Founded in the early 1930s by Cincinnati native DeHart Hubbard, the Cincinnati Tigers became perhaps the best and most well-known of the several Negro League teams that called Cincinnati home. Hubbard was a track star who had been the first black American to win a gold medal when he clinched the broad jump title at the 1924 games in Paris. A significant number of talented players had come together under Hubbard’s watch on an amateur team known as the Excelsiors. Hubbard pulled many of the first Tigers from this group and added players such as Josh Johnson, Marlin Carter and Neil Robinson to the roster and turned the club into a paid barnstorming unit.
The Tigers were a solid all-around club throughout their stay in Cincinnati. Led by pitchers Roy Partlow, Jess Houston and the great Porter Moss, the Tigers also featured great power in the slugging Robinson and speed throughout the order. After several years playing unaffiliated ball, the Tigers joined the new Negro American League (NAL) in 1937. Established four years after the formation of the Negro National League, the NAL remained in operation until 1960.
Hubbard signed a top-flight manager in Ted “Double-Duty” Radcliffe to pilot his club in the new league. Radcliffe had earned his nickname by virtue of his propensity for pitching the first game of a double-header and then catching the second. Before arriving in Cincinnati, Radcliffe had played on what Negro League historian James A. Riley called, “three of the greatest teams in black baseball history.” These teams, the 1930 St. Louis Stars, 1931 Homestead Grays and the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords featured players such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson, Smokey Joe Williams and Ted Page. With the exception of Page, each of these players is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Radcliffe regularly jumped from team to team if more money was to be had, and he took Hubbard’s offer to come to Cincinnati in 1936 and was named the club’s manager the next year.
The Tigers played well in what proved to be their lone season in league competition. The NAL played a split-season format and the Tigers finished in third place in the season’s first half, bested only by the Kansas City Monarchs and Chicago American Giants. Second-half standings were never published but the Tigers appear to have trailed these clubs once again as Kansas City and Chicago squared off in a postseason playoff to determine the championship of the league.
The Tigers played their home games at Crosley Field, renting the ballpark from the Reds and scheduling their games when the Reds were on the road. Not only did the Tigers use the Reds’ ballpark but the team also wore the Reds‘ colors, donning discarded Reds road uniforms from previous seasons. Attendance at Tigers games generally ranged from 5,000–10,000 per game with crowds of up to 15,000 for games against well-known opponents such as the Crawfords and the Grays. By contrast, the Reds of the 1930s averaged a little more than 5,700 per game. The Tigers’ drawing power was notable given the almost complete absence of coverage of their games by the local newspapers. If even a box score appeared in the paper, it was usually buried in tiny print next to the horse racing results.
Despite their success on the field and at the gate, the Tigers short history came to an end following the 1937 season. The core of the club moved on to the Memphis Red Sox and won the NAL championship in 1938. Cincinnati went without a black professional team until 1942 when the Buckeyes played a season here. Their stay was followed by a three-season stint by the Clowns, in two of which the club called both Cincinnati and Indianapolis home. Following the Clowns’ departure after the 1945 season, the barnstorming Crescents played under the “Cincinnati” banner for a period of years in the late 1940s and were the last Negro League club to call Cincinnati home.