The Cleveland Elites probably have the dubious distinction of being one of the worst Negro League teams in Cleveland history. The team finished the 1926 season with an abysmal 6-38 record in league matches, even though they had a decent record in non-league matchups against local semi-pro teams. Negro League officials were always a bit baffled as to why a city like Cleveland was unable to support a lasting team in the 1920s and 1930s. Cleveland had a large African-American population, due to migration from the south, and at the time was the sixth largest city in the U.S. in terms of population. When you look at teams like the Elites, it seems to make sense. The team lacked the star power of some of the Negro League powerhouse teams, and was just dreadful on the field. Fans were probably wary of team owners, especially after the very public financial problems of the Tate Stars.
The Elites (often pronounced Eeee-lights) were owned by Sam Shepard and managed by “Candy” Jim Taylor (who returned to Cleveland) and Frank Duncan. Like the Tate Stars and Browns prior to them, they played their home games at Hooper Field. In the winter of 1926, Shepard traveled to Texas, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee, to recruit players for the upcoming season. He signed six players on his travels, and Taylor brought two players with him from St. Louis, where he had been managing the St. Louis Stars. By the end of June, only five players from the opening day roster remained with the team, three of which were pitchers. Everyone else had been released. Duncan took sole control of the team and thought that he may be able to jump start their success with the drastic roster changes. Even though they managed to win a couple of games after the initial changes, they soon drifted back to their losing ways.
Probably the high point for the team was when they scored six runs in the ninth inning against the Detroit Stars to win 9-7, a game that the local African American newspaper the Cleveland Gazette, called “one of the most sensational rallies ever witnessed at Hooper Field.” Like its predecessors though, the Elites folded after just one season. The league announced that they would move the Indianapolis ABC’s team to Cleveland for the 1927 season. They were renamed the Cleveland Hornets, and are the next team to be featured in the series.
Part 1: The Cleveland Tate Stars
Part 2: The Cleveland Browns