Category Archives: Cleveland Buckeyes

Remembering “Sad” Sam Jones

Past feature articles, game summaries, and game box scores of African-American newspapers indicate there were at least 29 no-hitters thrown in Negro League baseball.  Most notably there were two by Satchel Paige and one each by Hilton Smith, Andy Cooper, “Smoky” Joe Williams, and Leon Day; all Hall of Fame pitchers.  The “invisible color line” that kept African–American ballplayers out of the Major Leagues was not erased until 1947 which was too late for these and many other good Negro League hurlers who were by then either dead or passed their prime.  But there were younger Negro League pitchers that got their opportunity in the Major Leagues; “Toothpick” Sam Jones was one of them. He is the only former Negro League pitcher to throw a Major League no-hitter.

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Born 12/14/25 in Stewartsville, Ohio, Jones also spent a portion of his youth in West Virginia. He left for military service before starting the life of a coal mine worker as were many of his family members and friends.  He played with a local black team while stationed in Orlando, Florida in 1947 and caught the eye of Quincy Trouppe, then the manager of the Negro American League (NAL) Cleveland Buckeyes.  Jones signed in time to help the team win the NAL pennant, but they lost to the New York Cubans in the 1947 Negro League World Series.  Jones got his nickname from having a toothpick in his mouth while on the pitching mound.

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With Quincy Trouppe 1952

It would be 1950 when the Cleveland Indians finally noticed the talented right-handed hurler that had been in their own backyard. However, Jones pitched in only 16 games with the Indians in four years before being traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1954 season. Once in the National League, the talented pitcher proved what he had done in the Negro Leagues was no fluke.   Opponents claimed Jones, a power pitcher standing at 6’4” and weighing 200 pounds, had the best curveball in the National League.  He faced batters with a never-changing, expressionless look on his face which resulted in him also being called “Sad” Sam.  That is the nickname I mostly remember.  But opponents also said Jones had a mean streak exhibited by his pitches; he hit 14 batters in 1955 (league leader).  There was an ongoing intense confrontation whenever Henry Aaron faced Jones that is well documented.  Jones struggled at times with control of his pitches; he led the National League in walks four times.  But he also could be overpowering; being the league leader in strikeouts three years and pitching 17 shutouts in his 12 year Major League career.  He became a two-time National League All-Star, winning 21 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1959 and 18 in 1960.

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But it was on May 12, 1955 as a Chicago Cub that Jones pitched himself into the Major League Baseball record book with a 4-0 no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It was a “Sam Jones” pitched type of game.  He struck out six batters, walked seven, threw a Wild Pitch, and was helped with two double plays.  In the ninth inning, he walked the first three hitters before striking out the final three.

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He retired after pitching with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964, the sixth team played with during his time in the Major Leagues; Cleveland Indians 1951 – 1952,  Chicago Cubs 1955 – 1956, St. Louis Cardinals 1957 – 1958 and 1963, San Francisco Giants 1959 – 1961, and Detroit Tigers 1962.  On November 5, 1971, the 45 years old Jones died of throat cancer.

“Sad “Sam Jones won 102 games in the Major Leagues. He lost 101.  No doubt the inconsistent control of his pitches cost him victories early in his career, but he still had 1,376 career strikeouts.  And no former Negro League pitcher, other than Don Newcombe, had the success in the Major Leagues as Sam Jones.

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To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com

 

 

The Cleveland Buckeyes: “The Land’s” Other World Series Champion

1945_cleveland_buckeyesTo honor Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks who died in January last year, I hope the Chicago Cubs will overcome decades of frustration and defeat the Cleveland Indians in this year’s World Series. However, if Cleveland does win Indian fans will celebrate the team’s third World Series Championship. The Indians defeated the Brooklyn Robins (changed its name to Dodgers in 1932) in 1920 and the Boston (now Atlanta) Braves in 1948.  However, there is another Cleveland baseball championship that fans of the game in “the Land” should not overlook.  In 1945, the Cleveland Buckeyes defeated the Homestead Grays to win the Negro League World Series.

