Headlines to integrate Major League Baseball in Cleveland ended the National Negro Baseball League
In the 1940s, headlines in black community papers, such as Cleveland’s Call & Post, Chicago’s Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier, pushed for integration of Major League Baseball.
But that campaign—and the ensuing success of integrating major league baseball—had the unforeseen consequence of the demise of the national Negro baseball league, according to Case Western Reserve University author and history scholar Stephanie Liscio.
She will be among several authors, who have written about baseball history and will sign their books during the Baseball Heritage Museum’s open house at 530 Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland on Wednesday, December 15, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, December 17, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and December 18, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In her first book, Integrating Cleveland Baseball, Liscio traces the history of Cleveland’s 11 Negro teams. The early teams—the first was Cleveland Tate Stars in 1922—played in the Negro National League. In the last years, the Buckeyes from the Negro American League, ended national black baseball run in Cleveland in 1950. For 28 years, Cleveland’s African Americans played ball on the fields near East 55th and Central or at League Park, the old Lexington Avenue home of the Cleveland Indians.
But as the Buckeyes succeeded on the field, and even integrated with the hiring of a white player named Eddie Klepp in 1946, Call and Post sports writer Doc Young and Wendell Smith from the Pittsburgh Courier strongly advocated for integration of the major leagues. When Jackie Robinson became the first black major league player and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Smith pursued Robinson around the country and reported about his career successes, fueling integration efforts.
Liscio writes that reporters wavered between pro-integration stances and vigorously supporting the Negro League teams.
“It was as though they could not make up their minds,” she says.
In the end, integration of the major leagues trumped. As more black athletes took to the major leagues, Negro League talents were lost to predominantly white teams. After Robinson, Lawrence “Larry” Doby, who was 22 years old at the time, picked up the bat for the Indians on July 5, 1947. Later, the great Satchel Paige, an older star pitcher, joined him.
Liscio said the papers wanted young black talent to go to the major leagues where they potentially had years to play.
“The fear was if they didn’t do well and didn’t survive, then baseball would use it as an excuse to resegregate to all-white teams,” Liscio said.
Just as the talent left the black ballfields, the spectators in the stands at League Park migrated to the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Attendance dwindled from highs in the 20,000s to fewer than 3,000 by the 1950s—the year the Buckeyes folded.
“Integration brought an end to Negro League teams,” said Liscio, who is also president of the Cleveland Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.
Liscio keeps the Negro League’s history alive through the book, writing the language on the League’s commemorative plaque at Progressive Field and through entries in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History at http://ech.case.edu.