Bob Hope: Entertainer, Philanthropist … and Tribe Fan
Vince Guerrieri | On 14, Dec 2016
As a child, Leslie Townes Hope tried to see as many Indians games as he could at League Park – when he wasn’t hustling pool at the Alhambra on East 105th.
For a significant portion of his adult life, Hope – known to millions as Bob – owned a piece of the team.
Bob Hope was known as many things, first and foremost a comedian, but also a philanthropist and an ardent supporter of the troops (as evidenced by his multiple USO tours). He was probably most know – at least, to himself – as a sportsman.
He fought as an amateur in Cleveland (under the name Packy East), but his most beloved sport was golf, once saying it was his vocation, and comedy just an avocation. In addition to providing his name to a golf tournament, he was an inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame. In fact, there is currently an exhibition at the Cleveland History Center on Hope sponsored by the hall of fame.
He was willing to buy into the Rams after Dan Reeves moved the team from Cleveland to Los Angeles. Reeves saw millions to be made on the West Coast, but was awash in debt early on, the combination of being the only team in the NFL on the West Coast and slugging it out with a team from another league, the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Conference. Hope bought into the team for a dollar, but helped Reeves carry debts until the team became the most popular in Los Angeles – a title the Dodgers had to fight for in the 1960s. By then, Reeves had bought out all the minority partners – for considerably more than a dollar. Hope, who had already invested wisely, probably didn’t need to work another day in his life even then.
But Hope managed to own, more out of love than investment, a piece of the Indians for decades. As a group headed by Bill Veeck negotiated to buy the team in the summer of 1946, it was revealed that Hope was one of the investors. Hope, always cracking wise, said, “It’ll give me my first chance to yell with impunity at guys with muscles.” He also noted that he wanted to follow the lead of his frequent co-star, Bing Crosby, who owned part of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I have a sentimental interest in the club, having been raised in Cleveland, and I have a world of faith in Bill Veeck Jr,” shared Hope when talking about his involvement with the Indians.
Hope sold out when Veeck did, three years later, but remained an Indians fan. In fact, he engaged in a series of increasingly less friendly wagers with Jackie Gleason over the 1954 World Series. He said he was betting drinks at Toots Shor’s, and by the end owed Gleason a distillery. They put it all on a prizefight between Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio, with Hope taking Basilio – who lucky for Hope won in a decision. Gleason’s attempts to hustle Hope at golf and pool were unsuccessful, but Hope still owed Gleason for the initial World Series bet. “If you ever see me doing a guest shot on his show, you’ll know why,” Hope said in a Sports Illustrated cover story in the 1960s.
He had bought back into the Indians by then, and retained stock in the team for decades. Again, he said it was purely for sentimental reasons – and was asked if he wanted to buy further interest in the team in the 1970s, when cash flow was a problem for it, as well as the city in general.
Although he nominally lived in Toluca Lake, California (his entertainment schedule kept him on the road for months at a time), Cleveland always had the pull of home for him. He was the featured guest during the NBA All-Star Game in 1981, and visibly older and nearing the end of his career, he sang “Thanks for the Memories” after the last game at Cleveland Stadium.
Fulfilling a goal he’d set decades earlier, Bob Hope celebrated his 100th birthday on May 29, 2003. He died two months later, remembered as an entertainer, an honorary veteran, the most awarded man in history – and as a Cleveland Indians fan.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project