04/11/2011 Leave a comment
It is wonderful to see the Indians off to a spectacular start for the 2011 season. Baseball has a sacred does of nostalgia does it not? The Indians have a great tradition and long history in Cleveland. Every time I walk into “Progressive Field” (or any other major league baseball stadium) I sense that I have just walked into a beautiful cathedral of green. There is a great sense of nostalgia that stirs when an old ballpark closes – such as Yankee Stadium two years. But I have a suspicion that League Park – which holds significant history for baseball and Cleveland – never got its due. League Park was one of the great “neighborhood parks” that were built in all the grand cities at the time – Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Shibe Park in Philidelphia and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Fact is part of League Park still exists on E. 66th and Lexington to this day! This is a great shot of the ticket area on Lexington Avenue back in the day.
And this is practically the same photo but shows the condition of the Park today.
But in its heyday – League Park was a beauty!
The Park was built in 1891 for the Cleveland Spiders by the owner of the team Frank Robison. (Built on E. 66th because Robison owned a trolley car line and E. 66th happened to by a major part of that line.) The first game in the Park was May 1, 1891 and the Spiders starting pitcher that day was Cy Young. The original capacity of the Park was 9,000 with a picnic area for those in the neighborhood to watch batting practice. Seating capacity was improved to 27,000 in 1909. The 1920 World Series offered a number of fascinating historical events as the Brooklyn Dodgers played against the now Cleveland Indians, managed by Tris Speaker. For example, the first and only unassisted triple play in a World Series occured in the 1920 series, as did the first grand slam in World Series play. The photo below shows Lexington Avenue near the Park during the 1920 World Series. I have to say it is so striking to see a photo of a crowd like this on a Cleveland street. It just would not happen anymore in the City. (Not to mention that Lexington and E. 66th are located in a very distressed area today.)
Another fun historical fact about League Park is that Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run on August 11th, 1929. It is said that his “towering shot” cleared a fence taller than the famed “Green Monster” in Fenway Park and landed on Lexington Avenue. Please note obligatory photo of the Babe (this photo was actually taken at League Park).
Not a lot of people remember that League Park was also home to a historic and very successful Negro League team the Cleveland Buckeyes who claimed the 1945 Negro League World Series and two Negro League championships. The Park was also home to other sports teams including the Cleveland Rams who made League Park their home in the 1940’s. During the summer, the Park also hosted some unusual but fun events – including boxing!
Here is a great shot of League Park’s scoreboard.
And a neat photo of the locker room.
Unusual photo – a big teepee in center field.
Even the ushers displayed great haberdashery (note “Cleveland” on thier hats).
After the completion of Municipal Stadium in 1931 the Indians began to play more and more of their games at the new stadium, but would still play a few series each year at League Park (mostly to improve the team’s batting average as Municipal Stadium was not a hitters’ friendly park). The last game at League Park pitted the hometown Indians against the Detroit Tigers on September 21st, 1946. The Park then became the Cleveland Browns practice field until 1951 and the grandstands were torn-down soon thereafter.
There is a slim hope that part of the facility could be rejuvenated. I did find League Park Society whose mission is to preserve and restore the Park. You find their website here: www.leaguepark.org. If you get a chance please drive down E. 66th and stop at League Park it really is fascinating to see what remains of this historic venue.