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There’s so much to be proud of in Cleveland baseball history. Two World Series titles (and more close calls), six American League pennants and an impressive list of Hall of Famers enshrined in Cooperstown. Oh, and don’t forget that 455-game sellout streak.
But there’s a bigger story, one that resonates deeply within Cleveland's black history. In the 1940s and beyond, Cleveland stood at the forefront of baseball integration and the fight for equality.
Ready to learn more about this pivotal chapter of local history? Well, you’re in luck. League Park and The Baseball Heritage Museum — two of our city’s sporting crown jewels — are open to everyone.
Built in 1891, League Park saw it all. The stadium played home to some of the most memorable teams (and players) of all time — black and white. That includes the Cleveland Buckeyes, who played at League Park from 1943-48 and again in 1950. One of the most successful Negro League clubs, the Buckeyes won the 1945 title. Today, the Cleveland Indians occasionally wear throwback Buckeyes jerseys to honor the former champs.
In 1947, Larry Doby arrived in Cleveland to do the unthinkable — break the American League color barrier. Just months after Jackie Robinson made history with Brooklyn, the 23-year-old Doby showed similar strength and courage here. A prodigious talent, he led his new team to a World Series win in ’48 to kick start a Hall of Fame career. The man’s a legend. Stop by Progressive Field to see his number — and Robinson’s — memorialized above right field.
The legendary Leroy “Satchel” Paige followed Doby to Cleveland a year later. Actually, back in 1931, Paige suited up for the Cleveland Cubs, but he really made his mark on the city during his time with the Indians. The 42-year-old “rookie” more than lived up to the hype and became the first African American to pitch in the World Series.
Fun fact: Paige starred in a 1941 League Park doubleheader in front of 10,000 fans. Cleveland loved Satchel from the very start.
The Tribe continued to choose ability over ethnicity with the signings of such standouts as Luke Easter, Mudcat Grant and Minnie Minoso. In 1975, they broke another barrier by appointing Frank Robinson the first African American manager in MLB history. The highly-respected Robinson served as player-manager for two seasons, then remained at the helm for another year after hanging up his glove. After Robinson passed away in February 2019, the sports world came together to celebrate a career that leveled the playing field for everyone.
Since 2014, the crack of the bat on a warm summer night can once again be heard at League Park. And we all have the late Fannie Lewis to thank for that. The Cleveland councilwoman, a longtime civil rights champion, envisioned a revitalized League Park as the centerpiece of a Hough neighborhood renaissance and fought tirelessly to make it a reality.
Now, Little Leaguers chase their dreams on the new FieldTurf playing surface while other visitors enjoy the on-site Baseball Heritage Museum or quiet strolls along the walking trails at the adjacent Fannie Lewis Community Park. Don’t miss the museum’s special presentations this February in honor of Black History Month.
Immerse yourself in Cleveland’s black history at ThisisCleveland.com/BlackHistory.
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