By Robyn Marcs, Grants Manager at the Western Reserve Historical Society
“It’s like the constitution, the institution of dear old baseball.”
– Ragtime the Musical
With the recent name change of the Cleveland Indians to the Guardians, one may want to reflect on how far our team has come since its founding in 1901. The American League Cleveland team has called three ballparks home: League Park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and Progressive Field (also known as Jacobs Field to those of us who grew up with that name).
League Park: 1891-1946
Originally the home of the Cleveland Spiders, our city’s National League team featuring the great Cy Young, from 1891-1899, League Park is located on the corner of E. 66th and Lexington. The Cleveland Bluebirds (the original name of the 1901 American League team) took over the park upon their founding. The Bluebirds’ first game was played there on the April 29, 1901. There was much buzz in the city as they welcomed their new team, but according to that day’s Plain Dealer, “We do not care to march our players through the street like circus animals,” said the team’s owner, Jack Kilfoyl. However, private celebrations were held throughout the city to commemorate the new American League Cleveland Bluebirds.
League Park was also the scene of a perfect game, which was pitched by the famed Addie Joss on October 2, 1908. Baseball legends like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Napoleon Lajoie played there during the glory days in 1910s. Most significantly, it was the site of the Cleveland Indians’ first World Series win in 1920. Game Five of this Fall Classic saw several firsts, including the only World Series unassisted triple play by Bill Wambsganss. The Cleveland Buckeyes won the Negro League World Series there in 1945. This historic ballpark saw its final game on November 24, 1949, which was a football march between Western Reserve University and Case Institution of Technology. While the majority of the park was demolished in 1951, today the ticketing building and part of the left field wall remains. The field and the ticketing building serves as the home of the Baseball Heritage Museum.
Cleveland Municipal Stadium: 1946-1994
The mood during the Cleveland Indians’ first game in their new ballpark on July 31, 1932 is best told by the following day’s Plain Dealer article by John W. Vance:
The Cleveland Indians game home to the $3,000,000 stadium yesterday and found 80,184 friends and relations standing on the figurative steps to cry them welcome, to set a new world’s record for baseball crowds and to toss the [Great] Depression, yelping feebly, over the wall into Lake Erie. … You who said the Cleveland Stadium would never be filled can paste the figures in your hats, eat them in alphabet soup and stencil them on the bed room [sic] ceiling so you’ll dream about them at night.
Clevelanders had been seeking a new stadium for years, especially since League Park was constructed in 1891 and had seen better days. Between 1932 and 1946 the Indians would still play at League Park periodically. The Indians would play their home games of the 1948 World Series at the stadium but would eventually win the series in Boston.
One notable event that those of a certain age may remember was the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night on June 4, 1974. Due to the rambunctious and intoxicated fans, the Indians eventually had to forfeit the game to the Texas Rangers. The following year, the Indians hired Frank Robinson as the first Black manager of a Major League Baseball team. Cleveland saw another perfect game when Len Barker pitched one at the stadium in 1981, the last one for our team to date. Since it’s baseball season, we don’t need to dwell on Red Right 88 and The Drive, but these Browns events also took place at Cleveland Stadium.
Over the next sixty years, Cleveland Municipal Stadium began to show its age. Fans were ready for a new ballpark, and the last MLB game was played at the old stadium on October 3, 1993. However, a new age of Cleveland Indians baseball was on the horizon.
Progressive (Jacobs) Field: 1994-Present
All of us have driven past the fabled corner of Carnegie and Ontario and/or walked across the indoor bridge connecting Tower City to Progressive Field. In 1994, Clevelanders finally were awarded a new stadium, Jacobs Field. According to The Plain Dealer, “Cleveland baseball fans accustomed to cold, cavernous Cleveland Stadium will be positively floored by [the] conveniences at Jacobs Field.” Then-President Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch at the new stadium to Sandy Alomar, Jr. on April 1, 1994 during an exhibition game. The first official game was held on April 4 with the Tribe defeating the Seattle Mariners 4-3.
The Indians broke the forty-one-year World Series drought in 1995 as the American League champions, falling to the Atlanta Braves in six games. In 1997 the promising AL Champs lost to the new Florida Marlins team in a devastating disappoint to city caught in a long drought. We don’t need to talk about Jose Mesa. Despite falling short of a Fall Classic win, the ‘90s Indians were a team to reckoned with, featuring the likes of Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, and Manny Ramirez.
In 2007, the stadium was renamed Progressive Field, and the following year Asdrubal Cabrera completed his legendary unassisted triple play, only the 14th in MLB history. Growing up, my favorite players were Robbie Alomar during his stint on the Tribe, as well as Travis “Pronk” Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo. Yours truly was also in attendance at Progressive Field during the live streaming of Game 3 of the 2016 World Series, where the umpires tried time after time to give the Cubs the game, but the Indians ended up winning 1-0.
Now the Cleveland Guardians are in another “rebuilding” stage, and we’ll see where the seasons ahead take them. Progressive Field (it will always be “The Jake” to me) remodeled once more in 2014/15, clearing seats in the right field for a spectacular new Cleveland restaurant dining area that is well-received by locals and out-of-towners alike.
As George Stephanopolous said on the Jacobs Field home opener, “The president was saying what a beautiful place this is. I was proud. It’s always great to be home.”