East-West Game Provided Large Stage for Buckeyes, Negro League Baseball

The East-West All-Star Game for the Negro Leagues started in the same year as the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, 1933. In fact, they were both played at Comiskey Park in their first year.

The Major League All-Star Game was originally conceived as a one-off by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward to coincide with the Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933, but became an annual tradition, for decades providing the only opportunity outside of exhibitions and the World Series where players from the National and American Leagues would meet.

The East-West game was divided not by leagues but by geographic regions, with Pittsburgh serving as the westernmost point to be considered part of the “east.” The game was created to be a moneymaker for owners of Negro League teams, who were subject not just to the Depression, but to the prejudices of the day – which could also take a toll on their pocketbooks.

By 1945, the game had become an event unto itself, even regularly outdrawing the MLB All-Star Game – a trend that would continue by default in 1945, as wartime travel restrictions eliminated the MLB All-Star Game, replacing it with a series of exhibitions.

While the MLB All-Star Game had become a movable feast, traveling to different cities, the East-West Game stayed on the South Side of Chicago, and became a social event for African-Americans, with celebrities like Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne and Joe Louis in attendance. In fact, historian Larry Lester said the East-West game was the biggest event in African-American culture except for a fight by the Brown Bomber.

In 1945, four Cleveland Buckeye players were selected for the game: Catcher-manager Quincy Trouppe, first baseman Archie Ware, pitcher Eugene Bremer and outfielder Buddy Armour. The East-West Game was more democratic than the MLB All-Star Game. Although fans selected the lineups for the first two Midsummer Classics, for the following eleven years, teams were selected by the managers. The East-West Game lineup was voted on by fans, not at ballparks, but through African-American newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender.

But two of the biggest Negro League stars were not at the game. Josh Gibson had been suspended by his team, the Homestead Grays, for violations of team rules. Satchel Paige refused to play because of a dispute with ownership over how much he’d get paid (as the most popular player in the Negro Leagues, Satch had the kind of leverage that eluded many players; in fact, it was only the year previous that players started receiving a stipend of $200 for playing in the game).

The 1945 East-West Game was the poorest attended since 1939 – still drawing more than 31,000 fans – thanks in part to scalpers who were asking particularly outlandish prices. The West struck first in the second. Memphis’ Neal Robinson legged out an infield hit. The Indianapolis Clowns’ Alex Radcliffe hit a screamer to right field, ostensibly within reach of Big Bill Wright of the Baltimore Elite Giants. But he didn’t have his sunglasses and lost the ball in the sun, letting Robinson take third. Robinson and Radcliffe both scored on Ware’s hit into center field. Ware was then caught stealing second by Baltimore catcher Roy Campanella.

Trouppe was walked – the first of three free passes for the day – so pitcher Tom Glover could face pitcher Verdell Mathis of Memphis. He singled to left and Trouppe took third. Glover was then relieved for Bill Ricks of Philadelphia, who faced the Monarchs’ Jesse Williams. Williams hit a long drive to right, and Wright – still without his shades – lost what turned into a triple to score Mathis and Trouppe. The West added four more runs in the third for what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. The East put up five runs in the top of the ninth, but their comeback came up short in a 9-6 win for the West, their third triumph in a row.

Ware ended up with two hits and three RBI. Trouppe got a hit in his only official at-bat. The Buckeyes had acquitted themselves well on the largest stage of African-American baseball – and really, one of the largest of baseball period – and had a stretch run of about a month before the World Series.

Photo: robertedwardauctions.com

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