Integrating Cleveland Baseball

Liscio, Stephanie M. Integrating Cleveland Baseball: Media Activism, the Integration of the Indians and the Demise of the Negro League Buckeyes. Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2010.

Now that the World Series is over, there is nothing better to do than look back on baseball history (until Spring).  Today, we are looking at Stephanie Liscio’s Integrating Cleveland Baseball, which has several story lines, but basically tells the history of African-Americans and baseball in Cleveland between 1922 through the early 1950s told through newspaper reporting from the era – specifically Cleveland’s African-American newspapers: Cleveland Gazette and the Call and Post.

The history of the Negro Leagues (or black baseball in general) is an expansive story, which some have been able to tell in a condensed storyline, but it is nice to see one work devoted to one city and team(s).  There was African-American baseball in Cleveland prior to 1920 (which probably could receive its own treatment), but this date is important as begin the first year of a financially organized league (Rube Foster’s Negro National League), which included the Cleveland Tate Stars in 1922 (along with teams in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo before the league dissolved in 1931).   Continue reading

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Red Legs and Black Sox

Dellinger, Susan. Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series.  Cincinnati, Ohio; Emmis Books, 2006.

The Cincinnati Reds have won five World Series Championships.  For most modern fans, the Big Red Machine (1975, 1976) and the Nasty Boys (1990) probably come to mind first among the championship teams.  The 1940 team (notable players include Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi and back-to-back no-hitter tosser Johnny Vander Meer – who didn’t play much in 1940) would be the one I would forget.  Prewar/Depression baseball is not a heavily chronicled era outside of St. Louis and New York.  But, hands down, the most famous of their World Series was the 1919 championship, where the Reds defeated a White Sox team that included eight players who would later be banned from baseball for throwing the same series.  While there is a taint on this championship, the banner flies with the other four at Great American.

The 1919 series lives on in popular culture and was a turning point in baseball history.  The dead ball era, of great pitching stats and no home runs, “officially” ended in 1919 with the Jazz Age Babe Ruth long ball era starting in 1920.  While popular nonfiction titles are occasionally based on the dead ball era such as biographies of Christy Matthewson, the story of the last Chicago Cubs team to win a championship (1908), or a new look on just how bad of a person Ty Cobb was, these will never overtake Joe Jackson (who had some of his best years playing with Cleveland prior to getting traded in 1915).  Jackson, an outfielder with the White Sox in 1919, was found to have taken cash, but also had probably the best offensive numbers of any player during the series. It is this contradiction that helped make him an anti-hero type that fills up American History and why there is still a movement to get him into the Hall of Fame.  Continue reading

High Stakes

Curry, Timothy Jon, Kent Schwirian, and Rachel A. Woldoff.  High Stakes: Big Time Sports and Downtown Redevelopment.  Columbus, Ohio; The Ohio State University Press, 2004.

One of the recurrent themes spoken by developers and civic officials in Columbus as reported in High Stakes was that getting an NHL team would make the metropolis a Major league city.  I don’t know if there is any way on measuring a Major League city (other than having a major league team), but Columbus landed the Blue Jackets expansion team in 1997 (starting play in 2000-01), adding it to the expanding list of new “Major league” towns.  These cities (such as Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City in Basketball) join the old guard of major league cities which were well established as major metropolis at the turn of the 20th Century (though maybe not so much anymore).

High Stakes tells the story of how Columbus landed a hockey franchise by looking  at one of the most instantly forgotten historic events – the failed referendum.  In 1997, the residents of Franklin County rejected a 50 cent sales tax increase that would go towards paying for an arena (for hockey) and a soccer stadium for the already established Columbus Crew of the MLS.  (The Crew played at OSU stadium at the time).  From the jaws of defeat, within a week, a new franchise owner and arena deal was procured through private (with some public) funding.  Eventually a soccer only stadium was built through mostly private funding on the state fair grounds.  Everyone won, including those consumers who would have needlessly (it seems) paid higher sales taxes to build such stadiums.  A main point throughout High Stakes, is that a strong opposition is healthy for referendum issues.   Continue reading

A Complete History of the Negro Leagues

Ribowsky, Mark.  A Complete History of the Negro Leagues: 1884 to 1955.  Revised and Updated.  New York; Citadel Press, 2002.

