On this day in baseball history takes us back to 1942 and the Negro Leagues.
Firstly, the Negro Leagues didn’t have the travel budget that Major League teams had, so they were often forced into carpooling with other players and managers in several cars to go to and from the games. This night was no different.
The Cleveland Buckeyes were a Negro League team that operated between the years of 1942-1950 in the Negro American League. They were a team that saw themselves in two Negro League World Series, 1945 and 1947, beating the Washington Homestead Grays and then losing to the New York Cubans.
The Buckeyes started their tenure in Cincinnati before moving to Cleveland. During that first season in southern Ohio, they played their games at the Reds Crosley Field. Once the team relocated to Cleveland, they started playing at League Park. In 1949, the Buckeyes relocated again – this time to Louisville, Kentucky. They city didn’t take to them team, so they moved back to Cleveland for two months the following season before finally disbanding.
People are not routinely familiar with the Cleveland Buckeyes, and this tragedy on September 7, 1942 is no different.
Traveling to Akron from a doubleheader in Buffalo, New York against the Black Yankees, catcher Buster Brown and pitcher Smokey Owens, were traveling in a car with the team’s general manager, along with three other teammates. The team was traveling with a total of three cars, the other two, of course, were carrying the rest of the club. They were en route to play another doubleheader the next day, so late night travel was crucial to get to the next location.
Shy of 3:00 AM just outside of Geneva, Ohio, which is located in the northeast corner of Ohio, the car got a flat tire, so the five players and general manager were forced to move to the side of the road in order to repair it.
It didn’t take long before the tire was ready to go again, and Buster Brown (first name: Ulysses) slid back into the driver’s seat and was ready to pull off the road. Brown pulled the car off the road, and at around 3:00 am, the vehicle was rear-ended by a semi-truck carrying a trailer. Both Brown and Raymond “Smokey” Owens were instantly killed. General Manager Wilbur Hayes and pitcher Alonzo Boone were both ejected from the vehicle, but did not sustain life-threatening injuries. It is also believed that the other two pitchers, Eugene Bremmer and Herman Watts, were seriously injured, but weren’t killed. Allegedly, Bremmer fractured his skull, while Watts fractured his pelvis.
After the accident, Cleveland was slated to play the Black Yankees in nine different cities over nine days. With four members of the pitching staff either deceased or seriously injured, the Buckeyes were forced to fill the void left in the rotation, which was no easy task.
The event didn’t receive much coverage. A newspaper wrote that the team would, “stagger through their few remaining games like true sportsman.” Additionally, it is noted that in the 1943 season, almost a full year after the accident, the team released promotional posters that advertised that the fans should come out to the park to “see catcher Buster Brown”.
A day in baseball history that ultimately reached a dramatic conclusion is known by few, but the players involved deserve to be honored. Moreover, on a May 20, 2006 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cleveland Indians wore the uniform of the Cleveland Buckeyes in honor of the team and the history of the Negro Leagues. Later, on April 25, 2015, the Indians wore the Buckeyes uniform again in a game against the Detroit Tigers. Cleveland lost both games.