Sheffield Lake, OH- It’s cold. Well after all it’s winter in Cleveland so yeah it’s supposed to be. Usually this time of year the bitter temperatures that chill our every bone are somewhat tolerable knowing that baseball is back and our favorite team is somewhere either in Florida or Arizona preparing for another season of our favorite pastime.
Well, at this writing things are not what we hoped they would be. Millionaire players and billionaire owners shuffling about with nonsensical patterns of behavior in the midst of a baseball lockout that is leaning towards a complete shutdown of the greatest game known to man. All at the expense of us, the fans.
There really isn’t anything to write about concerning this grand old sport that doesn’t involve CBT or expanded playoffs or tax penalties or yada yada yada... we know all that already. We have been suffocated with it. I could bore you writing about upcoming prospects that most people don’t know about or haven’t even heard of but that too runs it’s course. So I have decided to have a little fun. I want to take a look back at some of the old venerable venues that have housed our grandest game and our grandest players. Just to maybe put a little smile on our faces as a reminder as to what was once good.
So I will start with a place that I hold near and dear to me because it is right in my backyard so to speak, my first venue I will talk about will be the venerable League Park, right here in Cleveland.
League Park was built for the Cleveland Spiders, who were founded in 1887 as a founding member of the American Association before joining the National League in 1889. Yes, Cleveland was a National League team.
The park opened on May, 1, 1891 with a game vs the Cincinnati Redlegs, 9,000 fans showed up and sat in wooden seats and the first pitch in the park was made by none other than Cy Young.
In 1899, the Spiders’ owners purchased the St Louis Browns and stripped the team of it’s best players and sent them to St Louis. What resulted was what is still to this day the worst record in major league history. The Spiders finished at 20-134.
Attendance was so bad that year that they were forced to play 112 of their 154 games on the road because teams would not travel to Cleveland due to not being able to cover any of their expenses.
The team was contracted after that 1899 season and replaced by the Cleveland Lake Shores, a team in a minor league called the American League. The American League claimed themselves as a major leagues and in 1901, Cleveland then called the Blues, were a charter member. The name Indians didn’t come to be until 1915.
On April 29,1901 Cleveland played it’s first game at League Park as a member of the new American League. Cy Young threw 12 shutout innings, beating the New York Highlanders, 1-0. The Highlanders years later became the New York Yankees.
Another notable game was the first perfect game in AL history as Indians pitcher Addie Joss did it on October 2, 1908. Also in 1908, Alta Weiss was the first female to make her debut. She was a pitching sensation who historians say was only used as a way to draw huge crowds.
October 10, 1920, League Park hosted Game 5 of the World Series between the Indians and the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of the most memorable games in WS history due to several WS firsts.
In the bottom of the first inning, Elmer Smith of the Indians hit the first grand slam in WS history. Later in the fourth inning, Jim Bagby of the Tribe was the first pitcher to homer in a World Series game. But the best one was the very next inning in the top of the 5th when Tribe 2nd baseman Bill Wambsganss executed the first and to this date, only unassisted triple play in WS history.
Game 5 of the 1920 World Series at League Park, with Bill Wambsganss tagging out Otto Miller for the final out of Wambsganss' historic unassisted triple play
Two days later, the Indians won their first WS 7-0, winning game 7.
There were other notable players who hit milestones at our League Park. The greatest of them all, Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run, at the time the first to do so, over the 290’ wall in right field. Joe DiMaggio’s final hit of his 56 game hitting streak was at League Park. The streak was ended the very next night at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
League Park is now a site of a public park. A small section of the exterior brick facade still stands, as well as the old ticket office behind what was the right field fence.
This is just one of a series of stories, nostalgia if you will, my thought is to bring back some semblance of excitement for our wonderful sport during this tumultuous period. I hope I can bring some joy back to all baseball fans, even if it’s just a short trip down memory lane.
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