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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CLEVELAND TIGERS (BASEBALL)

CLEVELAND TIGERS (BASEBALL)

The CLEVELAND TIGERS were the city's representative in the Negro National League for the 1928 season. They played their home games at LUNA PARK and finished last in the league that year with a 19-53 record. The team was owned by a white man, M.C. Barkin, who fired the team's leadership and released multiple players halfway through the season. During the first half of 1928, S.M. Terrell was the general manager of the Tigers and Frank Duncan was the manager. During the second half of the season, Lem R. Williams was the general manager and Harry Jeffries was the manager.

Prior to the season, Barkin paid $10,000 for the Tigers and hoped to recruit legendary Negro League player/manager Oscar Charleston as the leader of the team. Charleston declined when he was reportedly offered a record-breaking salary to play for the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania team. Barkin was able to obtain one high-profile signing in Oscar "Heavy" Johnson when he outbid five other teams for the slugger's services. During the 1927 season Johnson hit 42 home runs and batted .364 in only 88 games in an injury-shortened season. Barkin thought Johnson could easily hit 60 home runs in 1928, the record set by Babe Ruth in 1927, if he remained healthy. Even if Johnson missed his target, Barkin hoped that his presence would increase attendance figures. Johnson never emerged as a star during the 1928 season. The lone bright spot for the team came during an exhibition game against a Triple-A all-star team in September when Tigers pitcher Nelson Dean pitched a perfect game.

The Tigers were considered "consistent losers" during the first half of the season, prompting Barkin to fire the team's leadership and replace a number of players. A local hardware merchant, Barkin also played as a catcher during his youth in Class A baseball. Williams, Barkin's replacement for general manager (and formerly the team's booking and publicity agent), also had a long career in organized baseball. He was the captain of New York City's Cuban Giants for 16 years, and was later involved with the construction of Tate Field/Hooper Field. Williams was also chosen for an African American all-star team that played before the king and queen of England. A multiple sport athlete at Hiram College, Williams also worked as a policeman in Painesville.

The Tigers played their home games at Luna Park, primarily due to its large capacity and improved amenities. Five streetcar lines ran to the entrance of Luna Park, and the park's baseball field held 26,000 fans. There were also more restrooms for men and women, three club houses, and parking to accommodate up to 2,000 vehicles. Luna Park was criticized by many in the African American community due to policies of segregation.