“I’m just so happy for Uncle Dave”

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In late September the news broke that Union, La., native, New Orleans University alumnus and Chicago American Giants great “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame next June!

I did a little blog post at the time, and this honor for one of the most underrated — and, I feel, the most under-appreciated — figures in Negro League history. In addition to being a learned poet, scholar, World War I veteran and all-around Renaissance man, Dave was polite and courteous to a fault, with sportsmanship being his top priority on the diamond.

However, Dave was also a fierce competitor who took the lessons he learned from the one and only Rube Foster and guided the American Giants to multiple pennants and Negro World Series crowns.

Malarcher’s selection for the LSHOF comes on the heels of his induction into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.

The news of Dave’s selection for the next LSHOF class quickly spread through his family, both in his native St. James Parish and across the country. So it wasn’t a surprise when, a few weeks ago, I got a call from one of Malarcher’s grand-nephews, Alvin Malarcher, who settled in Tacoma, Wash., after a career in the Air Force.

It turns out that Alvin is bursting at the seams with joy at the latest news and pride in his grand-uncle.

“It’s wonderful,” Alvin told me. “He served our country, and I think it’s a great honor for him.”
He added, “Oh my goodness, I’m very proud of him, and not only me, but the entire family! I never even though about [his uncle being honored]. And now he’s being elected for another hall of fame. This is really just another great, great honor for the family.”

Gentleman Dave and his wife, Mabel, never had children of their own, but his siblings — there was a bunch of them — had kids, and their kids had kids, resulting in Dave and Mabel being blessed with many grand-nieces and-nephews. While some of those youngsters never had much chance to get to know or even meet their grand-uncle, they grew to know and cherish the legacy he left.

After his baseball career, Dave and Mabel Malarcher settled in Chicago, where Dave owned a very successful real estate business and because active in the community, fighting for fairness in housing in the Windy City.

In all, I really wish I could have met the ever-humble Gentleman Dave Malarcher — he reminds me of my grandfather, who was my absolute hero. The knowledge and wisdom Dave imparted throughout his baseball career and his wife is priceless and treasured, at least by his family and this humble researcher and journalist. 🙂

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And how proud and excited is Dave’s family about the LSHOF news. Mucho.

Alvin Malarcher is so psyched about Dave’s induction into that institution that he’s virtually booked flights for himself and his wife to Louisiana for the ceremony in June. “Oh, yes, I’m going,” he says with a giddy laugh.

What’s more, he says several of his children and siblings — from places like New York and Minnesota — might accompany him. There’s already a bunch of Malarchers in St. James Parish who are planning on chugging up to Natchitoches for the event.

Alvin told me in the recent conversation that Gentleman Dave’s story reflects “what we are capable of” as people in terms of education, military service and success in our careers. He, and the rest of his family, holds Dave up as a role model for all of them to aspire to.

“All I can say is the Malarcher family thinks this is just an honor and what our grand-uncle has established for us,” Alvin says.

He adds, “This is something really special. I really don’t know what to expect [at the June LSHOF ceremony]. I’m just so happy for our Uncle Dave and for our family.”

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The 1945 Buckeyes, Part 3: Assessing the legacy

Bucks team 1

This is the third and final installment of a look into the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes’ Negro World Series champion season. For the first post, go here, and for the second one, it’s here.

When the Cleveland Buckeyes actually did the impossible and toppled the mighty Homestead Grays in four straight contests to etch the Bucks’ name into history as the stunning victors of the 1945 Negro World Series, the Cleveland Call & Post newspaper triumphantly trumpeted that the Bucks had completed a Cinderella season with an “amazing championship.”

Fundamentally, the team’s decision to bring in a battle-hardened veteran to pilot the squad — and to harness and mould the natural talent and spirit found in the Buckeyes — might have been the most important decision team owner Ernest Wright and his management could have made. In the C&P’s Oct. 27, 1945, issue, writer Bob Williams credited the team’s talented skipper with pulling together the championship team:

“The man behind the scenes in the sensational World Series victory … was the quiet, unassuming catcher Quincy Trouppe, new manager of the Cleveland squad, whose program for the year contained the factors that spelled success and a championship.