There is much dispersed information about professional African-American baseball during the segregated years prior to 1947.  What is often referred to as “blackball” did not have a parallel history to major league baseball and it is hard to succinctly summarize.  While the game was the same, the structure of the “leagues” and seasons were vastly different.  Terms like the Negro World Series and East-West All-Star game would seem to have clear parallels in whiteball of the era, but this would not be getting the story straight.  Luckily, there have been several attempts to gather the history of blackball, or the “Negro Leagues”, into one source.  I have not read all of these titles to make a fair comparison, but I would recommend Mark Ribowsky’s A Complete History of the Negro Leagues.

Along with telling the history of the various leagues, Ribowsky does a wonderful job of telling a history of race relations in America and baseball.  He does not sugar-coat the history of blackball, which came into existence because of segregation in the separate-but-not-equal age of America.  He details the segregation of baseball in the 1880s and the different strands of racism that grew out of this (for example, there were numerous African-American teams that pretended to be Latin players for the enjoyment of the mostly white crowds).  Along with racism, the teams themselves were not necessarily sportsmanlike, with long traditions of raiding players from other teams and organized crime connections.   Most of the owners seemed to be tied to some sort of numbers racket.  A reoccurring theme is that the game was not great, but it was all that was available because of segregation.
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The Curse of Rocky Colavito

Pluto, Terry.  The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty Year Slump. Gray & Company; Cleveland, 1994.

In my mind, The Curse of Rocky Colavito is the definitive Cleveland Indians tale.  The team had some success in the late 1940s and early 1950s and recent playoff runs, but these were more aberrations than the soul of the team’s history.  Pluto’s recounting of the seasons between 1960 and 1993 tells the legend of how we see Cleveland sports today – right or wrong.  There were several really bad seasons, but mostly the teams were run-of-the-mill, non-contending and forgettable.  This book captures the feeling perfectly.

What is nice about The Curse of Rocky Colavito is its joyful defeatism.  There is an underlining nostalgia for bad memories.  For the most part, the Cleveland organization was not a group of lovable losers.   There are many unpleasant characters in the team’s management and roster outlined in Pluto’s stories.  Do check out the stories about GM Frank Lane, who got the wheels moving on the curse in the late 1950s.
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The 1976 Cincinnati Reds

Feldmann, Doug.  The 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Last Hurrah for the Big Red Machine.  Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2009.

There is a fine tradition in sports writing of telling the story of a baseball season.  In particular, this usually covers one team.  While the framework of a baseball season is rather structured (Offseason transactions, spring training, opening day, All-Star game break, trading deadlines, and possibly a post-season), there is an art to telling a compelling story.

This definitely involves going beyond the daily box score and covering the transaction page.  A recount of 144 to 162+ games is hard to take in (pleasurably).  As a reader of several of these tales, there are several story elements I look for:

1.) You should walk away with a pretty good knowledge the team’s history for the prior couple of years, and if you are lucky, a recap that discusses what happened with the team after this document year. Continue reading

Misfits!

Hetrick, J. Thomas. Misfits! Baseball’s Worst Ever Team. Clifton, Va: Pocol Press. (1991). 100th Anniversary Edition.

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders were the ultimate Cleveland sports team. The owners (the Robinson brothers) were loathed, it seemed like the league was against the team, the players were mostly sub-par, and those players that were not, were traded away. 1899 was a watershed year in early baseball history in that the season led to the end of the National League-only system of “major” leagues, and opened a door for the American Association which started in 1901. (These two leagues eventually were joined and the only noticable difference now is that the American League uses a designated hitter.)  Every day of the Spider’s 1899 season is detailed in Misfits!

In case you have forgotten, I will give you a brief synopsis of the 1899 season. The Spiders were a moderately successful franchise throughout the 1890s, with numerous future Hall of Famers, including Cy Young. After the 1898 season, the Robinsons purchased the St. Louis Browns and proceeded to move the more successful Spider players to St. Louis. (Yes, they owned both teams. Brooklyn and Baltimore had the same arrangement going into the 1899 season). As the season progressed, any quality players (including the Spider’s manager Lave Cross) were traded away to St. Louis, and by the end of the season, any player on the Spiders still making money was released.

Cleveland fans quickly lost interest in the team, and the Spiders (commonly referred to as the Misfits), played most of their games on the road. Continue reading