Church Hill Park. Churchill, Ohio.
Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati, Ohio. Home of the Cincinnati Reds.
Home opener: Miami Marlins vs. Cincinnati Reds.
Game time: Thursday, April 5, 4:05pm.
Progressive Field. Cleveland, Ohio. Home of the Cleveland Indians.
Home opener: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians.
Game time: Thursday, April 5, 3:05pm.
There are places around the country where beloved ballparks once stood during what might be called baseball’s “Golden Age”. Sadly, due to a combination of political inaction, a short-sighted need for newer parks with more suites, and whatever the opposite of gentrification is, most of these parks did not survive the 1970s, with glaring exceptions in Chicago’s Wrigley Field (built 1914) and Boston’s Fenway Park (built 1912). Today on American Footprint we continue what we hope will become a weekly feature (for which there is yet no name), where we take a quick look at some of these ballparks that are no longer with us.
In this Second Edition, we will look at Cleveland, Ohio’s League Park.
League Park, located at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 66th Street in the Hough Neighborhood, opened in 1891 with 9,000 wooden seats and was originally home to the National League’s Cleveland Spiders. The Spiders went out of business after going 20-134 in the 1899 season (the owner had removed the team’s best players - usually such a good decision) and were replaced by the minor league Cleveland Lake Shores. They were soon renamed the Cleveland Indians and were a charter member of the American League, which became major league. In 1910 the park was rebuilt with concrete and steel and could now seat more than 18,000 fans.
For the 1932 and 1933 seasons, the Indians played in the new, 71,000-capacity Municipal Stadium (1931-1996). However, the players and fans complained about the drop in home runs caused by the larger outfield, and as the Great Depression worsened and attendance at the huge park plummeted, games were moved back to League Park in 1934. Starting in 1936, the Indians began to split time between the two stadiums, with Sunday double-headers and holiday or “big” games being played at Municipal, and the rest at League Park.
This only lasted until 1940, when the Indians began playing most of their home games at Municipal, completely abandoning League Park after 1946. The Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes continued using the field until their own demise in 1950, and the park was demolished in 1951. A field remained on the site and the NFL Cleveland Browns used it as a practice field into the late 1960s.
The site remains a field today with several old structures (I’m not sure if they relate to the park), but much to the City of Cleveland’s credit, there are plans to renovate the park (this is practically a dream come true for me - I wish this could happen in more cities). Video here. Thanks to the Eephus League for posting about this renovation. Be sure to check them out if you’re a baseball fan.
Anyway, to finish, here are some noteworthy events in the history of Cleveland’s League Park:
• Cy Young delivers the first pitch at the park’s first game on May 1st, 1891.
• That whole, ya know, 20-134 1899 season. That’s noteworthy for all the wrong reasons.
• The 1920 World Series between the Indians and the then-called Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers), the 5th game of which saw several World Series firsts including:
• The first grand slam home run in a World Series game, hit by Cleveland right-fielder Elmer Smith.
• The first home run hit by a pitcher, by Cleveland’s Jim Bagby.
• The first (and still only) World Series unassisted triple play, in the top of the fifth inning by Cleveland’s second-baseman Bill Wambsganss.
• The Indians’ first World Series title in 1920.
• Babe Ruth hits his 500th home run in 1929, and is the first player in history to do so.
• Joe Dimaggio achieves the final hit of his legendary (and still standing - by far) 56-game hitting streak on July 16, 1941. The streak ended the next night at Cleveland’s other park, Municipal Stadium (draw your own conclusions).
• The Negro Leagues’ Cleveland Buckeyes win that league’s World Series in 1945
• The Boston Red Sox clinch the American League 1946 pennant behind the game’s only score: a first-inning home run by Ted Williams.
Come back next Monday (and every day between now and then for your general viewing pleasure) for another installment of this Lost Ballparks feature.
Hoover Community Recreation Center, North Canton, Ohio. Municipal.
This excellent ballpark comes via our “Suggest A Ballpark” feature, which you can can access at the top of the page.