Buckeyes Get Out to Early Lead in Road Trip Opener
Vince Guerrieri | On 03, Jun 2015
The Cleveland Buckeyes opened the 1945 season on the road, against the two-time defending Negro American League champion Birmingham Black Barons in Alabama.
The two teams played a doubleheader to start the season on May 6. Eugene Bremer (sometimes spelled Bremmer) got the nod in the first game. Closing in on 30, the 5-8 pitcher had 13 years experience and three all-star appearances (he would add a fourth in 1945).
Bremer, a native of New Orleans, Bremer started his pro career with his hometown Crescent Stars in 1932. Three years later, he latched on with the Shreveport Giants, followed by a stint with the Cincinnati Tigers, which found a home in the Negro American League when it was founded in 1937. A year later, Bremer ended up in Memphis, where he spent three years. He sat out 1941, but split 1942 between Memphis and the newly formed Ohio Buckeyes, which would split their time between Cleveland and Cincinnati. (Negro League teams were slightly more nomadic than their white counterparts; the Homestead Grays were named for a city near Pittsburgh, but played “home” games in Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C.)
By 1943, the Buckeyes made Cleveland their permanent home, and Bremer continued to pitch for the Buckeyes, as he was turned down from the service in World War II. He threw a shutout to open the season, but the Buckeyes didn’t fare so well in the nightcap, losing 9-3 to split the first doubleheader of the season. Willie Jefferson, who played for the Buckeyes with his brother George (seriously), took the loss. “They’re the team to beat,” Barons manager Wingfield Welch said of the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes then made their way north, playing a doubleheader the following Sunday against the Chicago American Giants – in two different states! Cleveland beat Chicago 9-8 in a game in Dayton, behind home runs by Sam Jethroe and Avelino Canozeris, then crossed the state line to win the nightcap 14-2 in Indianapolis, sparked by a nine-run fifth inning. General manager Wilbur Hayes said the team drew 2,500 in Dayton and 5,000 in Indianapolis.
The Buckeyes then embarked on an arduous tour leading up to the May 27 home opener. They would play a doubleheader against the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns on May 20, meet them again for an exhibition game at Red Bird Stadium (later known as Cooper Stadium) in Columbus two days later, and the Fremont Green Sox at Swayne Field in Toledo two days after that. The Buckeyes split the Sunday twin bill with the Clowns to roll into Cleveland tied for first place with Memphis, at 4-2.
Meanwhile, rumors were already circulating about black players in the major leagues. Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith was accusing Branch Rickey of setting himself up as “the guiding light behind a new colored U.S. League,” issuing an ultimatum to the Negro American and National leagues to join a new league or else. “Mr. Rickey is attempting to destroy two well organized leagues which have been in existence for some time and in which colored people of this country have faith and confidence,” Griffith said.