Top 100 Teams
International League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Late in 1945, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed a young African-American second baseman named Jackie Robinson off the roster of the Negro National League’s Kansas City Monarchs. The following spring, they placed him on the roster of their top farm team -- the Montreal Royals. In 1946, the talented Robinson vaulted the team into the upper echelons of league greatness. More importantly, he helped to usher in a whole new era in the National Pastime.
The city of Montreal, located in the Canadian province of Quebec, first hosted a baseball team in an organized league in 1890, serving as a mid-season way station for two different teams in the prestigious International Association. One replaced the defunct Buffalo squad from June 2 to 11, while the other replaced the moribund Hamilton franchise on July 23. Seven years later, Montreal rejoined the circuit, now called the Eastern League, again as a replacement team, this time taking Rochester’s stead when their ballpark burned to the ground in July, 1897. The next season, as a full-fledged member of the league, the Montreal Royals won the pennant, beating Wilkes-Barre by three games. Over the next several years, the Royals spent a largely unfruitful two decades in the league, finishing no higher than third. Following the 1917 season, the team dropped out of the league.
Beginning in 1922, the city placed a team in the new Class B Eastern Canada League. The club, also named the Royals, finished last in the modest four-team circuit the first year, before rebounding to win the flag in 1923. When the league folded, the Royals moved to the Class B Quebec-Ontario-Vermont League in 1924, finishing second in the league’s sole year of existence.
In 1928, the Royals re-joined the International League. Here, the team met with some success, winning the pennant in 1935. Four years later, the chances for the Royals’ long-term success was bolstered when they became the top farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1941, the relationship paid off as Montreal won the International League playoffs, after finishing second during the regular season. Four years later, the team won the pennant outright. However, that wasn’t the big news of 1945 for the Montreal franchise. That momentous event occurred on October 23, when the Dodger’s general manager, Branch Rickey, inked Jackie Robinson to a contract.
Despite the hoopla surrounding Robinson’s signing in 1945, he wasn’t the first African-American to play Organized Ball in the minor leagues. In the 1880s, a handful of African-Americans, led by the talented Frank Grant, played in the top level International League until they were forced out by unfair Jim Crow laws. Later, in the first decade of the 20th century, a player by the name of Dick Brookins played several seasons in the Wisconsin State and Western Canada Leagues from 1906-1910. The following season, Bill Thompson played for Bellows Falls, Vermont in the Twin State League. Finally, in 1916, a pitcher named Jimmy Claxton pitched in two games for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Despite his short stint, Claxton received a baseball card, becoming the first African-American so honored.
| Jackie Robinson|
(Photo courtesy of National
Baseball Hall of Fame)
Utilizing Robinson’s speed and quick bat, Montreal flattened International League competition in 1946, finishing 100-54, eighteen games ahead of second-place Syracuse. In the playoffs, the Royals defeated Newark, four games to two, before besting Syracuse, four games to one to win the league championship.
In the Junior World Series, the first three games were played at Louisville (American Association). The Royals won the opener, but lost the next two games, 3-0 and 15-6. Returning home, they swept the next three contests to capture the series, 4 games to 2. In the finale, Curt Davis shut out the Colonels 2-0 on October 4, one day after his 43rd birthday. Davis (5-3, 3.00) had come down from Brooklyn early in the season after a 13-year major league career during which he had been a 22-game winner for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1939.
The Royals were managed by a 43-year-old Mississippian, Clay Hopper, who had worked for Rickey as a player and manager for 20 years. Rickey was convinced that Hopper was the right man to work with Robinson and he was correct. After the season, The Sporting News named Hopper Minor League Manager of the Year, stating that “much of the success of the Royals was attributed to his tactful guidance, skillful handling of an average pitching staff and wise employment of speed and power.”
The 27-year-old Robinson was the catalyst for the Montreal Royals in 1946. He won the batting title (.349), scored the most runs (113), and finished second in the stolen base race (40). The next season, Robinson was called up by the parent Dodgers. In his 10-year big league career, he batted .311, winning the batting title with a .342 mark in 1949. During his tenure with the Dodgers, he led the team to six World Series appearances. In 1962, he took his rightful place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Although Robinson was the spark that ignited the Royals, fine performances by other players also contributed to the team’s success. First baseman Les Burge poled 15 home runs while driving in a team best 101 runs. Marv Rackley legged out a league-high 14 triples and stole 65 bases, the International’s highest total since the 1920s.
Returning from the 1945 Royals, hopefully to anchor the pitching staff, was 25-game winner Jean-Pierre Roy, a native Montrealer. But the plans hit a snag. In the spring, Roy and the 1945 leading Montreal hitter, Roland Gladu, had agreed to jump to Jorge Pasquel’s Mexican League along with several major leaguers. After traveling to Mexico, Roy changed his mind before playing in a game and returned home. Distracted, Roy only finished 8-5, leaving Steve Nagy (17-4) to pick up the slack.
Besides Robinson, other members of the club saw major league duty. Third baseman Spider Jorgenson, who spent five years with the Dodgers and Giants from 1947-51, batting .266; Red Durrett, who played 19 games for Brooklyn in 1944-45; Rackley, who batted .317 in parts of four seasons for Brooklyn, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati; Earl Naylor, who toiled for the Phillies in 1942-43, batting .186; Lew Riggs, who had a 10-year career as a third baseman mostly for the Reds; Tommy Tatum, who batted .258 in 81 games for the Dodgers and Reds; Dixie Howell, who hit .246 in 340 games for the Pirates, Reds and Dodgers; and Herman Franks, who was a backup catcher for four teams from 1939-49. Franks also saw service as a big-league skipper, managing the Giants from 1965-68 and the Cubs from 1977-79.
1946 Montreal pitchers seeing major league action included: Cy Buker, who went 7-2 as a relief pitcher in 1945 for the Dodgers; Jack Banta, who won ten for the 1949 Dodgers; Chet Kehn, who threw in three games for the 1942 Dodgers; Glen Moulder, who won seven of 15 decisions in 1947-48 for the Browns and White Sox; Nagy, who went 3-8 for the Pirates and Senators in 1947 and 1950; and Roy, who pitched in three games for Brooklyn in 1946, before becoming an Expos broadcaster on the French language network. In addition, Jack Paepke earned distinction as a manager for another top 100 team - the 1954 Waco Pirates.
One of the Royals pitchers was Bob Fontaine, who had been signed by Brooklyn at the age of 17 in 1941. Returning from the service in 1946, he injured his arm and a promising career was over. Always a favorite of Rickey’s, Fontaine was hired as a scout and remained in baseball another 44 years. He was San Diego’s first scouting director, was the Padres’ General Manager from 1977-1980 and director of scouting for San Francisco from 1980 until his retirement after the 1992 season.
Over the next decade, the Montreal continued its run of success, winning the International League pennant five more times. Following the 1960 season, the Dodgers withdrew their patronage and the Royals slipped out of the league. In 1969, the expansion Expos joined the National League, bringing baseball back to French-Canada.
Behind the largess of the Dodger organization, the 1946 Montreal Royals finished with one of the best records in International League history. However, the legacy of this team goes beyond a single season. By providing a stage where baseball fans could see and enjoy the contributions of African-American ballplayers like Jackie Robinson, the ’46 Royals laid down a blueprint for others to follow, insuring that the National Pastime was all-inclusive in the second half of the 20th century.
|1946 Montreal Royals Standings|
|1946 Montreal Royals batting statistics|
|1946 Montreal Royals pitching statistics|