Trouppe (born Troupe; he changed his name in 1946) was a legend in the Negro Leagues, serving as player-manager for the Cleveland Buckeyes team that won the Negro World Series. He’d also played in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico – basically anywhere that would have him with warm weather in the offseason.
He finally latched on as a catcher with the Indians in 1952. The team was managed by Al Lopez, himself a former catcher, and Trouppe, at 39, was the third-string catcher behind Jim Hegan and Birdie Tebbetts. But on April 30, he made his first Major League appearance, and four days later – 65 years ago today – he was part of Major League history.
The Indians were playing in Washington on a Saturday night, and Bob Feller was getting shelled. Tebbetts was the starting catcher that day, but he was lifted for a pinch-hitter, Barney McCosky, in the seventh inning. Trouppe took Tebbetts’ place behind the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Steve Gromek had relieved Feller in the sixth. He was pinch-hit for by Pete Reiser, and at the bottom of the seventh, Lou Brissie came on to pitch for the Indians.
Brissie gave up back-to-back singles before striking out Mickey Vernon, but Lopez called for a new pitcher. It would be Sam Jones, a former teammate of Trouppe’s with the Buckeyes. His appearance marked the first time in American League history that a black battery of pitcher and catcher was in the game (that breakthrough had been made in the National League with Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe in Brooklyn).
Coincidentally, in that day’s edition of the Cleveland Call and Post, the newspaper serving the city’s African-American community, writer John Fuster noted that it was entirely possible for the Indians to have more black players on the field than non-black players if Jones was pitching to Trouppe. Other African-American players on the team were Luke Easter, Harry Simpson and Doby. “The Call and Post is unable to recall a game in either league where five Negroes appeared on the field for one team,” Fuster wrote. “There is almost no chance at all that any team in either league, except the Indians, will put as many as five Negroes into one game. No other team in the National or American League has five Negroes on the roster.”
As it turned out, all five African-American players took part in the game, where Lopez tied a league record by using a total of 23 players. Easter and Simpson were starters, but Simpson moved to first when Easter, who battled injury for all of his all-too-brief Major League career, was taken out of the game in the fourth inning. Doby was used as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, but after reaching first base on a walk, was lifted for a pinch-runner.
Both Trouppe and Jones had brief careers with the Indians. Trouppe started the next day, and got one more start on May 10 before being demoted to Indianapolis. He never played in the Major Leagues again. Jones went 2-3 in 14 appearances that season, and pitched in Indianapolis in 1953 and 1954. He threatened to quit before the Indians dealt him to Chicago as part of the deal that brought Ralph Kiner to Cleveland. He finally got his shot in the starting rotation – a chance denied him while he was in Cleveland as the Indians pitching rotation in the early 1950s was loaded – with the Cubs, and responded with a no-hitter on May 12, 1955.
Jones went on to a 10-year career, with stops in St. Louis, San Francisco (he started the first game at Candlestick Park), Detroit, and Baltimore. He then spent three more years in the minor leagues, pitching in Columbus. Jones was diagnosed with cancer during his playing career, and it returned afterward, leading to his death at the age of 45 in 1971.
Trouppe lived long enough to see his achievements in the Negro Leagues recognized – thanks in no small part to his self-published autobiography, “20 Years Too Soon,” where he provided invaluable historic documentation. He died in 1993 at the age of 80.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project