J. L. Wilkinson
|This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (October 2015)|
|J. L. Wilkinson|
Wilkinson at the Negro National League annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, January 28, 1922
May 14, 1878|
|Died: August 21, 1964
Kansas City, Missouri
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Election Method||Committee on African-American Baseball|
James Leslie Wilkinson (May 14, 1878 - August 21, 1964) was an American sports executive who founded the barnstorming All Nations baseball club in 1912, and the Negro league baseball team Kansas City Monarchs in 1920.
Born in Algona, Iowa, Wilkinson was a promising pitcher until he hurt his throwing wrist. He turned to team ownership and management, parlaying a promotional flair into an association with the game that lasted more than 50 years.
In 1909, he developed a women's baseball team—possibly with a few men in drag—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 multi-racial All Nations team in Des Moines, Iowa. The team consisted of whites, blacks, Polynesians, Asians, Native Americans and – at one time – a woman. As did Wilkinson's first venture, it also had a team band and a number of other promotions, but featured a number of athletes of major league calibre, including John Donaldson and José Méndez. He moved the team to Kansas City, Missouri in 1915, and the team continued to barnstorm in the upper Midwest for a few years after the Monarchs were born, still fulfilling its original role but also serving as a farm team for the Monarchs.
When the Negro National League was founded in February 1920, Wilkinson built the Monarchs from the best of the All Nations team, and from the 25th Infantry Wreckers, an all-black U.S. Army team that starred Bullet Rogan, having received a scouting tip about the team from fellow Kansas Citian Casey Stengel. Wilkinson was the only white team owner trusted by Rube Foster when the Negro National League was founded; Wilkinson became a trusted member of Foster's inner circle. Stories were told by his players that during the Depression, Wilkinson would bunk with his coaches and players when the team was on the road and hotels were short of rooms.
Wilkinson was the first owner in the league to secure the services of African American Umpires for the Negro National League and by 1923, at least six Umpires were non-white. During his ownership, the Monarchs won ten league titles and participated in four Negro League World Series, winning in 1924 and 1942.
In 1930, Wilkinson's Monarchs became the first professional team to play night baseball, using a portable set of lights. Wilkinson also signed Jackie Robinson to his first professional contract, in 1945.
Death and legacy
He sold the Monarchs in 1948, and died in poverty in a Kansas City nursing home. "Wilkie", as he was affectionately known to players, sportswriters and fans, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.