September 20, 2013

League Park: Ohio's Lost Ballpark Gets Back in the Game

Written by Jeremy Feador, University Archivist, Ritter Library, Baldwin Wallace University

Outside League Park in Cleveland, between 1900-1910. Credit: Library of Congress
Outside League Park in Cleveland, c. 1900-1910.

Nestled on the corner of East 66th and Lexington Ave are the remnants of Cleveland’s League Park. To say that this plot of grass, remaining ticket house, and partial wall of the park are historic is an understatement.

In 1891, when a 24-year-old Cy Young stepped on the mound for the inaugural game at League Park, he ushered in a period of baseball history that can hardly be rivaled. That day he helped lead the Cleveland Spiders to victory over Cincinnati, 12-3.

Eight years later in 1899, the team set a mark that may never be equaled in baseball history. The Spiders' owners Frank and Stanley Robison traded the team's best players to the St. Louis Browns, a team the brothers also owned. The result was an ugly record of 20 wins and 134 losses.

The ball grounds inside League Park in Cleveland, between 1900-1910. Credit: Library of Congress
The ball grounds inside League Park, c. 1900-1910.

The next several decades saw League Park continue play a role as the backdrop for baseball history. The Indians set several World Series firsts at the stadium including the first grand slam, first home run by a pitcher, and the only unassisted triple play in series history.

League Park was the site for Babe Ruth’s 500th home run as well as the last hit of Joe DiMaggio’s legendary hitting streak. It saw the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League capture the 1945 title.

But as time wore on, League Park faded into oblivion. The Indians moved into Municipal Stadium, playing the occasional game at League Park until the close of the 1946 season. The Cleveland Browns (the football team) then used the park as a practice field throughout the 1960s.

The League Park ticket booth is still standing. Credit: Jeremy Feador
The League Park ticket house

Soon several phases of demolition left only the wall along the first base-side and the ticket house. Fortunately the field remained free from obstruction and was used as a park by the City of Cleveland.

Now flash forward to 2013 as League Park prepares for unexpected extra innings. After decades of neglect and plans that never materialized, the City of Cleveland is coming through in a big way: a multimillion-dollar big way.

The City of Cleveland’s major restoration plan includes the addition of land to incorporate a second diamond beyond League Park’s original left field. The old ticket booth will be restored to its former glory and house a possible visitor center/museum.

When asked about the importance of the park, John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, said, “An old ballpark is a museum of a million memories, a congregation of souls linked across barriers of time.”

The "view from home plate" -- or at least the view from where it once sat in League Park. Credit: Jeremy Feador
The "view from home plate" -- or at least from where it once sat in League Park.

League Park will be a tangible link to baseball history as well as a connection to future stars, particularly with the most exciting aspect of the entire restoration: the location of home plate. Little Leaguers, Clevelanders, and visitors will soon be able to stand in the exact spot where baseball legends Cobb, Ruth, and Speaker once stood.

“This site merits more than a historical marker, and the City of Cleveland is doing a great thing,” said Thorn. Perhaps keeping the game of baseball alive on the field is the most fitting tribute for such an iconic piece of sports history.

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