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Jackie Robinson once played for the ... Royals?

@FlannyMLB
April 14, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Jackie Robinson was once a Kansas City Royal. That is not a misprint. • Complete guide to 2020 Jackie Robinson Day After the summer of 1945 when Jackie Robinson played his one season with the Kansas City Monarchs, and before he broke the MLB color barrier in

KANSAS CITY -- Jackie Robinson was once a Kansas City Royal.

That is not a misprint.

Complete guide to 2020 Jackie Robinson Day

After the summer of 1945 when Jackie Robinson played his one season with the Kansas City Monarchs, and before he broke the MLB color barrier in 1947, Robinson had returned to his home in southern California. He wanted to keep his baseball skills sharp that winter, as rumors had begun circulating in 1945 that the Brooklyn Dodgers and owner Branch Rickey wanted to sign him, then send him to their farm team, the Montreal Royals of the International League, in 1946.

So, Robinson decided his best option was to play in the California Winter League, which had been featuring African-American teams playing against all-white teams of MLB players for decades.

Jackie Robinson Day in MLB

“The California Winter League really had been integrated since the early 1900s,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Chet Brewer, a former Kansas City Monarch himself from Leavenworth, Kansas, had formed a team for the California Winter League and recruited Robinson, who apparently was eager to play.

The name of the team: The Kansas City Royals.

“From what we can tell, Chet Brewer wanted to call his team the Monarchs, too,” Kendrick said. “But he wasn’t allowed to do that, for whatever reason. So his next choice was the ‘Royals.’

“Kansas City has such a tradition of majestic nicknames, from the American Royal, the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Monarchs, the Kansas City Kings (NBA).”

Curt Nelson, team historian for the present-day Royals, noted that while Robinson was playing for the 1945 Kansas City Royals, those rumors of Robinson possibly signing with the Dodgers boosted attendance in the California Winter League.

“That made him a key attraction,” Nelson said.

Both Kendrick and Nelson confirmed that information on Robinson’s time with the Royals was sketchy at best.

“It’s just bits and pieces here and there,” Kendrick said. “I think we have four box scores [Robinson hit .429 in those games]. We just know he played with the Royals for a while.”

“But we do get a sense that Jackie’s play was electrifying,” Nelson said, “just as it had been with the Monarchs. He hit an inside-the-park home run in his first game with the Royals. He was an All-Star in that short season. The Pittsburgh Courier, a widely read African-American newspaper, wrote that Jackie ‘was a riot on the paths and fielded brilliantly.’”

Here’s another fun tidbit: Robinson and the Royals played their home games at Wrigley Field. Well, not the Wrigley Field in Chicago.

“There was a Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, too,” Kendrick said.

Robinson faced MLB players in the California Winter League, and apparently was about to face a future Hall of Famer on Oct. 24, 1945.

“We know that Jackie was in the lineup to face Bob Feller that night,” Kendrick said.

But the night before, Oct. 23 -- one of the most famous dates in baseball history -- Robinson signed his contract with Rickey and the Dodgers.

“He never faced Bob Feller on the 24th,” Kendrick said. “But he had already made history by signing the night before.”

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.