Epilogue: 1945 was the Beginning of the End for the Negro Leagues

The Buckeyes’ Negro League championship was a big deal – to the black community.

Although the team was covered regularly by the Call and Post, it received little notice in the mainstream press. But it wouldn’t be long before black baseball players were the toast of Cleveland – although not with the Buckeyes.

Integration was at hand.

Bill Veeck, son of the former Cubs executive, had gotten into baseball himself, buying the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1942 (he had tried to buy the Phillies that year – ostensibly to stock it with Negro League talent – but Major League Baseball decided to sell to Billy Cox, who then became the first executive banned from baseball). After service in the war – where he’d lost part of his leg, “but gained an ashtray,” in his own words – he bought the Cleveland Indians.

In July 1947, Veeck signed Larry Doby – who had played against the Buckeyes with the Newark Eagles – to the Indians. By that time, the National League had already been integrated with Jackie Robinson – another former Buckeye opponent with the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson had been signed by the Dodgers organization in October 1945 – a month after the Buckeyes’ title. He played in the minor leagues in 1946, and joined the parent club the following year.

Also by 1947, the Buckeyes were alone as tenants of League Park. Veeck realized that he was leaving money on the table with every game played at East 66th and Lexington and made Municipal Stadium the Indians’ full-time home. League Park was also home to an NFL team, the Cleveland Rams, but they decamped for Los Angeles following their 1945 season – which also ended in a championship. The other football team in town, the Browns of the new All-America Football Conference, were also using Municipal Stadium for games, occasionally practicing at League Park.

The 1947 Buckeyes won the pennant, but lost the World Series to the New York Cubans. By then, the writing was on the wall for them and for Negro League teams. The last Negro World Series was the following year, a win by the Homestead Grays. That same year, the Indians won the World Series – aided in large part by contributions from their own black players, Doby and Satchel Paige, whose signing was decried in some corners as a publicity stunt (Paige went 6-1 for a team that was tied on the last day of the regular season, so every victory counted).

By 1949, the Buckeyes had moved their home base to Louisville, limped through that season, and moved up to Cleveland for the 1950 season and then disbanded.

Although the Major Leagues suddenly found themselves stocked with Negro League talent, only two of the players from the 1945 Buckeyes made it to the Major Leagues. Sam Jethroe was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1950 for the Braves. Quincy Trouppe played for one year for the Indians as well. The title of his autobiography? “Twenty Years Too Late.”

Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

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