Charley Lupica Took Tribe Fandom to the Next Level
Vince Guerrieri | On 01, Dec 2014
Even in 1949, you could still find Yankees fans in Cleveland. Charley Lupica was arguing with some of them one day after work.
“If you like New York, why don’t you move there,” he said.
They suggested that he should go climb a flagpole. And on an off day for the Tribe, May 31 – 65 years ago – he did just that, outside of his store at East 108th and Wade Park. The Indians were in sixth place, eight games back of the Yankees.
Lupica owned a grocery store, and was no stranger to oddball promotions. He vowed to stay at the top of the flagpole until the Indians won the pennant – or were mathematically eliminated. He quickly garnered national media attention, including a photographer from Life magazine.
”They had me all over the front page,” he said. ”I couldn’t come down if I’d wanted to.”
Satchel Paige visited. The Boston Braves – bested by the Tribe in the previous year’s World Series – sent red pajamas. He had a telephone, portable radio, television and public address system at his perch – but the adventure almost ended as the city investigated if he violated sanitation regulations.
Lupica’s wife Augustine was pregnant with their fourth child, and Veeck promised to have an ambulance at the ready to take her to the hospital. But Augustine Lupica was nonplussed. “If Charley can live on a platform, I suppose I shouldn’t complain about the ordinary business of having babies.” She gave birth to a son, Charles Jr., on Aug. 7. The Indians dropped both ends of a doubleheader to the Athletics that day.
On Sept. 25, the Indians played their home finale against the Tigers in front of 33,977 fans. Two days earlier, the Indians were mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, and Tribe owner Bill Veeck, ever the showman, had a mock funeral, burying the pennant in centerfield. (It still hasn’t been found.
Veeck sent a truck for Lupica, who was taken – pole and all – to the ballpark, where Lupica came down from his perch for the previous 117 days and kissed home plate. He was presented with a car, a bathtub, bicycles for the children, an oven, puppies – and a 50-foot flagpole.
Lupica was a guest of the team’s the final series at Municipal Stadium in 1993, and did live to see the Indians win three more pennants – in 1954, 1995 and 1997. He died at the age of 90 in 2002, without seeing the Indians win another World Series in his lifetime.