Frank Duncan

(National Baseball Hall of Fame)

"They say Josh Gibson was the greatest catcher. Josh was not the greatest catcher; he was the greatest hitter. We had five or six men who could outcatch him. Josh couldn't receive with Larry Brown or Frank Duncan or Biz Mackey or Roy Campanella. I wouldn't include myself because that wouldn't be right, but...I caught more East-West games than anybody."
--Double Duty Radcliffe, from "Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues" by John Holway

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Frank Duncan III, Monarch batboy
(National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Mrs. Frank Duncan, singer Julia Lee
(Kansas City Library)

Negro Leaguer of the Month
December, 2003

Frank Duncan

Born: February 14, 1901 in Kansas City, MO
Died: Dec. 4, 1973 in Kansas City
Ht:6'-1", Wt: 190
Batted right and threw right.
Position: Catcher
Years: 1919-1948

Teams: Peter's Union Giants, Chicago American Giants, New York Black Yankees, Homestead Grays, New York Cubans, Palmer House Stars (Chicago), Kansas City Monarchs

In the history of Negro League baseball, there were only two catchers who were so good defensively that teams overlooked the fact that they barely hit their weight. One was Larry Brown, who has been chronicled before in the "Negro Leaguer of the Month" section, and the other is this month's honoree, Frank Duncan.

Duncan was a big, rough, tough catcher with soft hands and a rifle-like arm; one of the best defensive catchers ever. He was a perennial .250 hitter, though, with moderate power. He hit as high as .370 one season, but also as low as .190.

Because Negro League teams used base-stealing as a weapon much more than Major Leaguers, a Negro League catcher, first and foremost, had to be able to stop runners. Duncan had a quick release and could almost knock down shorstops with his powerful throws.

Duncan, as tough on the field as he was pleasant off it, could also protect himself from runners barreling into home, and he was known to fight if need be. His most famous on-field fight occured in the 1920s when he tangled with the Chicago American Giants' John Hines. During the fight, a policeman knocked Duncan out cold with a night stick, and Chicago outfielder Jelly Gardner kicked the unconscious Duncan in the mouth.

Duncan was born and died in Kansas City, and, though he played with several teams in his long career, is associated with the Kansas City Monarchs for which he played for almost a quarter of a century.

Duncan started his baseball career in St. Joseph, Missouri's Industrial League. After a brief stint with Peter's Union Giants, he was signed by the Monarchs and would play with them almost every year through the late 1940s. Duncan caught for some of the greatest pitchers ever, including Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Bullet Rogan, Chet Brewer, Booker McDaniels, Lefty Lamarque, Connie Johnson, Jack Matchett and Andy Cooper ( he rated Rogan as the best of them all!.)

In 1922, Duncan and the Monarchs challenged the Kansas City Blues, from the American Association (the top level of Minor League ball) to a best-of-nine series. The Monarchs won five of the first six games to become the "Kansas City Champs."

In 1932, Duncan played a month with the famous Pittsburgh Crawfords, a team which during the year carried other star catchers Josh Gibson, Double Duty Radcliffe and Bill Perkins.

Duncan made his only East-West All-Star game in 1938, going 0 for 1 with a walk. Duncan was, however, chosen as an All-Star coach for the West in 1944 and '45, and as the West manager in 1943.

Duncan was named the Monarchs' manager in 1942 and he led them to a four game sweep of the Homestead Grays in the Negro League World Series. In 1943, Duncan was drafted into the army at age 42

In 1945, Duncan returned to the Monarchs and managed Jackie Robinson in his only season in the Negro Leagues. In '46, Duncan was chosen to play for Satchel Paige's All-Stars during the fall and winter.

Duncan played several years of winter baseball, but often chose to stay in Kansas City during the off-season and he took several odd jobs such as driving a taxi, and driving a bus for the Bennie Moten Band. Duncan was a big music fan and married Blues singer Julia Lee, who, along with her brother George's band, were Bennie Moten's biggest musical rivals in Kansas City.

After his playing days were over, Duncan became one of the Negro Leagues' top umpires.

Duncan's son, Frank Duncan III, was the Monarchs' bat boy in the 1930s and became a Negro League pitcher in the 1940s. When Frank III pitched to his father, Frank II, they became the first father-son battery in Negro League history.