Playing baseball in the Negro Leagues was a nomadic existence. It wasn’t uncommon for a team to play in multiple home fields in the same season. The Buckeyes started as a team dividing its time between Cleveland and Cincinnati. The Clowns divided their schedule between Cincinnati and Indianapolis, and the Homestead Grays – started in their eponymous city outside of Pittsburgh – played most of their home games at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C.
It also entailed numerous exhibitions (although in the days before a strong players’ union, the same thing occurred in Major League Baseball as well). So it wasn’t too out of the ordinary to see the Cleveland Buckeyes take on the Chattanooga Choo Choos in an exhibition on September 9, four days before they were slated to take on the Grays in the Negro World Series.
The Buckeyes beat the Choo Choos 14-5 in a perfect tune-up before more than 5,000 fans at League Park, which hadn’t hosted a World Series game since the Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins in the 1920 Fall Classic. But while the Buckeyes would host the first game of the World Series, it wouldn’t be at League Park. It would be under the lights at Municipal Stadium.
It was a long trip for the Buckeyes, who were likened to a team of scrubs just three years earlier. Bob Williams, sports editor of the Call and Post, the newspaper serving Cleveland’s black community, said that Indians owner Alva Bradley, General Manager Roger Peckinpaugh and Manager Lou Boudreau attended a game “and went away laughing because of the sloppy, untrained players who cavorted like second-rate sandlotters across the diamond.”
Willie Jefferson got the nod for the Buckeyes in the series opener, while Leroy “Lefty” Welmaker started for the Grays. The pitchers traded goose eggs for the first six and a half innings, but in the bottom of the seventh, Quincy Trouppe tripled to deep center. Buddy Armour struck out swinging, and Johnny Cowan hit a flyout to left field that was deep enough to score Trouppe. The Buckeyes were on the board.
In the next inning, Archie Ware hit a screaming line drive single to left field and advanced to second when Parnell Woods walked. Willie Grace hit a high fly ball to right field, which dropped in for a hit, giving Jefferson an insurance run – which he would need.
In the top of the ninth, Dave Hoskins singled to center with one out, took second on a walk to Buck Leonard and then scored on a Josh Gibson single. Jefferson got Sammy Bankhead to ground into a double play to end the game and give the Buckeyes their first World Series win ever.
The second game of the Negro World Series would be a three days later, allowing the Buckeyes time to play an exhibition game in Dayton against the Kittyhawks, a team based out of Wright Field, home to a base of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The Buckeyes blanked the Kittyhawks 7-0, handing them their second defeat of the year (the only other loss was to Naval Station Great Lakes, a team populated with ringers from the major leagues).
Eugene Bremer got the nod to start for the Buckeyes against John Wright, who was staked to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh when Willie Grace hit a home run over the tower right-field fence at League Park to put the Buckeyes on the board. Armour then doubled to right field and scored when Bremer hit a grounder to second, which was booted by Jelly Jackson.
In the bottom of the ninth of the tie game, Trouppe doubled to right, and then took third on a passed ball by Gibson (who by then was suffering from frequent headaches, brought on by a brain tumor). Wright walked the next two batters to pitch to Bremer, who stroked the game-winning hit to right field.
The Buckeyes had a two games to none lead in the World Series. The Grays won an exhibition in Dayton, but the World Series was now headed to Forbes Field for Game 3. The game was rained out, and rather than stay and play it there, the teams headed to Washington D.C., which was the site for Game 4, but would host Game 3 instead.
“The 1945 World Series program should turn out to be a corker,” Williams wrote in the Call and Post before the road trip started.
Photo: Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh