While much has been written about the first black players to break in to the Major Leagues, including two former Indians, Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, very little has been put out about those who played before the color barrier was broken, when the color of a players skin decided what league they would play in, rather than their talent level. From 1921 through 1948 Cleveland housed quite a few Negro League teams, the most famous of which was called the Cleveland Buckeyes (1942-48), but there were also teams named the Tate Stars (1921-23), Browns (1924), Elites (1926), Hornets (1927), Tigers (1928), Cubs (1931-32), Stars (1932), Giants (1933), Red Sox (1934) and Bears (1939-40).
There is little known about these teams, so this top ten list is more about statistics than stories, hopefully bringing a few more players into the light. Everyone knows about Jackie Robinson and the Kansas City Monarchs. Now it is time to learn about your home town Cleveland Buckeyes.
10. Ernest Duff – Hitter – 1926-1928 Elites, Hornets & Tigers
Duff was a high average, speed player who excelled through three years in Cleveland. His final season was his best, batting .330 in almost 200 at bats. He set the Cleveland Negro League record with 16 doubles that year, leading to his 21 career doubles that rank second to just Jeffries.
9. Wilson Redus – H -1924, 1932-1934 Browns, Stars, Giants & Red Sox
Redus played four seasons in Cleveland, spanning over a decade and even had a stop over with the Columbus Blue Birds. He was what amounted to a power hitter in the early days of the Negro Leagues, hitting six home runs and walking 18 times while playing in Cleveland. His best years were spent in St. Louis where he hit 34 home runs across three seasons for the Stars, leading to 54 total in his career.
8. Chet Brewer – Pitcher – 1946-1948 Buckeyes
Brewer ranks second all time in Buckeyes history in wins (10) and winning percent (.588), despite just playing parts of three seasons with Cleveland. His time with the Buckeyes was late in his career as well, ending an extremely long career that spanned 27 years from 1925-52. He played for teams in seven different leagues, spanning the distance from New York to Mexico City. He was already 39 when he joined the Buckeyes and held an ERA of 4.82 and a WHIP of 1.18.
7. Heavy Johnson – H – 1928 Tigers
Johnson was the best average hitter for the Cleveland NL teams, batting .346 in his single season with the Cleveland Tigers. He was the only player to bat over .300 with at least 200 at bats in club history and he did it all, including 15 doubles and 39 doubles (both in the top ten all-time in career) in a single season. His 90 hits that year were also a single season record.
6. Charles Beverly – P – 1932 Stars
Beverly was the possibly the most talented pitcher to throw for a Cleveland NLB team, but played for just one season in between multiple stints with the Kansas City Monarchs. Of his ten starts, he completed seven and won six, holding an ERA of under 4.00, something not accomplished by any other Cleveland starter with at least 80 innings thrown.
5. Harry Jeffries – H – 1922-24, 1926 & 1928 Tate Stars, Browns, Elites & Tigers
There were many Negro Leaguers who played just one or two seasons overall, but Jeffries was a career player, playing in 15 seasons overall. He played five years for Cleveland teams, going back and forth between teams in Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore for the most part. Because of his (subjectively) lengthy career, he holds almost all the Cleveland cumulative records including runs, hits, doubles, walks and steals. The only reason he ranks so low in the top ten is that this ranking list is based more on averages since so few players played more than a single year.
4. Gene Bremer – P – 1942-1948 Buckeyes
Bremer was the longest tenured Buckeyes starter, and was very effective, especially during his first few seasons. Until his age 25 season, he played with Memphis and Kansas City before joining the Buckeyes. In his first four seasons he threw in 18 games and won 13 of them. He was especially good at keeping extra base runners off the bases, walking just five batters from 1943-45. He is, however, a player with obvious statistical inaccuracies as (according to Baseball Reference) states he allowed more runs in 1942 than base runners. It is possible some of these runs were unearned, but it is impossible to separate these out given the state of Negro League records.
3. Otto Ray – H – 1923-1924 Tate Stars & Browns
Ray was a top player for two (or possibly three, the stats aren't very accurate from that age) seasons in Cleveland, hitting 17 doubles in 231 at bats, batting .333 and slugging a very impressive .532. His second season was especially impressive as he only had 76 at bats, but hit 14 extra base hits and batted .355.
2. Orville Singer – H – 1924, 1928 & 1931-32 Browns, Tigers, Cubs & Stars
Singer was had a good combination of career length and average season production. The majority of his numbers came from his 1928 and 1931, keeping an average high enough to float his career average to .293, just one of 15 players in Cleveland Negro League history to bat at least .290 in his career with at least 100 at bats. He also broke into the top five in career runs, hits, doubles, triples and steals.
1. Edward Milton – H – 1926 & 1928 Elites & Tigers
There weren't many super stars to play for the Cleveland Negro League teams, but Milton put together some of the most impressive career numbers in just two seasons. Most of his numbers came from his second season when he hit 13 triples and seven home runs, both Cleveland NL single season records. His .615 slugging percent is also a team record and his .992 OPS is the best among players with at least 60 at bats.
|1. Edward Milton||244||42||84||11||14||9||150||13||7||.344||.377||.615||.992|
|2. Orville Singer||400||55||117||17||8||1||153||8||11||.293||.306||.383||.689|
|3. Otto Ray||231||39||77||17||10||3||123||13||3||.333||.369||.532||.901|
|5. Harry Jeffries||700||73||189||34||4||4||243||63||19||.270||.330||.347||.677|
|7. Heavy Johnson||260||39||90||15||5||3||124||14||0||.346||.380||.477||.856|
|9. Wilson Redus||272||37||80||12||2||6||114||18||2||.294||.338||.419||.757|
|10. Ernest Duff||393||63||117||21||6||3||159||12||17||.298||.319||.405||.723|
|4. Gene Bremer||19||10||.655||4.35||28||17||3||215||181||104||30||60||5||0.98||2.5|
|6. Charles Beverly||6||3||.667||3.58||10||7||0||83||79||33||14||45||2||1.12||4.9|
|8. Chet Brewer||10||7||.588||4.82||21||13||1||142||133||76||35||66||1||1.18||4.2|
Borderline: Jeff Jefferson, James Leonard, Tack Summers, Bill Jefferson, Raymond Owens