Friday, July 4, 2014

George Giles, JC Native, Plays for the KC Monarchs



Negro National League baseball grew out of the discrimination that kept the black players out of the Major League.  These teams, while not well funded, were popular and the games were well attended. “The annual East-West Classic, the Negro league all-star game, filled Comiskey Park; the New York Black Yankees drew crowds of 30,000 and more to Yankee Stadium; and cities such as Kansas City supported the Negro league Monarchs on a par with major league teams in other cities”(Smith, 1992.)
Despite their popularity, “most of the 140 or so former Negro league players . . . played for $2 a week in meal money and $60 a month in salary, wages that sometimes went unpaid,”(Smith, 1992).  That was $4280 lower than the average Major League Baseball salary of $5000 a year in 1920.
One very talented Negro League player was George Giles.  Giles was born in Junction City in 1909 and lived the latter part of his life in Manhattan, Kansas. Giles was a wonderful ball player and in 1924 at the tender age of fourteen tried out for the Kansas City Monarchs.  They decided he was too young to contribute to the game but he signed the next year with the minor league Kansas City Royal Giants.  He quickly moved to Gilkerson’s Union Giants.  In 1927 Giles, at the age of 18, finally joined the Kansas City Monarchs and became their starting first baseman.
That year, “he hit .287 and then improved to .292 the next year, when he led the team's regulars for a 2nd-place club. He also tied for second in the Negro National League with 7 triples”(baseball-reference.com).  Giles became the first Monarch player to sit out a season in 1929 when he was involved in a contract disagreement.  The next year he signed with the St. Louis Stars.
“In the days of player stealing, barnstorming and winter league excursions, Giles bounced around with several teams all over the nation”(Fertig, 2011). In, 1932, at only 23 years old, he played for the Homestead Grays and Kansas City Monarchs.  In 1933 and 1934 he played for the Kansas City Monarchs full time while they were a barnstorming team, not part of the national league.  
In 1935 Giles signed with the Brooklyn Eagles and not only played for the team but managed it as well when he took over for Ben Taylor. He played for the Eagles until they became the Newark Eagles; after that he played for the New York Black Yankees. During the 1938 season he played for four teams, the Black Yankees, Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Philadelphia Stars, hitting .267 that year at the age of 29.
In the twilight of his career, Giles played for the Satchel Paige All-Stars”(nlbpa.com). Giles retired from baseball in 1939, at the age of 30, and came back to Geary County to work in the Civil Service at Fort Riley. Recently, “Giles was named the sixth-best first baseman in the history of Negro League baseball”(Fertig, 2011).
In interviews following his career Giles said, “that the hardships of the Negro Leagues and the irritation of racism forced him to give up the game at a relatively young age. Giles didn’t sugarcoat the discrimination that kept him out of the major leagues”(Fertig, 2011).
In an interview with David Craft, author of The Negro Leagues: 40 Years of Bvlack Baseball in Words and Pictures, Giles said, “‘the racism we faced while I was in the Negro Leagues was one of the things that eventually pushed me out of baseball. . . .  I was treated like a second-class citizen in my own country by people who knew they hated me before I could even say ‘Hello’’”(Fertig,2011).
In 1992 shortly before he passed away, Shelley Smith with Sports Illustrated interviewed Giles about his experiences in the Negro Leagues.  She met with him at his Manhattan, Kansas home, where he showed her his Hall of Fame, on a concrete-block wall.  The Hall of Fame consisted of clippings from his career and clippings from his grandson’s career as a journeyman infielder who played in the Major League in the 1980s.

Giles when he played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1927 
photo from nlbpa.com
Smith went on to write an article about the Negro National League players that had been left in obscurity by history.  Smith stated that Giles and other negro league players, “paved the way for the Dwight Goodens and the Bobby Bonillas to sign $5 million contracts”(Smith, 1992).
The Negro National League is beginning to get the recognition it deserves.  You can find the Negro League statistics online on numerous websites; The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues by John Holway went into a second edition in 2001;  The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James A. Riley was published in 1994; and The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History by Phil Dixon was published in 1992.
            In honor of the Negro National League players and the 90th anniversary of the Kansas City Monarchs’ world championship, Saturday July 19th, Phil Dixon will be at the Geary County Historical Society at 2pm to talk about his book and the games the Monarchs played in Junction City. This event if free of charge. Please help us honor the players from our area and those that did so much to support the players by attending this event.
            If you have any questions or information to contribute please contact the Museum: 785-238-1666 or email GearyHistory@gmail.com.


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