Frank Lee Duncan II
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 175 lb.
Frank Duncan was considered one of the toughest defensive catchers in Negro League history, during a playing career that ran from 1920 through 1948, primarily with the Kansas City Monarchs. Only a fair hitter, he was nonetheless considered an invaluable part of the championship Monarchs teams. He played for eight pennant winners and managed two more, including a total of two world championships. As a catcher, he caught three no-hitters, in 1923, 1929, and 1936.
Duncan broke in with the 1920 Chicago American Giants and the teenager forced the move of John Beckwith from catcher to shortstop. He hit just .123. In 1921, Duncan moved to the Monarchs and batted .253/.293/.281 and fielding .975 behind the plate.
In 1922, Duncan improved to .237/.329/.320 at the plate and laid down 19 sacrifice hits, leading the Negro National League. He led the NNL's catchers in fielding percentage (.984) and assists (91). He was 2 for 4 in an exhibition against major leaguer Jack Quinn.
In 1923, Frank batted .257/.332/.332 and fielded .960 while hitting second for a Kansas City team that was getting stronger. That winter, he played for one of the most famous winter league squads ever, the 1923-1924 Santa Clara Leopards. He batted .336 and slugged .401 for the 36-11 club.
Duncan batted .267/~.358/.332 in 1924, helping the Monarchs claim the first of three consecutive Negro National League titles. He was batted only .139 (5 for 36) in the 1924 Colored World Series, won by the Monarchs in 10 games. Despite the low batting average, he enjoyed one of his most memorable moments as a player came in Game Eight when he singled the tying and winning runs home in a dramatic ninth-inning comeback victory by his team. The play was notable because veteran catcher Louis Santop dropped Duncan's foul pop-up one pitch before, and his key hit went through shortstop Biz Mackey's legs. Both Mackey and Santop were considered great defensive players, though Santop's best defensive days were behind him.
Duncan hit only .200 for Santa Clara in the winter of 1924. In 1925, the catcher slipped to .222 for the Monarchs. He went 3 for 21 in the playoffs and 4 for 21 in the 1925 Negro World Series. He again had a huge moment in the series, with a great tag on Otto Briggs at home in the 11th inning of game one. Duncan batted .247 in 1926. In June, he was in the middle of a fight when he collided with John Hines. During the melee, he was struck on the back of the head by the butt of a policeman's pistol. While Duncan was down, Jelly Gardner kicked him in the mouth with his spikes.
In the winter of 1926-1927, Duncan batted .276 and slugged .328 in the California Winter League. In 1927, the Kansas City native hit .395 while splitting time with T.J. Young. Had he qualified, he would have ranked 4th in the NNL in batting average. Duncan took part in a memorable tour of Japan by Negro League players that year; the blackball stars won 23 games, tied once and lost none. The fall trip included stops in Hawaii, China, Russia and the Philippines.
In the winter of 1927-1928, Duncan was 8 for 21 with two doubles in the California Winter League.
In 1928, Duncan batted just .182. With Cienfuegos that winter, he hit .265 and slugged .434. His 8 stolen bases were second on the team behind Cool Papa Bell. Duncan hit .346 in 1929. That winter, he hit .250 for Cienfuegos and slugged .369.
Duncan hit .370 in 1930, tying Jabbo Andrews for third in the NNL behind only Mule Suttles and Willie Wells. He was 5 for 13 with a triple for Cienfuegos in the 1930 CWL before the season was cut short. In the Campeonato Unico that replaced the CWL that year, he hit .276 with no extra-base hits in 29 AB for the Cienfuegos club.
In 1935, Duncan hit only .102 for the New York Cubans. He followed with a .239 average in 1936 and was 0 for 3 in an exhibition against the Cincinnati Reds. In 1937, Duncan returned to Kansas City and hit .173. In the final postseason series, he was 3 for 17. He went 2 for 12 in exhibitions against white major leaguers that fall.
Duncan was resurgent in 1938. He hit .247 for Kansas City and .378 for Chicago. His 4 triples led the Negro American League. In the 1938 East-West Game, he was 0 for 1 with a walk as the West's starting catcher and #7 hitter in a 5-4 win. He started a double play with a pick-off of Sammy T. Hughes during the game. Larry Brown took over behind the plate for Duncan.
In 1939, Duncan moved to the Palmer House Stars. They won the Illinois state semipro title.
Duncan played alongside his son, pitcher Frank Duncan III, in 1941, and they are thought to have been the first father-son battery in professional baseball history. Duncan went 0 for 4 against Bob Feller and Ken Heintzelman in exhibitions in 1941.
Duncan was drafted into the US Army for World War II after the 1942 season. He became sergeant in the 371st Infantry Regiment of the 92nd Division. He showed off his precision by hitting 31 bull's eyes in 32 shots in rapid firing from 200 yards, a marksmanship record. He was honorably discharged early in 1943 and returned to manage the Monachs in 1943 before the season began.
At age 43 in 1944, he hit .144, and the Monarchs, decimated by the wartime manpower drain, suffered their first last-place finish in their history.
He was Jackie Robinson's first professional manager in 1945. He took Kansas City to the 1946 Negro World Series, which they lost in seven games to the Newark Eagles. He retired from managing after the 1947 season, turning over managerial responsibilities to Buck O'Neil.
He umpired in the NAL for awhile after that. He also ran a tavern in retirement.
Duncan was married in 1919 to noted blues singer Julia Lee. She frequently performed in all-white nightclubs in Kansas City, and Duncan had to sit with the orchestra, pretending to be a musician, in order to see her perform.
- The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway
- Research by Gary Ashwill
- 1923 Negro National League Yearbook, by Peter Ventura and Patrick Rock, Replay Publishing
- The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley
- Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester
- Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo
- The California Winter League by William McNeil
- Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars: Umpiring in the Negro Leagues & Beyond, by Bob Motley and Brian Motley