The CLEVELAND BUCKEYES, the last of a number of Cleveland teams that played in the professional Negro baseball leagues, also were the best, playing in 2 Negro World Series and winning in 1945.
Most of Cleveland's black professional baseball teams prior to the Buckeyes lasted a year or less, and the teams finished near the bottom of the standings. The Cleveland Tate Stars finished last in the Negro National League in 1922, as did the Cleveland Browns of 1924, the Cleveland Elites of 1926, and the Cleveland Hornets of 1927. In 1931 local attorney ALEXANDER MARTIN and Thomas P. Wilson of Nashville brought the Nashville team to Cleveland for a brief season as the Cleveland Cubs, featuring the legendary pitcher LEROY "SATCHEL" PAIGE. In 1932 the Cleveland Stars competed in the East-West League, and in 1933 the Cleveland Giants replaced the Columbus Blue Birds during the season. The Cleveland Red Sox won only 2 of their 24 games in the NNL in the first half of 1934 and played only 5 more games before dropping out. Negro baseball returned to Cleveland in 1939 and 1940 with the Cleveland Bears, who played .500 ball in the NAL.
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). Jethroe played for the Boston Braves for 3 years (1950-52) and was named National League Rookie of the Year at age 28.
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.
While this is one of the only cases of a travel fatality for a Negro League team, all teams faced difficulties on the road. There was rarely enough money in a team's budget to afford train travel or a team bus. Often the only solution was for a large number of players to fit in cars and travel all night to reach their next destination. Teams played whoever they could, wherever they could. Since any game meant money from gate receipts, Negro League teams would mix non-league exhibition games against white and black semi-pro teams into their regular schedule. It left for an exhausting and challenging schedule as teams drove hundreds of miles each day to reach their new destination.
In 1945 the Buckeyes finished in first place in both halves of the NAL season, compiling an overall record of 53-16. Managed by veteran catcher Quincy Trouppe and led by Sam Jethroe, 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.
Peterson, Robert W. Only the Ball was White (1970).