Highly-charged offense powers Buckeyes to first-half crown

As the Cleveland Call and Post said, the Buckeyes were “drunk with recent successes” with “blood in their collective eyes and a yen for bear” when the Chicago American Giants came to League Park for a doubleheader on June 17, 1945. The Buckeyes had just beaten the Kansas City Monarchs 5-0 in Belleville, Ill., coming within one hit of a perfect game. But the Buckeyes were only able to split the twin bill against the American Giants – and might not have even done that were it not for a controversial call.

The first game seemed interminable, locked in a tie going into the 13th inning. Avelino Canizares walloped a double to lead off the home half of the inning. Ducky Davenport hit a comebacker to the pitcher, Gready McKinnis, who tried unsuccessfully to take Canizares out at third. Davenport was safe at first, and the winning run was 90 feet away from home. An intentional walk loaded the bases, and Parnell Woods was up to bat.

With the infield pulled in, Woods hit a chopper to short. The shortstop threw home. It was a bang-bang play, and catcher Tommy Dukes missed the tag on Canizares. Umpire Harry Walker called the runner safe, winning the game for the Buckeyes. Walker was immediately besieged by Chicago players and manager Candy Jim Taylor, who had come to Chicago after leading the Homestead Grays to back-to-back Negro World Series. Police had to separate the umpire from the American Giants.

Walker later said that Dukes missed the tag, and his foot was off home plate, so Canizares was safe at home.

The second game started without incident, and the American Giants beat the Buckeyes 6-1. The two teams met for another doubleheader the following weekend – after a game at Swayne Field in Toledo – as the end of the first half of the season drew near.

The Buckeyes chased Lefty McKinnis from the mound in the fourth inning, and then four innings later, battered Sugg Cornelius. The Buckeyes batted around in the eighth inning, scoring eight runs on the way to a 17-2 win that saw every Buckeye player get a hit and score a run. George Jefferson got the win on the mound for Cleveland. There was still offense to come in the second game, a 10-2 win for the Buckeyes. Sam Jethroe went 7-for-9 at the plate in the doubleheader, 3-for-5 in the first game, and 4-for-4 in the nightcap, including an inside-the-park home run.

The Buckeyes were 27-9, with a three-game lead over the second-place Birmingham Black Barons, and 11 games up on the Kansas City Monarchs. Jethroe was leading the league in hits, total bases, triples (with player-manager Quincy Trouppe) and home runs. Buckeyes teammates Archie Ware and Parnell Woods led the league in RBIs and stolen bases respectively.

The next stop was Ruppert Stadium in Kansas City, where the Buckeyes would play the Monarchs, who included ageless pitcher Satchel Paige and a UCLA graduate and Army veteran who was on his way to bigger and better things: Jackie Robinson. The teams would play four games in as many days – a doubleheader on July 1, and another twin bill on Independence Day.

The Buckeyes swept the first doubleheader, coming from behind in both games, and won the holiday doubleheader as well. They would return home as first half champions, and open the second half not at League Park, but under the lights at Cleveland Stadium against the defending Negro American League champion Birmingham Black Barons.

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