* Remember when Larry Walker was breaking all those offensive records for a Canadian hitterÉ Many belonged to Jeff Heath (Fort William, Ont.) who played for the Cleveland Indians (1936-45) at League Park … as did Jack Graney (St. Thomas, Ont.) who broke in 1908 and played from 1910-t0-1922, when it was re-named Dunn Field after owner Jim Dunn.
Book Review: League Park 1891-1946 – Home of Cleveland Baseball
By Bo Carter
Some observers have parlayed that Cleveland’s League Park is the “forgotten gem” of demolished ballparks (along with Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park/Busch Stadium I and others of that era) because it hosted its last Major League contest in 1946.
But the venerable home of the Cleveland Spiders, Indians, Negro League squads, and even the practice facility for the Cleveland Browns has its rich history relived in “League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball 1891-1946” by Ken Krsolovic and Bryan Fritz.
The amazing and often tragic history of the facility is traced on a year-by-year basis from the original wooden grandstands to the trend-setting metal and concrete structure in 1910 to the fading days of the fascinating facility at East 66th Street and Lexington.
The authors trace the trolley tracks and initial interest in professional baseball in Cleveland as early as 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings came to town to play a Cleveland nine. They also annotate ownership changes, the move of the Spiders to St. Louis to become the National League Cardinals, Cleveland’s origins in the American League in 1901, and the cavalcade of greats who passed through the League Park portals – especially on the home side.
Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie was so successful and popular in Cleveland that people nicknamed the teams for almost two decades the Cleveland Naps, and people often forget that the famed Cy Young was prominent for years in games played at League Park. Fellow Baseball Hall of Famer Tris Speaker from tiny Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth (he starred in football and baseball there) and the infamous Shoeless Joe Jackson starred in Cleveland before being traded to Chicago before the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
The authors also trace the year-by-year attendance, milestones and history of America in conjunction with the 55-year area of League Park.
They highlight the 1920 World Series champions and its twists and turns of that celebration of championships in Cleveland. The authors point out some of the historical consequences of winning teams in the city and losing squads that dropped annual attendance like a rock – especially during the Depression.
Some of their most astute facts about the hallowed grounds in Ohio are Babe Ruth’s 500th career home run, the place where Joe DiMaggio completed his 56-game hitting streak, went hitless the next day at Cleveland Stadium and then started another amazing batting skein, Bill Wambsganss’ first and only unassisted triple play in World Series annals in 1920, Bob Feller’s pitching debut at the age of 17 for the 1936 Indians, and his loyal service in the United States Navy from 1942-46, and the 1936-46 era where Cleveland teams gradually phased games out of aging League Park in favor of 78,000-seat Cleveland Stadium (sometimes called the Mistake by the Lake for its frigid days and nights near Lake Erie during all seasons before it too was razed in 1996; the Indians played there from 1936-93 and the Cleveland Browns through 1996). The book also chronicles the tragic beaning and park plaques commemorating the tragic beaning of Cleveland’s Ray Chapman by Carl Mays of the Yankees at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1920.
They also detail dozens of football games on the high school, college and pro levels at League Park from John Carroll University to Case and Western Reserve (later Case Western Reserve) to Baldwin-Wallace to famed area prep teams and the pro Cleveland Rams along with various boxing prize fights.
Krsolovic and Fritz detail this painful decline of League Park to an afterthought and the many plans to revitalize the site with youth facilities (some successful) against such obstacles as area urban decay and crime and in many cases simple indifference. They take readers through the historic process in later years with archived photos along with earlier postcards from League Park for six decades.
Their historic research and solid annotation, facts and figures make “League Park…” a must-read and one of the fine remembrances of a ballpark with tons of tradition and anecdotes, which they tell very well.
Note: Ken Krsolovic also is a past president (1999) of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and award-winning broadcaster.