“It was all intentionable [sic], and planned and predicted, but the person who worked it out made no fuss, and very little discussion of his program. All of [his] attention was directed towards the task of developing the team which eventually, within one season, romped through the Grays as if they were a sandlot team. …

“Trouppe’s job was a full one, playing, directing field strategy, and directing the players from the bench. On more than one occasion, he was seen to leave a position on base where he had hit safely to direct the batter, or runner on another base, what strategy to employ, and more than likely not, he was right.

“Trouppe wasn’t the most publicized or the most appreciated player on the Buckeyes by a long shot. In fact, too much of the credit for what was being done was given elsewhere. Had not this single individual been a member of the squad, it is almost a certainty that the Buckeyes would not have been in the running for the league championship this year.”

Williams asserted that Trouppe moulded the Bucks into fighting trim without fiddling too much with the roster — aside from the addition of spark plug infielder Avelino Canizares, there were few new faces in the Cleveland dugout. Williams also credited Trouppe’s magic behind the plate, especially calling for pitches, with sharpening his pitcher’s control and confidence.

But how do the Buckeyes fit into overall hardball history? Case Western Reserve University graduate student and Society for American Baseball Research member Stephanie Liscio drew a comparison between the ’45 Buckeyes’s achievement and the 2001 major-league World Series, in which the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks — whom, like the ’45 Buckeyes, used stalwart pitching as a foundation for success — skewered a previously dynastic New York Yankees team that was struggling, unsuccessfully, to retain its grasp on a title.

Liscio traced parallels between that falling Yankees squad and the declining Grays of 1945. That, she says, led, and continues to lead, pundits and historians to downplay the Bucks’ achievement that year.

But, like the ’01 Yanks, the Grays were able to mask their crumbling empire with a solid regular season, a situation that allowed the fresh-faced Cleveland squad to zoom in below the radar. Says Liscio:

“That was really the tail end of that Yankees dynasty that had a stranglehold on baseball in the second half of the 1990s. There were folks in the media in Cleveland in 1945 that thought the Buckeyes had a chance because the Grays were aging and losing a step. In many ways, the 1945 Grays and the 2001 Yankees were both powerful, talented teams, entering the back half of their dynasty, that were displaced by a young upstart.”

Still, in hindsight, nothing can take away from the achievements of the ’45 Buckeyes — achievements that, says Kent State University Professor and SABR Negro Leagues Committee member Leslie Heaphy, have only glowed more with the passing of the decades. She says:

“I’d say that the 1945 Buckeyes were a well-rounded team that managed to shut down what was a very powerful Grays offense, even if it was starting to enter its twilight. They shocked a lot of people, but maybe they shouldn’t have  — there was a lot of talent there, even if it wasn’t superstar-level talent.”

There is, of course, an interesting postlude (or two) to the tale of the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes, one that involves a need to continue making money to stay afloat —and a wee bit of controversy.

It came in the first week of October of that year, when the Buckeyes and the Grays locked horns in a pair of exhibition clashes at none other than Yankee Stadium after the World Series was over.

The Grays swept the doubleheader with identical 7-1 scores, leading fans and pundits to stew and steam over what they viewed as some as a slack performances by the vaunted Grays during the World Series. Wrote New York Amsterdam News scribe Dan Burley in the paper’s Oct. 6, 1945, issue:

“The Grays in these two [exhibition] games came definitely to life and pinned back the collective Cleveland ears … That is what made people so salty. If, they pondered, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson and Co. could toy with Cleveland after that team had won the championship, why in the hell wasn’t such a performance put on when our money was on the line for the Homestead crew during the series?”

Daniel, watch your language!

It should be noted, perhaps, that some observers weren’t really happy with how the whole ’45 Negro Leagues season went down. None other than legendary Pittsburgh Courier scribe Wendell Smith groused in his year-end wrap up of the sportive scene:

“On the matter of organizational function, Negro baseball left itself wide open. Once again it failed to operate according to the rules and regulations of organized baseball. Its member teams played more exhibition games than league contests; players socked and battered umpires; fines were inconsistent with violations and the officials appeared to know less about penalties than ever before; the East-West [All-Star] game was a financial success, but a disappointment from the standpoint of attendance; players were traded and re-traded with abound and the fundamental rules and regulations of the spacious baseball world were ignored with brazen regularity.”

