I’m pleased to present this guest post from Joe Guzzardi, who regularly contributes Wednesday and Saturday articles here. Due to technical issues, today’s post is a little later than usual but worth the wait. It highlights Sam Jethroe, a forgotten Negro League great, and Eddie Klepp, who also played in that league– as a white pitcher.
Cleveland, whose Indians was one of baseball’s first integrated teams, with the addition of Larry Doby on July 2, 1947, had to cope with their city rivals, the Negro American League Buckeyes. The two teams competed for the African-American fan’s support.
Liscio, a Ph.D. candidate at Case Western Reserve University, chronicled the dismal history of Cleveland’s Negro League baseball teams. All failed until the Buckeyes which in 1945 became the world champion Negro League team and won the Negro American League pennant in 1947. One of Liscio’s major focuses is the role played by the African-American Cleveland newspaper, the Call & Post, efforts to integrate Major League baseball.
During her presentation, Liscio talked about Eddie Klepp, a white pitcher who in 1946 joined the Buckeyes as part of an experiment (some say a stunt) in integrating Negro League baseball.
Klepp turned out to be an unfortunate choice. His career was limited to a few innings pitched and was sandwiched in between two stretches for larceny and burglary.
Another Buckeye made a more lasting and positive impression. Before joining the major leagues in 1950, Sam “The Jet” Jethroe was the premier base stealer in the Negro League and led the league in batting average in 1944 and 1945. In six seasons with the Buckeyes, Jethroe had a .342 career batting average and was been selected to the East-West All-Star game four times.
When Jethroe joined the Boston Braves in 1950, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year. By that time, Jethroe was at least 32 and remains the oldest player to win the Rookie of the Year award. In two of his three seasons in the majors, he led the NL in stolen bases. In the first year Jethroe accomplished this, when he posted 35 steals in 1950, he fell just shy of swiping 10 percent of the bases in his league, a feat only a handful of ballplayers have accomplished.
By 1952, Jethroe’s production dropped dramatically. Although he rallied with a .307 batting average in Toledo in 1953, Jethroe’s career was over. Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954, Jethroe appeared in only two games.
At the end of his major league career, he had accumulated a .261 average, 49 home runs, 181 RBIs and 98 stolen bases in 442 games.
I recommend adding Integrating Cleveland Baseball to your library.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org