At the end of the 1941 Negro League season, Erie, Pennsylvania businessman Ernie Wright purchased the semi-pro African-American Cleveland White Sox baseball team and the St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League (NAL). He merged the teams to organize the Buckeyes who played most of its games next season in Cincinnati and other cities throughout Ohio, but relocated to Cleveland in 1943.  Being a large industrial northern city with a substantial African American population, 71,899 in 1930, “the Land” was no stranger to Negro League baseball.  The Buckeyes were the eleventh Negro League team to call Cleveland home since 1922, the only one to survive more than one season.  Their home games were played in League Park.

cleveland-buckThe 1945 baseball season began as the most destructive world war in history approached an end. Many ball players had lost time from their professional baseball careers due to military service.  Major League players Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and others had gone into the armed forces after the War began in 1941.  Negro League players Monte Irvin, Leon Day, Willard Brown, and others also served in the military to help preserve the nation’s freedom even though racial discrimination deprived them of the opportunity to play Major League baseball.  But this shortage of quality players due to the war does not tarnish what the Cleveland Buckeyes accomplished.

The team had no iconic player of Negro League lore or destined for the Hall of Fame. After the “invisible color line” was erased by Jackie Robinson in 1947, the Buckeyes’ best player Sam Jethroe went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1950.  The speedy outfielder led the league in stolen bases (35) and hit .273 playing for the Boston Braves.  Veteran Negro League catcher Quincy Trouppe, the Buckeyes’ manager, played briefly for the Cleveland Indians in 1952 when 39 years old.  The remainder of the team consisted of solid Negro League players such infielders Parnell Woods and Archie Ware, outfielders Buddy Armour and Willie Grace, and pitchers Eugene (Gene) Bremmer, and the Jefferson brothers; Willie and George.  After integration, they all briefly played in the lower levels of Minor League baseball.  Since its inception in 1937, the Negro American League (NAL) had been dominated by the Kansas City Monarchs (NAL pennants in 1937, 1939 – 1942) and Birmingham Black Barons (NAL pennants in 1942 and 1943). But, the Buckeyes prevailed in 1945 and advanced to the World Series against one of the most renown franchises in the history of Negro League baseball; the Homestead Grays.

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Infielder Johnnie Cowan, Mgr./Catcher Quincy Trouppe, and Shortstop Avelino Canizares

Going into the Series, the Buckeyes were overwhelmingly the underdog. The Grays were the reigning Negro League World Series champion, beating the Black Barons in 1943 and 1944.  They had extended their run of consecutive Negro National League (NNL) pennants to nine in 1945.  Their roster included five players who would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:  outfielder James “Cool Papa” Bell (1974), pitcher Raymond Brown (2006), first baseman Buck Leonard (1972), catcher and Negro League icon Josh Gibson (1972), and third baseman Jud “Boojum” Wilson (2006).  But Hall of Fame team owner Cum Posey (2006) had allowed his “long Gray line” to get old and worn down.  With Wilson being 49, Bell 42, and the Grays other top players in their mid to late 30s, the team went into the Series depending on skills being eroded by time.  But they still had hard-hitting Gibson and Leonard, and they were still the mighty Homestead Grays.

In a huge upset, the Cleveland Buckeyes won the 1945 Negro League World Series in a four game sweep. That they were a younger and faster team played a big part in their victory. But the dominance of Cleveland’s pitchers turned out to be the most shocking factor.  After winning Game One 2 – 1 and Game Two 3 -2, the Buckeye pitching shutout the Grays the final two games.  Willie Jefferson threw a 3 – 0 shutout in Game Three winning 4 – 0 and Frank Carswell a 5 – 0 win in Game Four.  The Grays scored only three runs the entire Series, none the last 18 innings.   Cleveland’s Willie Grace hit the only Series home run.  The Buckeyes also won the NAL pennant in 1947, but lost in the World Series to the New York Cubans four games to one.  Because of financial deficits due to a declining fan base, the team disbanded after the first half of the 1950 season.

The entire city of Cleveland will go wild if the Indians win the World Series this year. It only had a small banquet with no parade in 1945 acknowledging the Buckeyes’ Championship. But hopefully there will be fans at Progressive Field this World Series wearing Cleveland Buckeye Negro League gear to show the team’s 1945 triumph is not totally forgotten.  Lebron, JR Smith, Kyrie, Richard Jefferson, let me see you!