Curmudgeonly and grouchy? Perhaps. Accurate and insightful? You bet.

The 1945 Negro Leagues campaign might or might not have been a stellar one in terms of league functionality and caliber of the product put forth for the fans. There’s little doubt that the world of blackball was more willy-nilly and seat-of-your-pants when it came to what happened on the field and in the financial coffers.

The question of whether the Homestead Grays gave their all, so to speak, in the Negro World Series perhaps still remains open for debate as well. Then there’s the matter of the supposed major-league “tryouts” Buckeyes stellar outfielder Sammy Jethroe and four other promising Negro Leagues stars, including Jackie Robinson, who would be actually be signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers near the end of the year.

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Sam Jethroe

So, in hindsight, the 1945 Negro Leagues season was … interesting. But regardless, the Cleveland Buckeyes achievements that year cannot be overlooked or ignored. The Bucks were a fantastic squad, one of which even the great Rube Foster might be proud.

Cleveland was scrappy, but it was also rich with talent; while it had no future Hall of Famers or what history has dubbed true superstars — Jethroe could very well be the exception, as many historians and Negro Leagues enthusiasts believe he is one of the most under-appreciated — the roster was solid from top to bottom. They knew how to clout the horsehide, but they could also play small ball — stolen bases, bunts, timely hits. Well rounded is a word that certainly comes to mind.

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Quincy Trouppe

And that pitching crew … the whole starting rotation included four wily, skillful pitchers, all being caught by an expert catcher. And then there’s that catcher and manager, Quincy Trouppe — he brought it all together, bringing heart, smarts, experience and wisdom to a squad that was on the verge of greatness.

In fact, let’s finish this post with some thoughts from Quincy himself, via Bob Williams’ Oct. 27, 1945, Call and Post article, which included an interview with the manager. Take it away, Mr. Trouppe:

“I knew I didn’t have power hitters, with the exception of myself, so I had to utilize the speed, hit-and-run bunt and other batting techniques to the greatest possible advantage over my opposition.

“After deciding the type of strategy to employ I had to coach the players on when, how and what stage of the game to use a particular strategy.”

He added:

“When I came to the Buckeyes last year I noticed that although they were good ball players, they had missed a lot of basics, they were lacking in the fundamental knowledge of the game, they were not doing the things they should have been taught to do.

“I believe most teams in the colored leagues are sadly deficient in these fundamentals which represent the difference between a good team and a championship team. …”

Well said.

Endnote: For a deeper look at the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes season, and every other season for the team, check out www.clevelandbuckeyesbaseball.com, operated and produced by stellar Negro Leagues and overall baseball historian Wayne Pearsall.

The ’45 Buckeyes, Part 2

Bucks team 1

This is the second in a three-part series on the 1945 Negro World Series champion Cleveland Buckeyes. For Part 1, click here.

It was with the disappointment (although Ernie Wright, Quincy Trouppe and the rest of the Buckeyes might have been a little relieved that their standout outfielder was going to be snatched up by the Red Sox) of outfielder Sam Jethroe‘s insulting tryout with the Boston Red Sox that the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes launched their campaign.

It was a new season, and the Bucks were rarin’ to go as one of the favorites to cop the Negro American League pennant. However, their schedule wasn’t as loaded with “official” NAL contests as you might think. As discussed later, most Negro Leagues often played only a few dozen such contests each year.

The rest of their hardball campaigns — including a host of preseason warmup contests — were packed with exhausting barnstorming jaunts throughout the Northeast and Midwest. In fact, like pretty much every Negro Leagues team, those barnstorming ventures comprised the majority of Cleveland’s season — they seemed willing to play anyone, and anywhere within striking distance.

In July, for example, 500 people gathered at the famed House of David stadium in Benton Harbor, Mich., to watch the Bucks blast a popular local semipro team, Tate Edgell’s Twin City Independents, 7-3. A few weeks later, Cleveland landed in NYC top face the talented Bushwicks in a barnstorming tilt at Dexter Park. Stated the July 28, 1945, New York Age:

“It will be the first meeting between the two clubs. Cleveland captured the first half honors in the Western circuit [the NAL]. This will be [the Buckeyes’] first visit of the year in the East.”

