Timed as a preview to the All-Star game, the Kansas City Museum has organized a trolley tour of Kansas City baseball history.
Even avid fans are likely to learn something new on the multi-stop excursion led by Lloyd Johnson. Before moving to Kansas City, Johnson was a senior researcher at the Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, NY. He took KCTV5 on a condensed preview of some of the tour stops.
"I would like to see more kids playing on all these diamonds," Johnson said, as he walked across one of the tour's stops, Blues Park at 20th and Wabash streets.
It's one of the city's historic ballpark sites that still has a diamond, and Johnson was giddy with excitement when he saw signs of modern-day use.
"These are the footprints of a pitcher. This might even have been a left-handed pitcher," he added as he mimicked the motions of a left-handed pitcher.
Blues Park was once home to the Kansas City Blues and the site of a historic set of post-season match-ups between the Blues and the Kansas City Monarchs.
"When the Monarchs won four games to one in 1922, the Commissioner of Baseball banned black teams from playing white teams. You could only play All-Star games after this," Johnson explained.
The commissionership itself was established in Kansas City, Johnson said, at the Muehlebach Hotel, two years earlier. This was yet another historic moment for the sport as a whole that happened locally.
"The 1920 winter meetings are certainly the most important in the first half century in baseball history," Johnson said.
Because the Blues were a AAA team for the Yankees, plenty of household names got their start in our city, something brought up by Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society.
"All the great Yankees players that went to New York came here first... Mickey Mantle and everybody," Logan said.
Logan and Johnson bumped into each other by coincidence as Johnson was hitting another historic spot, the site of Municipal Stadium, which went up in 1923 as Muehlebach Field, had a stint as Blues Stadium and lasted as Municipal until 1976.
The now empty lot at 22nd and Brooklyn was once home to all four of Kansas City's baseball franchises as well as the Chiefs.
In 1923, both the Blues and Monarchs set season attendance records for their respective leagues, a record for the Monarchs that was never broken.
"So you might say Kansas City was baseball mad in 1923," Johnson said.
He and Logan exchanged stories with the childlike excitement only two self-described baseball nerds can after Johnson got a surprise phone call. The call was from a woman who wanted to take the tour, the granddaughter of an under-recognized Kansas City Blues player.
"Kid Nichols is a guy who first came to this area in 1886 for a Bonner Springs tournament," Johnson said. "He pitched at the same time as Cy Young. He won more games than Cy Young. He lost fewer games than Cy Young. His team won five pennants and Cy Young won one."
Johnson's cheeks continued to flush with an infectious enthusiasm when he arrived at Forest Hills Cemetery, where legendary Monarchs pitcher and hometown boy Satchel Paige is buried. His gravestone, shared by his wife, sits on an island of sorts, set apart from the others, and holds souvenir baseballs left by visitors.
"Satchel was a guy that everybody wanted to be around because you made more money when Satchel was around," Johnson said. "Even if you played against him you made more money."
You also made memories, memories that combine to create a priceless picture of local baseball history.
There are two tour times on Saturday and you must have a reservation. Click here for more information and to place a reservation.
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