Buckeyes Put Up a Pair of Shutouts to Win Negro World Series

The Buckeyes took a commanding lead of two games to none in the 1945 Negro World Series with them into Pittsburgh – but they were playing the Homestead Grays, so the lead was by no means insurmountable.

The Grays fielded a team with no less than five future hall of famers, and had won the previous eight Negro National League pennants and two Negro League World Series. They hadn’t even been shut out in four years.

That changed with Game 3 of the 1945 Negro World Series on September 18, 1945. Rain forced the cancellation of the game in Pittsburgh at Forbes Field, so both teams traveled on to Washington. Griffith Stadium – the other “home field” for the Grays – was to host Game 4, but instead, it would host Game 3. In fact, the field wouldn’t get much of a breather, hosting the Senators and Tigers that day and the Buckeyes and Grays that night.

Prior to the game, Buckeyes general manager Wilbur Hayes got a telegram from Harold Burton, the former mayor of Cleveland, then serving as a Republican in the U.S. Senate (one of his former colleagues, Harry Truman, had just become President, and a day after Game 3, Truman would nominate Burton to the U.S. Supreme Court as a bipartisan gesture. Burton was approved by voice vote – and would be one of the behind-the-scenes forces in 1954 for Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision striking down segregation as the law of the land).

George Jefferson got the nod for the Buckeyes, and he was firing bullets, giving up just three hits in his 17th win of the season. He was also the beneficiary of sparkling defense behind him. Second baseman Johnny Cowan did the baseball equivalent of standing on his head, with five putouts – including one throw from his knees in the third, and a leaping snare of a liner by Buck Leonard. A.B. “Happy” Chandler, the U.S. Senator from Kentucky, was said to have remarked to George Preston Marshall, “That was the best play I’ve ever seen in my life.” (Chandler had been appointed baseball commissioner earlier that year, so his presence at the game isn’t surprising. Marshall, on the other hand, was; the longtime owner of the Washington Redskins might have been the biggest racist in sports).

Jefferson was staked to a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Willie Grace sacrificed home the first run of the game, and a bases-loaded single by Buddy Armour scored two more runs. The Buckeyes tacked on an insurance run in the eighth, and won 4-0. They were one win away from toppling the Grays from atop the Negro Leagues.

Game 4 was at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The Buckeyes got on the board in the top of the first, thanks to a bases-loaded error by Jelly Jackson that scored two runs.  It was all starting pitcher Frank Carswell would need.

Carswell picked up right where Jefferson led off, piling up goose eggs. He got into a little jam in the third inning, hitting Jud Wilson with a pitch. Sam Bankhead erased the runner with a double play, but Ray Brown walked and then took third on a single by Jerry Benjamin. Carswell walked Cool Papa Bell to load the bases. But Dave Hoskins hit a chopper to second, forcing Bell out to end the inning.

The Buckeyes tacked on a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Johnnie Cowan, and two more in the seventh on a two-run single by Sam Jethroe. By then, the outcome of the game wasn’t in doubt.

The Buckeyes won the game, 5-0, their second straight shutout against the Grays, to sweep the World Series. “A betting man with a mad crazy hunch could have gotten rich, literally rich off that series,” wrote Bob Williams in the Call and Post. “Nobody with a grain of reason power would have conceded that Buckeyes’ four straight victories over the Grays.”

Williams shared the surprise. Having followed the team all year, he knew they were special. But even he had no idea what they were capable of. “These fellows were great, and we hadn’t really known them at all!”

It was the high-water mark for the Buckeyes. It was also the beginning of the end.

Photo: The Plain Dealer file photo

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