By Greg Burnett
Quincy Troupe Jr. fondly remembers sitting in the dugout at League Park in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood by invitation of his father Quincy Trouppe Sr. (the elder used an extra “p” in his last name), player/manager for the Negro League’s Cleveland Buckeyes from 1945-1947.
Troupe’s voice still resounds as he reminisces about sitting shoulder to shoulder with legends like Satchel Paige and Josh Gordon. He hadn’t talked about those days much in recent years, but he felt compelled to do so after Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred finally righted a wrong by recognizing the Negro League and its players as part of Major League Baseball and adding the Negro League’s statistics to MLB’s official records.
The league started in 1920 and celebrated its 100th-anniversary last year. It helped form the careers of Satchel Paige and Josh Gordon during a time when the color of your skin was more important than your ability to hit a home run.
According to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, African Americans started playing baseball on military teams and college teams in the late 1800s. For a short time, players such as Moses Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler played on professional teams. However, racism and “Jim Crow” laws forced them to be removed by 1900. In 1920, an organized league created by Andrew “Rube” Foster—a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants, called a meeting held at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Mo. Foster and a few other Midwestern team owners joined to form the Negro National League. Soon, rival leagues formed in Canada and Latin America. The Leagues maintained a high level of professional skill and became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.
The last season for the Cleveland Buckeyes was 1950.
If you are wondering why it’s taken 100 years to legitimize those players, by whom some critics have compared to better-known players like Babe Ruth, you are not alone.
Local writer, Morris Eckhouse, author of “Where Cleveland Played: Sports Shrines from League Park to the Coliseum,” has a few ideas as to the holdup.
“My thought is this has been an ongoing process,” said Eckhouse in a phone interview. “When I worked for the Society for Baseball Research as a general manager, one of its first committees was its Negro Leagues committee. The goal was to get information out to the public about Negro league stats, players, and anecdotal information. I think the major intention for the league was to say we don’t have all the numbers, the history, but this is what we do have. So, let’s get it out to the public and see if people have more to add to the history. I’m also hoping it triggers more research and interest in the figures who made the league work. Many know Satchel Paige, but few may know Quincy Trouppe. He only played four major league games in 1952. But if you add his negro league records, it’s likely he would get more of the credit deserved.”
According to Eckhouse, not all of the Buckeyes games were played at League Park. Some were played at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
After the Indians left League Park at the end of the 1946 season, they continued to own it for a few more years. It was a source of income for major league teams to rent out their stadium to negro league teams.
The money garnered from ticket sales and maybe some passing of the hat helped the leagues, who often played two or three games a day, to make enough to pay rent, make payroll, and have a little bit left over.
Raymond Doswell, vice president and curator at the Negro League Baseball Museum, had not really thought too much about MLB stats being included. But when it was announced, it was pure pandemonium.
“It was something I hadn’t thought about much, to be frank,” said Doswell in a phone interview. “Now it’s literally non-stop interviews with media from all over the country. So, we’ve been thinking nothing but stats since it happened. It’s taken off like fire and I’ll be honest, I was initially surprised by the reaction of people; it just wasn’t on our radar in general because here at the baseball museum we already knew they were major league players. At the museum, we really don’t focus so much on statistics because we know that they are incomplete.”
Historians over the years have been working diligently at trying to piece together as much of a record as possible. Segregation and racism made it impossible for negro league teams to get daily newspaper coverage like their white counterparts. Occasionally the major papers might report on something that was a very unique situation like a championship series or if something unique happened like a no-hitter and things like that. But on the whole, the mainstream newspapers did not cover the negro leagues. However, historians are now looking at the black weeklies and other sources of material for something new, says Doswell.
Trouppe starred for the West team in five all-star games, four as a catcher from 1945 through 48. He managed the Buckeyes to Negro American League titles in 1945 and 1947 and one World Championship in 1945. After the 1936 season, Trouppe took off a year from baseball to box, having won a major heavyweight tournament title in 1936.
Troupe Jr., 81, and a renowned poet living in New York City’s Harlem, waited a long time to hear that his father, who died in 1993, would, along with the others, get recognized for their contributions.
“Oh yeah I think it’s great, a great move and long overdue,” he said from his New York City apartment. “Because there are a lot of players including my father who were in the old leagues and were phenomenal players. I grew up sitting in the dugout at League Park in Cleveland. But I also traveled with him and my mom. They took me everywhere. My dad played all year round. In the winter our family would go down to Mexico or either Cuba or Puerto Rico and I would go with them. They weren’t accepted in their own country to play.”
Troupe chuckled while relaying one of his dad’s practices to avoid injury. “Satchel Paige threw the ball so hard my father used to have three or four sponges in his catcher’s mitt, if he had not his left hand would swell badly”, he said.
Not everyone is ready to pop a keg and down a few dogs in celebration. Clinton Yates, a columnist for the Undefeated, wrote a searing column about the MLB’s decision. An excerpt reads: “Of all the nonsense that the most duplicitous conservative sports league in the history of the United States of America has ever pulled, this might be the most ridiculous piece of soft supremacy we’ve ever seen. This announcement says: Be grateful, we now view you as a whole. News flash: That’s the problem. Not the solution.”
Although Troupe gets the sentiment, he seems focused more on what his dad might have thought.
“I think he would have been happy, but he didn’t get a chance to see it. He wanted that to happen all along and he would talk about it all the time.”