Born March 31, 1929 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Duncan joined the Monarchs at the tender age of 20. The watchful eyes of a future Negro League manager steered him towards one of the Negro Leagues most powerful franchises.
|Melvin Duncan / Author's Collection|
Managing the Monarchs was the legendary Buck O’Neil, who took over the helm in 1948 after Frank Duncan (no relation) retired. With O’Neil serving as a player-manager, the young hurler found that Monarchs’ skipper still took an interest in nuturing the rookies on the club.
“He was strict, gentle, and very nice to be around,” Duncan wrote. “He was like a father to the younger players; full of knowledge and would give to you. I love him very much.”
One teammate he considered a close friend was fellow pitcher Gene Collins. He found Collins special for the camaraderie they built on the road.
“Eugene Collins, he was understanding and like a brother with me, for we were roommates,” he wrote. “Whenever he pitched, he was like the fifth infielder, for he was a good fielder.”
While Collins’ name came to the forefront when recalling his favorite teammate, Duncan hesitated to choose the best player he played with in the Negro Leagues. Instead, he chose to focus on the team aspect of the game.
“It takes nine men to play the game,” he wrote. “Each man has a position to play. I was a pitcher and not a catcher, so [therefore] I was not as good as Elston Howard.”
Duncan played with the Monarchs and Detroit Stars through in 1955 while the league was in decline. Closing his 2007 letter, Duncan had a simple request on how he wanted the memory of his career to survive.
“[I want it to be remembered] that I played in the Negro Leagues and I gave all I had to give.”
* - Video Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum