Cleveland, home of the Indians, reveled in the exploits of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Lou Boudreau in the 1940s. The Cleveland Buckeyes did not receive parallel acclaim—this, despite the team’s 1945 Negro League World Series championship.
“The public and media didn’t get behind us the way they should have the year we won the world championship,” said Ernie Wright, the Buckeyes’ owner, in an interview for Dwayne Cheeks’s article “The Cleveland Buckeyes Remembered: Played Second Fiddle to Tribe until Demise” in the January 18, 1982 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “All we got from the city of Cleveland was a banquet. There was no parade or meeting with the mayor. The players didn’t make any special appearances. It was a far cry from what the Indians got when they won the World Series in 1948.”
Outfielder Sam Jethroe echoed this claim. “The way the city responded, you wouldn’t have thought we won anything. I was a part of bigger celebrations in the minors. Winning minor league pennants in Montreal and Toronto were much bigger events,” said Jethroe in the same Plain Dealer article.
Celebrations were not absent, however. Contrasting the memories of Jethroe and Wright, a contemporaneous news account in the Cleveland Call and Post described the event mentioned by Wright. “The community paid its warmest tributes to the World Champion Cleveland Buckeyes at a banquet in their honor in the Hotel Majestic Rose Room last Sunday evening where team and management were thanked individually and collectively for the glory and distinction they have brought to this city,” wrote Bob Williams in the October 6, 1945 edition of the Call and Post.
Further, Williams noted, “Special credit was also given the Buckeyes in Cleveland City Council last Monday night when a resolution commemorating them was introduced and passed through the efforts of Councilmen DeMaoribus, Finkle, Gasaway, and Walker.”
With speed rather than strength, the 1945 Buckeyes swept the Homestead Grays to win the Negro League World Series. In his 1977 autobiography 20 Years Too Soon: Prelude to Major-League Integrated Baseball, Buckeye catcher-manager Quincy Trouppe explained, “We weren’t known as a power outfit, although we had players beside myself who could park one on you quick, but what we were doing that caught everyone by surprise and got us by them was bringing back the old brand of ball playing made famous in Rube Foster’s heyday. Back then, guys like Jelly Gardner and Jimmy Lyons could drive you crazy by choking up on the bat, hitting behind the runner, and running wild stealing on the base paths. It was true the Homestead Grays could bomb you out of the park, but my team was very fast. We could run the tongue out of anybody’s head.”
The Buckeyes compiled a 53-16 record in 1945, amounting to a .768 winning percentage. Beating the Grays meant overcoming a lineup filled with future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Buck Leonard. A Buckeye standout, switch-hitting outfielder Willie Grace batted .313 and hit the only home run in the 1945 Negro League World Series. In an interview for Brent Kelley’s article “Willie Grace was Part of the Best Team in Cleveland History…in 1945!” for the November 10, 1995 edition of Sports Collectors Digest, Grace recalled, “We were tellin’ the world what a great ball club you had. ‘Cause we beat you, but we was still tellin’ the world that’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a ballplayer was beatin’ a team like this.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 5, 2015.