Negro League Baseball in Cincinnati

August 16, 2020 22 Comments

Cincinnati Tigers 1937

The average baseball fan can probably name a few Negro league teams. The Kansas City Monarchs, the Homestead Grays, and Indianapolis Clowns are the most well known, but dozens of cities had them, including Cincinnati.

As soon as organized baseball started taking shape in the late 1800s, so did the ridiculous notion that the leagues being formed be whites-only. That didn’t stop African Americans, and other players of color, from forming teams. However, instead of playing in organized leagues like the whites-only teams, the Negro teams took to barnstorming or simply traveling from city to city, playing local and regional opponents. 

The first organized Negro league didn’t appear until 1920, though there was one brief attempt to set one up in 1887, two years after the formation in Trenton, New Jersey of the Cuban Giants, the first professional Negro team. 

Cincinnati Browns

The National Colored Base Ball League (base and ball two words on purpose), which did not include the Giants, lasted only two weeks. One of the cities represented, though, was Cincinnati which had a team called the Browns. That squad never played a league game but continued as a barnstorming team.

Cincinnati Cuban Stars

A professional Negro league team wouldn’t call Cincinnati home until 1921 when the Cuban Stars (West), members of the Negro National League, arrived in the Queen City. There was another similarly named team known as the Cuban Stars (East). The West team changed its name to the Cincinnati Stars and spent one season playing in the Reds' ballpark, Redland Field, before returning to their previous status as a road team. 

1920 Cuban Stars (West) who became the Cincinnati Stars in 1921

Cincinnati Tigers

In 1934, Olympic track star DeHart Hubbard formed the Cincinnati Tigers using many players from the semi-pro club Excelsior, which Hubbard had also run. The Tigers became a minor league affiliate of the powerful Homestead Grays, who were based in Pittsburgh. Playing home games at Crosley Field, the team joined the Negro American League in 1937 for that circuit's inaugural season. They finished in second place, seven games behind the league champion Kansas City Monarchs. Despite the strong showing, and crowds of up to 15,000, the team folded at the end of that campaign.

Cincinnati Buckeyes

In 1942, Cincinnati was again represented in the Negro National League with the formation of the Buckeyes. The team played seven home games in Cincinnati and nine in Cleveland, making them the Cincinnati-Cleveland Buckeyes. In 1943, Cleveland became their sole home.

Cincinnati Clowns 

However, that same year a team known as the Ethiopian Clowns, a barnstorming team formed in the late 1920s in Florida as the Miami Giants, moved into Crosley Field, joined the Negor American League, and became the Cincinnati Clowns. The team’s reputation for silly antics and top-notch baseball skills was well known. A 1942 newspaper article stated: “The Ethiopian Clowns, who appear in clown suits only during their preliminary workout...display one of the flashiest teams in the world.”

The Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns

That same year, the Clowns played, and won, exhibition games against white-only minor league teams including the Baltimore Orioles, Minneapolis Millers, and Newark Bears, as well as the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns from Major League Baseball. 

Starting in 1944, the team split time between Cincinnati and Indianapolis, before permanently settling in Indy for the 1947 season, the Nego American League’s last as a major league. When the league dissolved in 1955, The Clowns became a barnstorming team and played until 1962. 

Cincinnati Manggrums

Another Cincinnati Negro baseball team of note was the semi-pro Cincinnati Manggrums, sponsored by Walnut Hills drugstore owner William Manggrum. They played in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The team was managed by Tom “Lefty” McCracken, who also played and was one of the team’s leading hitters. He had also played in the Negro American League. The team also featured a talented second baseman named Tex Conley as well as slugging outfielder Glen Smith. Pitching aces included “Speedball” Davis and Dave McClean.

The Cincinnati Manggrums

In 1947, the color barrier was finally broken, first by Jackie Robinson in the National League, then, 11 weeks later, by Larry Doby in the American League. As more Major League teams signed Black and Latin ballplayers, the quality of the Negro Leagues quickly declined. The first African-American player signed by the Reds was Chuck Harmon, who made his Major League debut on April 17, 1954, against the Braves in Milwaukee’s County Stadium.  












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