When it came to barnstorming during the fantastic 1945 season, the Buckeyes seemed to love the towns and small cities of western and central Pennsylvania — they frequently scheduled contests, against both local clubs and other traveling big-time Negro League aggregations, in cities like Harrisburg, York and Chester.

The Bucks’ opponents for these exhibition games varied from local sandlot teams, like Lloyd’s Athletic Club in Chester, to top-level blackball squads, like the Negro National League’s Baltimore Elite Giants at the West York High School field in York.

However, it wasn’t just barnstorming tilts that saw the Buckeyes crisscross the Midwest; they also played NAL games in various locales. For example, on June 19, the Bucks squared off against the legendary Chicago American Giants, one of blackball’s most storied franchises, at Swayne Field in Toledo.

Offerman

The Cleveland crew then motored to Buffalo, another Lake Erie burg, where they fell to the Indianapolis Clowns (those most embarrassing of baseball minstrels), 4-3, at Offerman Stadium. An article in the June 23, 1945, New York Age asserted that the W was the Clowns’ second win over the Buckeyes that season, which, according to the report, amounted for half of Cleveland’s paltry four loses.

However, as was the case throughout much of Negro Leagues history, blackball teams usually played so many league games, barnstorming contests and/or exhibitions in so many locales that, in historical hindsight, it becomes difficult to ascertain the results of these dozens of games — or even whether the contests even went off as planned at all.

Take, for example, a game scheduled between Cleveland and the Chicago American Giants slated for that Aug. 9 in Harrisburg — the NAL regular season game fizzled before it started when the Buckeyes failed to make an appearance, reportedly because their bus broke down near Pittsburgh.

(Such last-minute cancellations and alterations occurred pretty frequently during Negro Leagues seasons, thanks to often less than stellar transportation, shoddy accommodations or a host of other causes. That, plus sketchy record-keeping, made it quite difficult to ascertain exactly how many league games each team had played and, therefore, what each team’s record was at any given point during the season. You’ll actually see an example of that a little bit later in this tale of the ’45 Buckeyes.)

Amidst this frenzied barnstorming chaos, the Buckeyes managed to bear down when the contests started mattering in the Wins and Losses column — league games. The Bucks’ quest began in late May, when they opened the season by sweeping the Memphis Red Sox in a doubleheader at League Park in Cleveland. The day was punctuated by a theft of home by Buckeyes third baseman Parnell Woods, the sparkling all-around play of Cuban spark plug Avelino Canizares, and the stellar mound work of the Jefferson brothers.

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Parnell Woods

The Buckeyes followed that up by taken six of eight games against the Red Sox in a joint road trip, results that secured Cleveland’s spot in first place in the NAL. Paced by Canizares’ league-leading four home runs, the Bucks staked out first by posting the top team batting average (.316) and fielding percentage (an astounding .996), showing off their well rounded balance in the process.

Cleveland turned out its first-half coup de grace a couple weeks later, when they clobbered the great Chicago American Giants in a dominant doubleheader sweep on the road at Comiskey Park, 6-0 and 3-1. The victories secured the NAL’s first-half pennant — the league followed a split-season setup, with the winners of each half facing off for the overall league crown — as Sammy Jethroe went 7-for-9 at the plate to anchor what the Cleveland Call and Post’s Bob Williams called the Buckeyes’ “murderer’s row.”

With the first-half flag in their hands, the Bucks bore through their second-half slate in similar fashion. However, shoddy-record keeping — as alluded to earlier — nearly robbed Cleveland on the second-half crown as well.

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Frank Carswell

Despite again drubbing the American Giants in a doubleheader — this time in front of 8,000 fans at League Park at Wilbur Hayes Day, with George Jefferson claiming the 6-2 victory in Game 1 and big Frank Carswell blanking the hapless Giants 6-0 in the nightcap — during the first week of September, muddled paperwork and stat-taking at first gave the second-half crown to rival Chicago.

Why? Because league officials determined that, at first glance, Cleveland hadn’t played the required number of league games. Such a situation seems strange if one goes by Major League standards, in which every league team follows a strictly maintained scheduled and thus plays the same amount of contests as everyone else.

But with life being so harried and frenetic and even willy-nilly in the Negro Leagues — where, out of economic necessity just to survive as a franchise, teams routinely played many more barnstorming games than league matches — league officials had trouble keeping up with all the irregular records. Add to that a somewhat tenuous league administrative structure — which, again, wasn’t the case in the Majors — and at times, the league office was pure chaos.

But after some adjusting of the numbers and a review of the records, circuit honchos determined that the Bucks had, in fact, played the required number of games as well as posted more wins than the Chicago club, a skein that included 11 straight league victories at one point.

Thus, with both the first- and second-half pennants in their trophy case, the Buckeyes ended up undisputed champions of the 1945 Negro American League season. And, while field players like Woods, Canizares and first sacker Archie Ware and a stout but unheralded pitching pen, media and fans knew who was the foundation of the Buckeyes’ on-field success.

“ … [T]he top man in the Negro American League this years is again Sammy Jethroe, slight, unimpressive centerfielder who wears No. 27 on his shirt,” stated the Sept. 15, 1945, issue of the Call and Post, which added:

“Jethroe … has captured the batting championship for the second straight year with an average swat of .393, after fattening his mark 13 points in the final week of the campaign …

“King Jethroe almost finished right across the board in other departments, too … finishing on top in five other divisions, which included:

“A total of 55 runs scored, 123 total bases, 10 triples, 8 home runs and 21 stolen bases.”

Jethroe would have earned a septuple crown, but his teammate Archie Ware beat him out in RBIs. Sammy’s incredible stats in ’45 cemented his place in Negro Leagues history as a steady, dependable and incredibly well rounded player — a player who might be one of the most underrated, overlooked legends in blackball annals. If fantasy baseball had existed in the mid-1940s, Jethroe would, to say the least, be a good guy to draft.

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Sammy Jethroe

With Cleveland’s NAL crown, that set up the blockbuster showdown with the dynastic Homestead Grays, once again kings of the NNL but also a franchise starting the slow decline in ferocity and fortitude. A now-steadily aging squad, the Grays were formidable but flawed.

On the flip side, the Buckeyes were young, talented, balanced and getting better. With no superstars but a deep roster to go with shrewd, battle-tested but bold management on the bench and in the front office, Cleveland presented a captivating foil to the storied Grays — not to mention a Lake Erie fanbase that was dying for a successful hardball team. Stated the Call and Post’s Jimmy Jones in the paper’s Sept. 15 issue:

“Hosts of their first world series contest since 1920 when the Indians clashed with the Brooklyn Dodgers .. it is expected that record crowds of white and colored fans will see the first two of the five games now scheduled between the Grays and the Buckeyes. …

“The Buckeyes have more than an even chance to win the series from the Grays who have been steadily declining in power and flash which highlighted some of their earlier title triumphs. …

“The Buckeyes are a young and growing squad, strong in every department and surging with the thrill of early success.

“Just four years ago Manager Wilbur Hayes began to collect pro and semi-pro ball players from all over the country to begin building today’s championship title contenders. The brilliant players who hold down most berths on Buckeyes’ squad were secured only after [a] long and diligent search.”

Then came the Negro World Series and the triumph of the vaunted Grays. I actually won’t go into too much detail — please don’t be mad! — about the actual series other than what I discussed in the first post of this trio of articles. To me, honestly, it’s the Buckeyes’ preseason, regular season that are the most fascinating. We know what happened in the World Series. But how did that World Series juggernaut come together?

That’s the story I hope these first two posts have spotlighted. In the next and final installment of this opus, the Bucks’ fall victory tour and a theorem that hopes to chew over.

Back in action, and the Buckeyes are on deck

Finally! I’ve at last been able to gain a little more healthy footing and get a few things straightened out on that front. Things are still busy in the burg of Gretna, La., but I’m eager to job back into this here modest venture known as Home Plate Don’t Move.

Many thanks for hanging in there with me, as well as the beaucoup well wishes. Now, hopefully, you’ll enjoy what I’m prepared to serve up to ya.

And what I have for ya is a World Series. Not the 2015 MLB World Series, but one from a while ago — 1945, to be precise, exactly 70 years ago, when an exuberant, carefully constructed squad of unheralded but supremely talented and balanced bunch of upstarts shocked the African-American baseball community.

