The Cleveland Buckeyes

Learning American history through baseball history

By Stan WaymanLIFE Photo Collection

At the turn of the century, segregation based on race was commonplace. Two Americas, one Black and one White, arose. Even in northern cities, race relations in the U.S. prompted the ghettoization of Black people in communities separate to White people.

For Colored Store (1938) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

As a result, a Black economic ecosystem emerged, based on the fact that Black people needed to economically sustain themselves in the face of prejudice.

The Negro Leagues throughout the first half of the twentieth century became an integral part of the greater Black business model. Like other businesses, the Negro Leagues were funded through illegal rackets due to banks' discriminatory lending practices. 

The formation of these Black baseball leagues coincided with Black people boycotting discriminatory, White-owned businesses, or "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaigns.

Buckeyes Team Photo (1947) by UnknownBaseball Heritage Museum

The Buckeyes Form

Later than many of the other established Negro League teams, the Cleveland Buckeyes formed in 1942 and in a few short years hit their stride with a Negro World Series win in 1945.

"We lived at the Majestic," players Willie Grace and Sam Jethroe recalled. At the time, the Majestic Hotel in Central was the home of the team. As a Black hotel, the Majestic provided needed business to the community and a refuge for travelers.

Leaving Jim Crow

One option many Negro League players considered was moving south of the border to escape the discrimination and racism of the United States. Even during the off-season, many Buckeyes would play in the Mexican League just to make some extra cash, leading to near-absences of players as the season approached.

Quincy Troupe (Trouppe) Contract, 1949, From the collection of: Baseball Heritage Museum
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Above is a contract signed by Quincy Trouppe, player manager of the Buckeyes. Speaking fluent Spanish, Trouppe chose Latin America over Canada as the Negro Leagues' power waned into the 1950's. Trouppe would later join the Cleveland Indians in 1952 as the first Black catcher in the American League.

The Buckeyes' time in the Negro Leagues would last nine years, until 1950. By that point, desegregation had ended the need for Black-only baseball.

Ubiquitous in Baseball and American History, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1946. However, popular history tends to ignore the effects of the Negro Leagues on this monumental decision, and the cultural shift's effect on the Buckeyes was no different.

Satchel Paige Sitting in a Dugout (1948)Baseball Heritage Museum

When Larry Doby and Satchel Paige joined the Cleveland Indians in 1947 and '48 respectively, the survival of the Buckeyes was called into question.

Although the Negro Leagues were suggested to become a minor league level conduit for Black talent in the majors, this idea never materialized. Black baseball could not depend on the "segregated dollar," leading to its demise by the 1960s.

The Buckeyes and the Negro Leagues Today

How does a society honor a past in light of moral wrongs? Recently, Major League Baseball and authorities on the sport have acknowledged the Negro Leagues. More historians have highlighted the numerous leagues' place in Black business and the deterioration of Black-owned businesses after desegregation.

Could the Negro Leagues, like a handful of Black enterprises, have survived? Could the government have uplifted Black business during desegregation to ensure the future of an already fragile economy?

These questions have no concise answer. However, the world of Black Baseball is still honored and acknowledged in many respects across the country.

Sam Jethroe (1948) by Cleveland Press Collection and Cleveland State UniversityBaseball Heritage Museum

Sam Jethroe and the MLB Pension Plan

Long after Buckeyes star player Sam Jethroe retired from professional baseball in 1952, he sued the MLB for not recognizing Negro League players in their pensions. Although he lost the case, the MLB expanded their pension to include former Negro League players in 1997.

After years of decay, League Park, the home of the Buckeyes, was renovated to include a turf diamond and the Baseball Heritage Museum.

Quincy Trouppe (Arches of Tradition) (2014-09-20) by Jerome T. WhiteBaseball Heritage Museum

Here, the Buckeyes are immortalized as a part of Baseball, Cleveland, and American history. Portrayed here is Quincy Trouppe in local artist Jerome T. White's nine painting series "Arches of Tradition."

Satchel Paige (Arches of Tradition) (2014-09-20) by Jerome T. WhiteBaseball Heritage Museum

The Buckeyes' legacy lives on at the Museum, alongside other Black players who broke barriers in Baseball. Satchel Paige did not play for the Buckeyes, but he would go on to play for the Cleveland Indians in 1948 after an immensely successful career in Black baseball.

Credits: Story

Special thanks to the Cleveland Public Library's Digital Gallery for images and information on the Buckeyes. 

Additionally, the Call and Post and Plain Dealer archive along with articles from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) were used in the research for this article. Local baseball historian Wayne Pearsall's website is also a great resource for Buckeyes information.

Sam Jethroe photo courtesy of clevelandmemory.org and the Michael Schwartz Library. "Arches of Tradition" photos courtesy of Jerome T. White, and the piece is on display at the Baseball Heritage Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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