J. L. Wilkinson, Black baseball architect


J. L. Wilkinson
Date: 
Tue, 1878-05-14

*J. L. Wilkinson was born on this date in 1878. He was a White American Black sports executive.

Born in Algona, Iowa, James Leslie Wilkinson grew up in Des Moines and attended Highland Park College.  While there he pitched for the baseball team while also playing professional and semiprofessional ball. An injury ended his playing career, but he remained on the management side of the game for the rest of his working life.

In 1909, he developed a women's baseball team to draw up to 2,000 fans to a covered grandstand moved around the Midwest by train. A team band whipped up tunes for crowds, a male catcher wrestled all comers and a brown bulldog served as the mascot. Town teams throughout Iowa and surrounding states faced Wilkinson's gimmick-laden squad. In 1912 he founded the barnstorming All Nations baseball club that later evolved into the all-Black Kansas City Monarchs. Wilkinson was among those who signed the charter of the Negro National League, the first viable league of all-Black teams, at a historic meeting at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City in 1920.

In 1930, he invested in a portable lighting system and the Monarchs became the first professional baseball team to play regularly under lights. The novelty of night baseball, along with a championship-caliber team, allowed the Monarchs to survive the Depression. In 1945, on a tip from pitcher Hilton Smith, Wilkinson hired Jackie Robinson to play shortstop for the Monarchs. Robinson's one-year stint with the Monarchs launched his Hall-of-Fame baseball career and his historic role as the first Black player in the modern major leagues. Wilkinson remained at the helm of the Monarchs until 1948, when he sold his share of the team to Tom Baird, a long-time associate and partner.

During his twenty-eight years, the Monarchs won twelve league championships and made four appearances in the Negro League World Series, winning two of them. Wilkinson died in a nursing home in Kansas City in 1964 at the age of 90.

Reference:
The Negro Baseball Leagues A Photographic History
By Phil Dixon with Patrick J. Hannigan
Copyright 1992, Jed Clauss and Joanna Paulsen
Ameron House Publishing
ISBN 0-88488-0425-2

Person / name: 

Wilkinson, J. L.