This is a significantly modified and expanded version of a work I submitted to a daily newspaper — I’m still waiting to see if that version of the article will be published (and if it does go to print, I’ll post the link here) — so some parts of it will have the tone and cadence of a newspaper article.

The story will be broken up into three still-very extended posts — apologies, as usual, for the relatively massive cumulative length — with the second installment (hopefully) being published this Friday and the final one going Monday as this year’s MLB World Series gets underway.

So sit back (or lean forward, depending on how you use your computational machines) and take a gander. Hope you like it …

Bucks team 1

They were the definition of underdogs, going up against arguably the greatest dynasty in Negro Leagues history. Heck, they had massively overachieved just to win the Negro American League pennant.

But 70 years ago, the Cleveland Buckeyes did it. They toppled the mighty Homestead Grays of the Negro National League, a team loaded with future Hall of Famers like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, with a resounded 4-0 sweep.

It was a Negro World Series for the ages, and the Buckeyes — who boasted no future Hall members in their lineup — came out on top, redefining history and stamping their indelible mark on the legacy of postseason baseball in Cleveland in the process.

“The Cleveland Buckeyes … astounded the diamond world by knocking off the Homestead Grays, long the dominant force in Negro baseball, in four straight games in the world series,” wrote legendary Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter Wendell Smith. “… Cleveland ‘breezed’ through the series in easy fashion.”

Head and shoulders of baseball writer Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

And Cleveland did it with a balanced roster blessed with depth and quality, if unheralded, talent from top to bottom.

“The Buckeyes were considered a well-rounded team, but I’m not sure how many people outside of Cleveland really considered them a threat,” said Case Western graduate student and Cleveland Negro Leagues historian Stephanie Liscio.

“They didn’t have a ton of superstars, or people that were necessarily big names outside of Cleveland, so I think it’s how they were able to fly in under the radar, especially when you consider that their competitors, the Homestead Grays, had tons of big-name superstars. [The Buckeyes] were solid across the board, though, even if they didn’t have a couple of big names clobbering the ball every day.”

It was pitching, however, that really carried the day for the Bucks. Led by the Jefferson brothers, George and the elder Willie, and buttressed by stalwart hurlers Eugene Bremmer and Frank Carswell, the Cleveland rotation shocked the world by shutting down the potent Homestead bats.

After Willie Jefferson clamped down on the Grays for a 2-1 victory at Cleveland Stadium during game one, Frank “Bruiser” Carswell made it clear that the Buckeyes — who were only four years old as a franchise — were a team of destiny by completely dominating Homestead in a 5-0 shutout in game four.

“Winning game one helped boost the Buckeyes’ confidence,” says Kent State professor Leslie Heaphy, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Negro Leagues committee. “A little sloppy play [by the Grays] and clutch hitting [by Cleveland] won them game two in come-from-behind fashion. But shutting out the Grays in game four really showed how strong the Buckeyes’ pitching was.”

Because the team was only founded in 1942, as the ’45 season began few pundits gave the Buckeyes a chance of even unseating the Birmingham Black Barons for the NAL pennant, especially because the Barons were the defending, two-time league champs.

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Quincy Trouppe

But before the season commenced, the Buckeyes made two key signings — the hiring of savvy veteran catcher Quincy Trouppe as manager, and the addition of Cuban infielder Avelino Canizares.

By securing that pair and going through a rigorous round of spring training, the Buckeyes entered the campaign as a confident bunch, even though the rest of the blackball world expected little of them.

“You can take it from me …,” reported the Cleveland Call and Post’s Bob Williams  in late May, “you’re going to see a classy bunch of first rate ball players, strong in every department.

“I’ve listened to a lot of stories from executive manager Wilbur Hayes,” Williams added, “who raves about his new catcher-manager, his classy Cuban players, and the superb pitching staff, to say nothing of an ‘all around ball club, ready to make a real bid for the championship.’”

And remember the postseason plaudits Wendell Smith would heap on the Bucks after they crushed the mighty Grays in September? Well, before the season started, the famed scribe seemed to possess a remarkable prescience. As he wrote in the May 5, 1945, Pittsburgh Courier:

“In the American League, [two-time defending NAL champ] Birmingham … will be confronted with Ernie Wright’s formidable Cleveland Buckeyes, a team that has grown in prestige and power yearly because it is one of the best operated organizations in baseball. Barring injuries, the Cleveland team is destined to oust the mighty Birmingham aggregation this season. Managed by Quincy Troupe [sic], a topnotch catcher, the Buckeyes have the best balanced team in the American League. … [O]n paper, Cleveland has the best team in the Western circuit.”

