Ohio played important role in history of Black baseball

·5 min read

Sol White. Chet Brewer. Quincy Trouppe.

Those are some of the Black baseball players of whom Leslie Heaphy of Kent, an educator and respected authority on Negro Leagues baseball, will briefly profile during an upcoming talk at the Massillon Public Library.

Heaphy will speak at the library at 1 p.m. Feb. 2 — early in Black History Month — on the topic "The Negro Leagues In Ohio," a program presented in partnership with the Massillon Local History and Genealogy Society.

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"I want people to understand how important Ohio was to the Negro Leagues," she said in a phone interview. "The number of cities that participated, and the number of teams in those cities, is more than most people can imagine.

"Most people think of maybe the Cleveland Buckeyes because they won the Negro Leagues world series. But, Cleveland alone had more than 10 teams. And other teams were in Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and other cities."

Leslie Heaphy
Leslie Heaphy

The Buckeyes championship squad remains an enigma.

"It's a team most people still know very little about," Heaphy said. "On paper, they never should have won that world series. They were a huge underdog."

Heaphy will discuss how the Buckeyes traveled their road to victory.

Ohio's importance more than winning

Heaphy, an associate professor of history at Kent State University Stark Campus and the author of "The Negro Leagues 1869-1960," noted that the 1945 world series victory by the Cleveland Buckeyes was the only Negro Leagues championship crown won by an Ohio team. Still, the importance of the state in Negro Leagues history transcends that single achievement.

"It's more about the number of teams it had in the Negro Leagues, the opportunities it brought, and the economic impact it had on communities throughout Ohio," she explained.

In addition to baseball fans attending games in cities that fielded teams, individuals in smaller communities were able to watch barnstorming teams from the Negro Leagues play when they came on tours through town.

"Ohio served a key role because of its geography," Heaphy said, explaining that although teams in the Negro Leagues were found throughout the country, a large proportion of them were located in the Northeast and Midwest. "These were opportunities for people in small towns to see big league caliber players."

The great Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays played in Ohio, Heaphy noted. The Kansas City Monarchs, who for a brief time in the mid-1940s fielded Major League Basesball groundbreaker Jackie Robinson, also toured the state. The Pittsburgh Crawfords were among other teams from the Negro Leagues to compete in Ohio.

Among players who journeyed to the Buckeye State were such recognizable names as Satchel Paige, Rube Foster, Larry Doby, and James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell.

Kent State Stark history professor Leslie Heaphy published "The Negro Leagues 1869-1960" in 2013. She is working on an updated version of the book.
Kent State Stark history professor Leslie Heaphy published "The Negro Leagues 1869-1960" in 2013. She is working on an updated version of the book.

'The Negro Leagues were something that I knew little about. And I wanted to know more.'

Other players in the Negro Leagues in Ohio, however, possessed similar talent but have names that are not so familiar to even avid baseball fans.

The previously-mentioned King Solomon "Sol" White, who had a 25-year career as a player and manager and team executive in the Negro Leagues, is one of those players whose home field was in Ohio. To the general public, he is somewhat of a lesser-known participant in the Negro Leagues despite being a pioneer in the sport by writing "Sol White's Official Baseball Guide" in 1907, a work that was described in a 2016 newspaper article by Suburbanite writer Brian Lisik as "the single most important historical document about African Americans' impact on the early days of baseball."

The lack of general knowledge about the Negro Leagues is what led Heaphy to continue her study of the subject.

"I've always been interested in baseball," she said. "While in graduate school I was doing research on the sport and I figured out that the Negro Leagues were something that I knew little about. And I wanted to know more."

Much writing resulted from her research, both about the Negro Leagues and women in baseball. Included in that writing are articles on Jackie Robinson, umpires in the Negro Leagues, and the impact of World War II on the Negro Leagues. In 2019, Heaphy was part of a team of writers and editors publishing "The Newark Eagles Take Flight: The Story of the 1946 Negro League Champions," which is part of the "Champions of Black Baseball" series.

She is working on an updated version of her book "The Negro Leagues" and is researching a book about Black women's baseball.

Through the years, Heaphy has edited such volumes as "Satchel Paige and Company," as well as books on women in baseball and volumes about both the 1986 Boston Red Sox and 1986 New York Mets.

In 2008 she was founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal "Black Ball" about African American baseball, with annual books about new research into Black baseball produced by an editorial board of historians, published by McFarland & Company.

It is that wealth of knowledge about Black baseball players that Heaphy wishes to bestow upon those who come to hear her talk on "The Negro Leagues In Ohio."

"It's a chance for them to learn something about their state that they may not have known," she said.

Reach Gary at gary.brown.rep@gmail.com.

On Twitter: @gbrownREP

If you go

What: An hourlong talk on "The Negro Leagues In Ohio" by Leslie Heaphy, associate professor of history at Kent State University Stark Campus.

When: 1 p.m. Feb. 2

Where: Auditorium of Massillon Public Library, 208 Lincoln Way E, Massillon

Admission: The talk is free, but registration is required. Visit www.massillonlibrary.org to register. Deadline is 11:59 p.m. Jan. 31.

More details: For information contact Christine Bowman by calling 330-832-9831, ext. 350, or write bowmanch@massillonlibrary.org.

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Kent State Stark professor Leslie Heaphy to speak Negro Leagues in Ohio

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