Two years after the National Negro Baseball League—the first official professional black baseball league—organized in 1920, Cleveland had its first League team, the Cleveland Tate Stars. The team moved from playing the sandlots to professional status in 1922 by becoming the first professional Negro League team.
But few people may know that during National Negro Baseball League history, the city had 11 League teams that took to the field when the umpire yelled, "Play ball!"
Baseball aficionados and Cleveland history buffs can now learn more about the League's past.
As the Ralph M. Besse Fellow in the Department of History, Stephanie Liscio has spent the past year updating entries and adding new ones for the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and expanded offerings related to the city's Negro League baseball history.
Among the new entries are biographies on African-American players Lawrence "Larry" Doby, who went on to play for the Cleveland Indians, and Sam Jethroe, an outfielder for the Cleveland Buckeyes, one of the League's longest surviving city teams. After going to the Major Leagues in 1950 at the age of 32 to play for the Boston Braves, Jethroe earned the title of the oldest player to win Rookie of the Year.
Liscio says to date, no one has tied or beaten Jethroe's claim to fame.
Among encyclopedia changes are updates for the Cleveland Buckeyes, which was the most successful of the city's teams and had the most winning record with the League World Series win in 1945 and near win in 1947.
The Buckeyes also made baseball history as the first major baseball team to integrate by bringing on a white player named Eddie Klepp to pitch for the Buckeyes in 1946—the first integrated Negro League team.
In addition to the new biographies and Buckeye update, Liscio has established new online entries and information for the other Negro League teams in Cleveland: The Cleveland Tate Stars (1922-23); Cleveland Browns (1924); Cleveland Elites (1926); Cleveland Hornets (1927); Cleveland Tigers (1928); Cleveland Cubs ((1931-32); Cleveland Stars (1932); Cleveland Giants (1933); Cleveland Red Sox (1934); Cleveland Bears (1939-40); and the Cleveland Buckeyes (1942-50).
For a number of years, the doctoral student in history has been fascinated by the history of baseball and its road to integration.
By the time Liscio had her master's degree in applied history from Shippensberg University of Pennsylvania in 2007, she was hooked on the fascinating story of Cleveland's Negro League baseball and the integration of the Cleveland Indians.
Liscio has a forthcoming book from McFarland Publishing Company about the very topic.
As part of her fellowship, which is dedicated to encyclopedia work and research on updating the online information, Liscio had the opportunity to dig deeper.
Her search to find Negro League baseball history came from reading every issue of Cleveland's African-American newspapers, the Call and Post and the old Cleveland Gazette from 1922-35 and 1939-45, as well as the 1930-35 issues of the Chicago Defender, published in Chicago where the National Negro Baseball League was headquartered.
Liscio found the fate of Cleveland's teams shared some grim realities. They had poor playing fields, financial struggles and inexperienced financial managers and owners in baseball operations, and for the Depression era teams, dwindling crowds.
In some seasons, the teams never made it to the last game and just disappeared, leaving managers clamoring that they had no idea the team would fold, says Liscio.
One thing has not changed for Cleveland's baseball fans.
"Then, like now, the crowd loves to watch a winning team, and many of these teams did not have winning seasons," says Liscio. Many of Cleveland's players, unlike other national teams that drew from talent across the country, came from sandlot teams around the city.
What team history survives is these teams drew thousands of spectators to the stadiums on East 55th Street between Woodland and Central Avenues and later at League Park in Hough or Municipal Stadium for double hitters or when baseball greats like Satchel Paige played.
But the advent of baseball integration closed this era on the chapters of Cleveland history and professional baseball in Cleveland, Liscio says.
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