Buckeyes Get Glimpse of Greatness — and Victory — When Monarchs Come to Town
Vince Guerrieri | On 16, Dec 2015
The Cleveland Buckeyes started out as an Ohio team, with the plan to play home games in Cincinnati and Cleveland. But they proved more popular in Northern Ohio than Southern Ohio (and travel distance became a problem), and soon made Cleveland their permanent home.
Cincinnati then became home to the Clowns, who began as an independent barnstorming team, the Ethiopian Clowns. They then split their time between Cincinnati and Indianapolis (ultimately making Indianapolis their full-time home starting in 1946). And after the debacle in the night game the previous week at Municipal Stadium between the Buckeyes and the Birmingham Black Barons, the Clowns would be coming to Cleveland for a two-game series, one at League Park and one under the lights on the lakefront.
It would be their first trip to Cleveland that season (a previous game was rained out), and the Buckeyes took both games, not even giving up an earned run to the Clowns. The game was also notable for an appearance by James Thompson, who had been sucker-punched by Piper Davis of the Barons in the game a week earlier. Davis, in addition to facing a criminal charge of assault and battery, had been suspended by Barons owner Abe Saperstein (who also owned the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – which Davis played for as well).
Up next for the Buckeyes, on July 24, was probably the most famous Negro League team of all time: the Kansas City Monarchs. The big draw – and he would definitely take the mound against the Buckeyes – was ace pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
Satch, who would find himself in front of Cleveland baseball fans again just three years later, was an ageless wonder who could seemingly pitch every day. He was already nearly 20 years into a career that saw him pitch across the Western Hemisphere, in the Negro Leagues (including, briefly in Cleveland for the Cleveland Cubs), on barnstorming tours, and in Central and South America (occasionally, as he’d tell it, at the point of a gun).
The Monarchs were a dynasty in the Negro Leagues in the early 1940s, in no small part to Paige. But they also featured a fierce competitor and all-around athlete named Jack Roosevelt Robinson.
Jackie Robinson was an Army veteran and lettered in four sports at UCLA. He had never played professional baseball and was coaching (and occasionally playing) college basketball at Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas, when the Monarchs came calling.
And Robinson stepped into the batter’s box against Eugene Bremer in the top of the ninth at League Park, with the Monarchs down 3-0. He hit a long fly ball more than 400 feet down the left field line, and it cleared the fence – just inches outside the foul line, under the watchful eye of third base umpire James Thompson, making his return to umpiring after getting knocked out by Piper Davis a little more than a week earlier at Municipal Stadium. Robinson then stepped back into the batter’s box and hit another drive, not as long, but long enough down the right field line to end the shutout with a solo home run.
John Scott then hit a comebacker to Bremer for the first out. Lee Moody singled to right, and then advanced to second on a groundout by pinch-hitter Hilton Smith. Chester Gray came in to pinch-run and scored on a double by Jack Matchett. It was now a one-run game with the tying run at second and two outs.
Pinch-hitter Jim LaMarque flied out to end the game.
The pennant was within reach for the Buckeyes, but first would come the year’s biggest showcase: The East –West Game, the Negro League all-star game.