Before the Big Red Machine – There Were the Buckeyes
When baseball fans talk about baseball in Ohio they usually talk about Cincinnati and the Big Red Machine or Bob Feller and the Indians. One team they don’t bring up was only in existence for seven years and in that time won two pennants and a World Series. That team…the Cleveland Buckeyes.
Check out the Buckeyes in action in this rare film footage.
The Cleveland Buckeyes were organized by Ernest Wright, a hotel and nightclub owner in Erie, PA, with Wilbur Hayes, a local sports promoter, serving as executive manager. Formed at the end of 1941, the Buckeyes spent 1942 as the Cleveland-Cincinnati Buckeyes. The team began playing in 1943 as the Cleveland Buckeyes and had a number of all-star players during the 1940s, including pitcher Gene Bremmer, first baseman Archie Ware, and catcher Quincy Trouppe. Perhaps the best of the Buckeyes was Sam Jethroe, the centerfielder who was the league’s most valuable player in 1945 (.393 batting average and 21 stolen bases).
Trouppe and Jethroe were easily the most impactful of the Buckeyes as both would see their dreams fulfilled by reaching the major Leagues. Trouppe, along with relief pitcher “Toothpick” Sam Jones became the first all African-American battery in American League history in 1952 for the Cleveland Indians while Jethroe used his speed and power to play for the Boston Braves for three seasons after Branch Rickey bought him from the Buckeyes for $5,000 and later sold him to the Braves.
With the team bus broken during their first season, the Cleveland Buckeyes were forced to travel in three cars to reach their games. One of these three cars was involved in a tragic accident on 7 September 1942. Catcher Ulysses “Buster” Brown and pitcher Raymond “Smokey” Owens were killed, while pitchers Alonzo Boone, Eugene Bremmer, Herman Watts and general manager Wilbur Hayes were seriously injured. The Buckeyes were scheduled to play four games in just over 24 hours against the New York Black Yankees in Buffalo, New York, Akron, Ohio and Meadville, Pennsylvania. They were on their way from Buffalo to Akron at the time of the crash, on Route 20 near Geneva, Ohio. The Buckeyes chose to finish their season after the accident, despite the loss of so many players. For the last two weeks of the 1942 season all of their scheduled games were on the road. The Buckeyes lost all of them.
In 1945 the Buckeyes finished in first place in both halves of the NAL season, compiling an overall record of 53-16, the Buckeyes earned a spot in the Negro World Series against the defending champions, the Homestead Grays. Behind the pitching of Willie Jefferson and Gene Bremmer, the Clevelanders won their first series games at Cleveland Stadium and League Park, then completed the sweep by winning the next 2 games on the road. The Buckeyes won the league pennant again in 1947 but lost to the New York Cubans in the Negro World Series.
Despite success on the field, the Buckeyes lost money in 1947, and by 1949 moved to Louisville, Kentucky. It returned for the first half of the 1950 season, but after winning only 3 of its 36 games, the team disbanded.
Charlie Hustle is introducing its new line of Negro Leagues inspired t-shirts tomorrow (www.charliehustleshop.com) and you could be one of the first to own this Cleveland Buckeyes tee.
Just share the Buckeyes story via Twitter between now and Saturday using #ClevelandRocks and you will be put into a drawing to win. The winner will be announced on Sunday morning via Twitter and right here at Monarchs to Grays to Crawfords.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)