Don’t believe the people who say that this ALCS is the first time that Baltimore and Kansas City’s baseball teams have met in the playoffs. It’s wrong.
Oh, to be sure, this is the first time the MLB franchises- the Royals and Orioles- have met. But it’s not the first time Kansas City and Baltimore have sent their nines against each other. It’s the second… and there could have been at least two more, had they been played. Using a few other resources, such as Baseball-Reference, SABR, and their joint wiki, here is the hidden history of Kansas City and Baltimore in the postseason..
1923 Little World Series: Kansas City Blues def. Baltimore Orioles, 5-4
Throughout history, there have been many incarnations of a Triple-A World Series, pitting the best teams in America that aren’t Major League. And in 1923, we had the only time that we can be sure Kansas City and Baltimore played each other in a postseason series, as they faced each other in a best-of-9 series, at the time going by the name “Little World Series”, although the Sporting News also referred to as the “Junior World Series”. It was a match-up between the American Association and the International League.
Winning the IL for the fifth straight season, the 1923 Orioles were in the midst of perhaps the greatest minor league dynasty in history, as they would ultimately win the IL every year from 1919 to 1925. Under Jack Dunn- best known for being the man who discovered Babe Ruth- they’d gone 111-53 to win the pennant by 11 games over Rochester, and would later be named as the 19th greatest minor league team in history. Their roster was stacked with players who either had or would have major league careers.
The most notable, of course, would be 23-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove, who pitched to a 3.11 ERA as he set the IL record for strikeouts in a season that year with 330 Ks in 303 IP. However, his 27-10 record wasn’t even the best on the team- that belonged to the 29-year-old Rube Parnham, who went 33-7 with a 3.18 ERA. The righty, interestingly enough, only pitched in six MLB games in his career for the 1916-1917 Philadelphia Athletics.
Also on the Orioles that year was Grove’s fellow Hall-of-Famer Chief Bender, then 39 years old, who had pitched in all but one of his 459 career MLB appearances on the mound (in addition to some small stints as a position player). Pitching in 18 games with Baltimore, he was less than effective and had a 5.03 ERA.
Other notable Orioles included Tommy Thomas (who would go on to pitch parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues), 2B Max Bishop (who tied for the IL lead in HR at 22 and who would go to 15th all-time in MLB OBP), Jimmy Walsh (who had been primarily an outfielder in the majors during the 1910s) and Clarence Pitt, a mid-season acquisition from Rochester who hit .357 in 1923 but who never played a MLB game.
In contrast to the runaway Orioles, the Blues had been in a neck-and-neck race before grabbing the AA title. In fact, in a article dated Sept. 30 in the October 4 issue of Sporting News, it was said that it would be “almost a miracle” if they were to come through in their race with the St. Paul Saints. That same article, entitled “St Paul Counting Team As Safely In”, is in fact more of a preview of a Saints-Orioles series than anything. But Kansas City won an astounding 10 of their last 11 games to finish the year with a 112-54 record, the second best in the history of the American Association and just barely ahead of St. Paul at 111-57. Unlike the Orioles, the Blues lacked many big names or future stars, instead being made up mainly of older veterans, such as their 37-year-old player-manager Wilbur Good (who’d played parts of 11 years in the bigs), 30-year-old Bunny Brief (who had already played all 184 of his MLB games), and 36-year-olds Beals Becker (who had been second in the 1914 National League batting race) and Lena Blackburne (most known for his role in the infamous “rubbing mud” that is placed on baseballs before being put in play). There was also 25-year-old Dud Branom, who hit .348 but would ultimately only have 30 games with the Athletics in 1927. Pitching-wise, the Blues were led by Jimmy Zinn, who went 27-6 with a 3.94 ERA, and Ferdie Schupp, who went 19-10 with a 4.23 ERA. Also in the rotation: Ray Caldwell, winner of 134 career MLB games.
Bad weather plagued the Little World Series, and in fact it ended after MLB’s World Series. Starting on October 10th in Kansas City, it didn’t end until October 25th- 16 days later- in Baltimore, where Kansas City won the 9th and deciding game 5-2, defeating Grove and Parnham in the final game behind homers by Bill Skiff and Brief. It was only because of Baltimore’s play at home that the series had even gotten that long, as Kansas City had gone 3-1 to start the series.
That would be the last time Baltimore and Kansas City would have two professional baseball teams meet in the playoffs… but it’s not the last time that it could have happened.
1929 Negro World Series: The Kansas City Monarchs would have played the Baltimore Black Sox
The Negro Leagues were infamously disorganized, with record-keeping at times being hit-or-miss and the with league schedules often haphazardly taking place between barnstorming tours and other exhibitions. In addition, there was the problem of money (several Negro Leagues ended up folding long before integration) and, of course, the racism they faced, which often closed them out of stadiums and hotels. So, with that in mind, perhaps it is isn’t surprising that the Negro World Series (also called the Colored World Series, depending on the era) was an on-and-off affair. Well, in 1929, it was an “off” year, thus depriving the world of a matchup between the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League and the Baltimore Black Sox of the short-lived American Negro League.
We’ll never know what would have happened had they done so, but any such series would have featured at least three Hall of Famers: Jud Wilson (with Baltimore), Bullet Joe Rogan (with Kansas City) and Andy Cooper (also with Kansas City).
1939 Negro World Series: The Kansas City Monarchs would have played the Baltimore Elite Giants
Ten years later, the Negro American League champion Kansas City Monarchs would have faced the Negro National League champion Baltimore Elite Giants. But, like in 1929, the Negro Leagues World Series was not in existence at the time.
That was a shame, as this series would have been even more star-studded than the 1929 edition would have been. Hall of Famers Hilton Smith, Turkey Stearnes and Willard Brown, as well as Buck O’Neil (who should have been a Hall of Famer for his work off the field alone), were on the Monarchs, while the Elite Giants had a 41-year-old Biz Mackey and a 17-year-old catcher named Roy Campanella.
We’ll never know what might have happened, but it really fires up the imagination, doesn’t it?
So, there you go, the previous playoff match-ups between Baltimore and Kansas City. Oh, sure, two of them never really happened, but, still, that’s way more than is needed to render any claim that this is the first time that Kansas City and Baltimore have met in the playoffs false!