There was little more than a month left in the Negro League regular season after the East-West All-Star Game, and the Buckeyes, already winners of the first half of the season, had designs on taking the second half as well – and a date in the Negro World Series.
The Buckeyes didn’t have the star power of some other teams – the Homestead Grays had Josh Gibson, regarded as the best power hitter in the Negro Leagues (and possibly all of baseball), and the Monarchs had Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson – but they played well together and had more than their fair share of talent. The entire lineup was hitting over .300, led by Sam Jethroe, who had raised his batting average to a robust .409, and led the league with 16 stolen bases and eight triples. Buddy Armour was fourth in the league with a .360 average, and Archie Ware led the league with 36 RBI.
After sweeping a doubleheader to begin August against the Chicago American Giants, the Buckeyes went to Newark to play a twin bill against the Eagles. In the first game, they faced a pitcher who would soon be part of a major league organization: Don Newcombe, who would be signed by the Dodgers the following year and be playing with the parent club in 1949. Newcombe shut out the Buckeyes in a 4-0 win.
And it appeared the Buckeyes were going to be swept in the doubleheader, down 3-2 in the top of the seventh, when Avelino Canizares – who’d booted a key grounder in the first game – smashed a triple to center field. He came around to score when Ware – who also allowed an unearned run in the first game with an error – singled, and the game was tied.
In the top of the ninth, Buddie Armour walked and took second on a sacrifice by Earl Ashby. Up stepped Canizares, who lifted a single into left field for what turned out to be the game-winning run.
The Buckeyes then returned to Cleveland for another twi-night doubleheader at Municipal Stadium to benefit the Future Outlook League. This one would be against the Memphis Red Sox. A huge crowd was expected, to celebrate the Buckeyes as well as the end of World War II – and the accompanying lifting of wartime travel restrictions.
The Buckeyes won the first game handily, 7-2, as George Jefferson got his eleventh win of the year. Quincy Trouppe homered for the Buckeyes. George’s brother, Willie Jefferson, pitched the second game, and Buddy Armour hit a home run to tie the game at four. The game was called with a tie on account of darkness.
The second half of the season would end with a doubleheader at League Park against the Chicago American Giants. Team general manager Wilbur Hayes was honored with a new car to replace the Chevrolet that he had used to travel with the team – racking up more than 250,000 miles. The gift took on added significance since cars were hard to come by (there were no new cars made for the 1943-45 model years, as auto companies switched to wartime production). The Buckeyes then swept Chicago and appeared to win the second half crown as well to serve as the undisputed league champions.
But it looked like they’d have to play Chicago again, since they hadn’t played the required number of games. Upon closer inspection, though, it was revealed they met the requirement (one of the great tragedy of the Negro Leagues is that so much of their records are lost to history) and would play the Homestead Grays in the Negro World Series – the first World Series at League Park since the Indians won it all in 1920.
The Grays were named for their original home base in Homestead, a city outside of Pittsburgh, but by the time they met the Buckeyes in the World Series, they were playing most of their home games at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C.
The Grays were a dynasty, the two-time defending World Series champs and winners of the last nine Negro National League pennants. The 1945 team had no fewer than five future Hall of Famers: Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Jud Wilson. But Cleveland Call and Post sports editor Bob Williams – who would serve as one of three commissioners for the World Series, with legendary Pittsburgh Courier sports editor Wendell Smith and Afro-American Newspapers sports editor Art Carter, liked the Buckeyes’ chances.
“They have made every team in the league look like a bunch of amateurs this season,” he wrote. “And if they fail to cop the title it will be the greatest upset imaginable.”