The original Buckeyes played in the 1940s and even won the Negro League World Series in 1945.
CLEVELAND – In the search for this, historical connections were often made In the‘ new name. “Spiders” certainly has a good résumé in this category, as does “Municipals” (albeit in a different sense).
However, there is one option that is deeply related to Cleveland’s baseball lore that is sometimes overlooked.
Major League Baseball specifically excluded black players from its ranks from the late 1880s through 1947, a shameful chapter in America’s sad legacy of racial segregation. Some of the game’s most talented stars would never suit the Indians, Yankees, or Giants, but to stay on the field they decided in 1920 to create their own league, now known as the “Negro Leagues”.
Cleveland’s team was known as the Buckeyes, formed in 1943 after a single season in Cincinnati. They played most of their home games in the old League Park, but sometimes the attendance levels were so large that some competitions had to be moved to the Municipal Stadium.
While the Buckeyes never had a Hall of Famer in their ranks, they posted an impressive 0.579 percent gain in six official Negro American League seasons. The team had several stars like midfielder Sam “Jet” Jethroe (.316 lifelong batting average with club and later NL Rookie of the Year for the Boston Braves) and starting pitcher Eugene “Flash” Brenner (27 wins, 3.33 ERA). The organization won two NAL pennants and reached the ultimate mountaintop in 1945.
Cleveland made it into this year’s Negro League World Series against National League champions Homestead Grays, a legendary squad with Hall of Famers like Buck Leonard, James “Cool Papa” Bell and the immortal bat Josh Gibson (arguably the best hitter in the world) Story of the game). They were considered favorites by most, but thanks to consecutive sidelineings from Frank Carswell and George Jefferson (along with a 2v14 performance from Gibson) the Buckeyes managed to win the series in four games. It remains one of only four major professional baseball championships in the history of the city, along with the two Indians and World Series titles the “Temple Cup” crown of the spiders from 1895.
The teams met for a rematch two years later, but this time the Grays prevailed in five games. The Buckeyes played another MLB-approved season in Cleveland before moving to Louisville in 1949. They returned a year later, but since the best players in the Negro League were now obliged to integrate the formerly all-white majors, the inferior club went bankrupt after a short period of two months.
Though their days are long numbered, the negro leagues remain a crucial part of baseball history, and to this day their players are revered as shining lights who battled prejudice and segregation to enjoy the game they loved. Here in Cleveland, old school Buckeyes hats are still a popular item in the Progressive Field team shop, and the tribe have worked in custom throwback uniforms several times over the 21st century.
That brings us to today as the club is looking for a new identity to carry into the next century. “Buckeyes” seems almost perfect: it rolls off your tongue, the story is undisputed and the uniform concepts are already there. It would also be appropriate to replace a name that is viewed by many as racist with a name that honors men who are viewed as heroes in the struggle for equality in sport.
So what’s the problem? Well, it could be that certain scarlet and grays are bundling the I-71 …
Yes, “The” Ohio State University is undoubtedly the Ohio team, and when you think of “Buckeyes” you immediately think of Archie Griffin breaking the sideline or Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott, the Urban Meyers team rolled into one historic march through college lead soccer playoffs. Their stature and brand have only grown since the Cleveland baseball club of the same name was last founded in 1950. Cleveland-Akron-Canton is one of the breeding grounds for support (Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer are from here, after all).
The point is, with that name so firmly anchored in the OSU, it would be extremely difficult for a new Buckeyes team to gain recognition, and it’s possible the school will even question it, if the Indians at all try to go in that direction. A one-off throwback game by the nickname is one thing, but a full-time change would be a completely different story and could likely create immense confusion among the throngs of fans who undoubtedly take root for both teams.
This is a major hurdle to a possible Buckeyes selection, and it is certainly a reason why the name came in penultimate place in the most recent poll by 3News with only 7.6% of the vote. Even if all of the other parts are in good shape, this approach might be next to impossible.
Other possible options for the new name of the Indians: