The Tigers’ Tale


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.


Junius “Rainey” Bibbs: 2B

The switch-hitting Bibbs played second base for the 1936 Tigers. He was a stellar line-drive hitter who was able to pepper the ball to all areas of the field. He was also a great bunter and hit-and-run batter. His steady play earned him a roster spot on the 1937 Negro American League All-Star roster. After the Tigers folded, Bibbs went on to play on three-straight pennant winners in Kansas City (1939–41).

Marlin “Pee Wee” or “Mel” Carter: IF

The twenty-three-year-old left-handed batter came to Cincinnati in 1935 and quickly became a fan favorite due to his offensive prowess. After the Tigers were disbanded, Carter signed with the Memphis Red Sox in 1938 where he helped guide the team to the league championship.

(First Name) Thomas: P

No biographical information on this player could be found.

Carl “Butch” or “Lefty” Glass: MGR

Glass managed the Tigers for the 1936 season and was crucial in the development of the younger players who populated the Tigers’ roster. A formidable pitcher during his time, he came to Cincinnati with a wealth of baseball knowledge that helped his young roster mature.

J. Sonny “Sweet” Harris: IF, OF

Harris was a versatile defenseman, playing in the infield and outfield through his time in a Cincinnati Tigers’ uniform. At the plate he was a solid hitter and led the team in batting average during the 1936 campaign. Harris played only three seasons in the professional ranks, all in Cincinnati. He returned for the 1937 season and played for the 1942 Cincinnati Buckeyes club as well.

Jesse Houston: P

In Houston’s five-year professional career, two of them were spent with the Tigers. While mainly a pitcher, his versatility enabled him to play other positions in the infield as well.

Josh “Brute” Johnson: C

Johnson came to Cincinnati in 1935 as a solid catcher with a tremendously strong arm. He was also a threat with the bat and produced high offensive numbers during his two-year run with the Tigers. In 1942, Johnson left baseball to serve in the U.S. Army which ultimately ended his career as a player.

Henry L. “Speedy” Merchant: Team Mascot

While not a player for the Tigers, Merchant worked as the team’s mascot. A few years later he played professional ball when he was signed by the Chicago American Giants. He returned to Cincinnati as a player and played for the Cincinnati Clowns in 1943 and the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns from 1944 to 1947.

Porter “Ankleball” Moss: P

Born in Cincinnati, Moss made his professional debut with his hometown Tigers in 1936. The 5’ 11” right-hander had a mean submarine delivery that made him a valuable part of the 1938 champion Memphis Red Sox. Moss also earned spots on the Negro American League All-Star team in 1942 and 1943.

Harvey “Pete” Peterson: P, IF, OF

In his only professional season, Peterson served the Tigers in a back-up roll. A skilled player, he was able to be used in the lineup in various positions

Neil “Shadow” Robinson: OF

The 28-year-old Robinson distinguished himself as one of the preeminent players during his ten-plus years in professional ball. He was a standout player for the two seasons he played for the Tigers due to his powerful bat and stellar defense. Over the course of his long career, he was elected to seven Negro League All-Star teams.

Ewing Russell: C

Russell played one year with the Tigers and served as a reserve catcher behind Josh Johnson. In seven games with 21 plate appearances, Russell batted .235 with an OBP of .350.

“Turkey” Smith: C

Smith was one of the Tigers’ reserve catchers in 1936.

Olan “Jelly” Taylor: 1B

The London, OH native began his professional career in Cincinnati, playing with the Tigers through the club’s four-year run. The left-handed first-baseman was not strong with the bat but his fancy fielding made him very popular with fans. After the dissolution of the Tigers, Taylor signed with the Memphis Red Sox where he went onto play in three All-Star games.

Howard Easterling: 3B

Easterling was a star player during his time in the professional ranks. He could do everything – run, throw, field, or hit for power. He signed with the Tigers in 1936 and played two solid seasons with the club. Easterling proved to be an offensive threat from both sides of the plate. In 1937, his high offensive production led to him being selected to the All-Star roster. It would be the first of five All-Star appearances he would make over his long career.


  1. In what Olympic event did Tigers’ founder DeHart Hubbard win a gold medal?
  2. What league were the Tigers members of?
  3. What was the name of the Tigers’ manager in 1937?
  4. In what ballpark did the Tigers play their home games?
  5. The Tigers wore the old uniforms of a Major League team. What team was it?
  6. What member of the 1936 Tigers was nicknamed “Shadow?”
  7. Who was the Tigers’ pitcher that was known for his submarine delivery?

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