 

To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com

Negro League Players of the 1950s – Raydell Maddix and Hank Presswood

Both Raydell Maddix and Henry Presswood played Negro League baseball after the “invisible color line” was broken and Major League teams began signing African Americans.  Maddix and Presswood were opponents and teammates of Negro League players that went on to play in the Major Leagues.  However, neither of the two went beyond playing in the Negro Leagues.

Raydell Maddix

A left handed pitcher who was born in Tampa, Florida on October 7, 1928, Raydell Maddix played for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1947 – 1953. Like most Negro League players in the late 1940s and in the 1950s, he was hoping to catch the eye of Major League scouts. His teammate, Sam Hairston, was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1950. However, military service interrupted Maddix’s career for two years; 1951 and 1952.

A power pitcher nicknamed “Lefty Bo”, Maddix twice lead the Negro American League in strikeouts; 1948 and 1949.   He pitched against Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Jim “Junior” Gilliam and others who went on to play in the Major Leagues. However, Maddix at times was inconsistent with the   command of his pitches and walked batters. He had potential, but integration at that time had not progressed to the point that many Major League teams were willing to invest the time and money on developing African American players; especially pitchers.

Hank Presswood

Henry “Hank” Presswood was born on October 7, 1921 in Electric Mills, Mississippi. A light hitting infielder, his five year Negro League career ran parallel to that of Raydell Maddix.  After coming out of the military in 1947, Presswood played with the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1948 – 1950.  His 1948 Buckeye teammates Sam Jethroe, Sam Jones, and Al Smith went on to play in the Major Leagues.  Presswood finished his Negro League career playing for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1951 – 1952.   Ernie Banks was his teammate.

Read more about the journey of Negro League baseball in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. For more information, go to www.klmitchell.com or http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown

 

 

Talent to Fit the Name – Ross “Satchel” Davis

Ross Davis

The story that indicates how Ross Davis, born July 28, 1918 in Greenville, Mississippi, picked up the nickname “Satchel” is a testament to his pitching ability.

By the time he became a teenager; Davis had moved to St. Louis and gained notoriety as a pitcher in the city’s African American semi-professional leagues. He was tall and lean (6’2”, 165 pounds), but had a blazing fastball and sharp breaking curve. The story goes that one day “Satchel” Paige himself saw how hard the talented teenager threw the baseball and loudly began referring to young hurler as “my son”. The nickname, “Satchel”, stuck with Davis his entire short Negro League career.

In 1940 while with the Baltimore Elite Giants and only 22 years old, Ross “Satchel” Davis no-hit the Newark Eagles. His battery mate for that pitching gem was an eighteen year old Roy Campanella, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the Major Leagues. Pitching for the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1943, he defeated “Satchel” Paige in a head to head matchup.

Davis was drafted into military service after the 1943 season and contacted a serious case of hepatitis during World War II.   He was advised to not play baseball again because of the lingering effects of his illness.

But Davis returned to the pitching mound after the war. First, he pitched in the short lived Untied States League and then in 1947 helped the Cleveland Buckeyes win the Negro American League (NAL) pennant. He retired after the season at only 29 years old due to the on-going battle with his illness.

Ross “Satchel” Davis died January 1, 2013 in Houston, Texas.

Who was Davis’ 18 year old battery mate for that 1940 no-hit pitching gem?

Negro League Baseball Fact

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Alfred Allen “Buddy” Armour played with four teams in his 13 year (1936 – 1948) Negro League baseball career.  Born in Jackson, Mississippi on April 27, 1927, the left handed hitting outfielder was a three time All Star and a member of a Negro League World Series winning team.

As a shortstop with the St. Louis Stars, Armour made his first Negro League East West All Star Game appearance in 1941.  Chosen as an All Star again in 1944 after becoming an outfielder and playing with the Cleveland Buckeyes, he got two hits in the West squad’s 7 – 4 victory.  While with the Chicago American Giants in 1947, Armour was chosen again an All Star by the votes of Negro League fans.  In the first of the two All Star Games played that year, he hit two doubles to help the West squad win 5 – 2.

Armour hit .307 in the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes’ four game sweep of the Homestead Grays for the Negro League World Series Championship.

By the time professional baseball became integrated in 1947, Armour was 32 years old and was never signed by a Major League club.  He played in the Canadian minor leagues from 1949 – 1951 before retiring.

Which of Armour’s teammates on the Cleveland Buckeyes would go on to win “Rookie of the Year” honors in the Major Leagues?

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