But before we dig into the task of retracing the season, there’s one more thing to discuss — it’s significant and, it turns out, it also involves Wendell Smith.

It came in mid-April, and it was met with a flurry of coverage in the black press and keen interest among Negro Leagues fans — two Major League teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and, of all organizations, the Boston Red Sox, announced they would each offer tryouts to a few African-American stars.

You’ll recall that the Red Sox were the very last MLB team to integrate, a development that, fairly or not, helped earn Boston a reputation as a racist city when it came to sports. (Just as a side note, I’d counter with the fact that the Boston Bruins were the first NHL team with a black player, Willie O’Ree, while the Celtics were the first NBA squad with an African-American coach, the great Bill Russell.)

But in spring 1945, the BoSox appeared to be on the cutting edge of race relations. The players they tried out: Jackie Robinson, then playing with the Kansas City Monarchs; the Philadelphia Stars’ Marvin Williams; and Cleveland Buckeyes outfielder Sam “The Jet” Jethroe. (Sorry, Jason Terry, but Sammy was the original Jet.) The trio had Smith, who had pushed for the tryouts, accompanying them. (The Dodgers, meanwhile, took a look at pitchers Dave “Showboat” Thomas and Terris McDuffie.)

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Sam Jethroe

The news of the impending tryouts seems to have been met with cautious enthusiasm, but the Call and Post was understandably excited about seeing its city’s star outfielder get a shot at The Show. As the paper stated in its April 14, 1945, issue:

“This is the first time that any Cleveland ball player has ever been given an opportunity to tryout [sic] on a major league team, following on the heels of the history-making tryouts of two Negro ball players with the Brooklyn Dodgers last week.

“Jethroe stars in center field but is a good utility catcher, led the American League in batting last year with an average of close to .350, and is one of the most valuable Negro ball players in the country.”

However, any optimism the African-American media and fan base might have had at the initial news was snuffed out almost as quickly as it had been generated — none of the players who showed up for workouts with the MLB clubs were signed, and, after the affair, many African-American pundits were actually pretty steamed, calling the tryouts an insulting sham.

The April 28, 1945, issue of the Chicago Defender ran a report on the tryout with the headline, “Boston Red Sox Impressed But Fail To Hire 3 Negroes.” By most accounts, all the BoSox management — and that of the Dodgers a week earlier — did was have the black players come out for a few minutes, just toss a couple balls and take a couple cuts at the plate. It was, scribes said, humiliating. Wrote Homestead Grays owner, NNL secretary and eventual Hall of Fame inductee Cum Posey shortly after the event:

“We will forgot the foot race between sports writers to see which hopes to be the first to place a Negro player in white organized baseball. To say that these players got tryouts by major league clubs is a travesty.

“It was the most humiliating experience Negro baseball has yet suffered from white organized baseball. It was humiliating to the writers who took these players to camps.

“Whoever heard of a player getting a tryout by hitting a few balls, catching a few balls, or in the case of a pitcher throwing a few balls?

“The first instruction a major league scout gets when he leaves to look over a prospect is: Can he run? Can he throw? If he can not do either of these, he is passed no matter how he hits or fields.

“None of these players were asked to run or throw.

“After seeing these players, was an option asked for their services? Any white rookie one half as good as any of these players would have been kept for at least a week and sent to some minor league club.”

But such disgruntlement, while stinging and seething underneath for two more years, was soon forgotten, at least for the time being. There was a season to play, and the Cleveland Buckeyes were amped up for the campaign.

Next up: The season takes flight, and the Buckeyes barnstorm up a storm.

A little medical leave

Howdy all, I just want to apologize for not getting posted lately — that trend might continue for another week or so. I’m going through a few major changes in terms of my long-term health situation, so I’m kind of struggling to get things done right now.

I’ll try to post some new stuff ASAP, so bear with me if you can! Many thanks, enjoy the playoffs, and go Cards!