914
Positions: 2b, 3b, ss, 1b
Teams: Chicago Unions (1890-1900), Cuban X-Giants (1900), Philadelphia Giants (1903-1906), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1907-1910), Quaker Giants of New York (1908), Chicago American Giants (1911- 1914), Chicago Giants (1913)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Born: 1876
Died: March 16, 1915, Chicago, Illinois

One of the first great black ballplayers, he began his career before the turn of the century, and was already an established star during the first decade of the deadball era. A versatile and exceptionally adept fielder, he had good hands, great speed, and played all infield positions with grace. When playing at the hot corner, he excelled at fielding bunts and was considered to be a better fielder and hitter than his white contemporary at third base, Jimmy Collins. But it was as a second baseman that he won the most acclaim. A crowd favorite throughout his career, he entertained the fans with his showmanship as well as his baseball skills. He would catch "Texas Leaguers" behind his back, kick ground balls with his toe and make them bounce into his hand, and yell to batters that if they hit the ball to him they might as well just go back to the dugout and sit down and not bother running to first base.

Once Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity was paid $500 to pitch for a semi-pro team against Monroe's Philadelphia Giants, and he bet the entire sum that he would win the game. After seven innings the game was still scoreless, and when Monroe came to bat, he aimed the bat at McGinnity, sighting down the bat like a rifle. McGinnity naturally took exception to this behavior and promptly knocked Monroe down with the next pitch. Monroe dusted himself off and again repeated his charade, with the same response from McGinnity. After the second knockdown pitch the two exchanged some words that ended with Monroe challenging, "I'll bet you $500 that I hit a home run." The pitcher quickly called, "It's a bet." Behind in the count, McGinnity fired his fastball to the plate and Monroe smacked his offering for a home run that proved to be the game-winning hit. To cap off his performance for the pleasure of the crowd and the agitation of McGinnity, he ran the bases backward.

Monroe began his career in 1896, and for two years, 1899-1900, he played with the Chicago Unions under manager W. S. Peters, starting at shortstop the former year and at second base the latter season. After leaving the Unions, he joined the Cuban X-Giants, the top team of the era, and hit in the third slot in the batting order. His next stop was with the Sol White's Philadelphia Giants in 1903, where he again batted third in the order, as the Giants challenged his former mates, the Cuban X-Giants, for the title but lost in the championship playoffs. However, Philadelphia prevailed during the next three seasons, winning championships each year (1904-1906), with Monroe playing an integral part in the Giants' success while starting at three different infield positions (shortstop, third base, and second base) in consecutive years.

Signing with the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1907, he quickly established himself as one of the top players. During this period of time the infield star's public acceptance extended to Cuba, where he accompanied Rube Foster, Pete Hill, and "Home Run" Johnson to the island to play ball in the 1907-1908 winter season. Playing shortstop with Fe, he fielded well and posted a .333 batting average for the winter. Back in the United States, he played briefly with the Quaker Giants of New York before signing back on with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, quickly establishing himself as one of the top players and batting in the leadoff spot. Monroe helped the Royals capture two eastern championships in 1909-10 before leaving New York to journey westward.

Joining Rube Foster's great Chicago American Giants' ballclub in 1911, he batted in the cleanup spot behind Pete Hill. Monroe spent four years in Chicago, all with the American Giants except for part of the 1913 season, when he was with the Chicago Giants. By 1914 Foster had assembled what is considered to be one of the greatest black teams of all time, adding John Henry Lloyd to the already formidable lineup. Despite the talent-laden lineup, Monroe batted .348 and was called the "king of second basemen," "idol of all the ladies," and "the most sensational player on the American Giants' team." Foster's juggernaut easily won the western title and, with Monroe hitting fifth and Lloyd in front of him, swept the eastern champion Brooklyn Royal Giants in four straight games. Monroe's best game was in the third contest, when he had 4 hits to pace the offensive attack.

Monroe's untimely death the following season, 1915, brought a productive nineteen-year career to an abrupt end. Former managers Sol White, Rube Foster, and Dan McClellan were high in their praise for the star infielder, and New York Giants' manager John McGraw stated that Monroe was the greatest player of all time and would have been a star in the major leagues if he had been given the opportunity to play at that level. Reports persisted that McGraw wanted to sign the handsome, light-complexioned infielder and pass him as a Cuban.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.