League Park Hosts its Last Game – an Extra-innings Loss to Detroit
Vince Guerrieri | On 27, May 2017
In memory of the passing of “Sarge”, former Indians left-hander Bob Kuzava, on May 15, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night share the story of his Major League debut for Cleveland in 1946. – Bob T.
League Park was on borrowed time starting in 1928, when voters in Cleveland passed a bond issue for construction of an enormous lakefront stadium at the end of East Ninth Street downtown.
But it hung on for another 18 years as the home of the Indians until a group headed by Bill Veeck bought the team in June 1946. Almost immediately, it appeared that the Indians’ full-time home would be Cleveland Stadium, and on September 21, 1946, League Park hosted its last Major League Baseball game.
It was a Saturday, the penultimate one in the baseball season and the last one for baseball in Cleveland that year. The game marked the Major League debut of Bob Kuzava, who had been signed five years earlier as an amateur free agent – but World War II had intervened, and Kuzava served, rising to the rank of sergeant and giving him a nickname for life.
Sarge, a native of Wyandotte, Michigan, was pitching against his hometown team, the Tigers. The Red Sox had clinched the pennant a week earlier, so the two teams were playing out the string. He matched up against Dizzy Trout, who was looking for his 16th win of the season.
The Tigers were leading 3-0 by the fifth inning, but in the bottom of the sixth, the Indians got on the board. Hank Edwards doubled off the right-field wall, and then scored on a subsequent double to center by Dale Mitchell. Pat Seerey walked and Les Fleming singled to load the bases. Jimmy Wasdell’s sacrifice to second plated a second run.
In the top of the 11th, Trout bunted to get on base, but was cut down at second by a pitchout. Eddie Lake bunted to get on board, as did George Kell. A single by Hoot Evers scored Lake to give the Tigers the lead, and after Hank Greenberg fouled out, Dick Wakefield singled Kell home. With the damage done, Berry was lifted in favor of Bob Lemon, who was just making the switch to pitcher. Lemon recorded the final out, and the Indians couldn’t come back in the bottom half of the frame.
“It was probably the last major league game in League Park inasmuch as the Indians will re-establish permanent headquarters in the stadium next spring,” wrote the next day’s Plain Dealer. “No announcement has been made on the disposal of the old orchard.”
It was the second time in less than a year the ballpark had been left behind. The Cleveland Rams played their home games at League Park in 1945, but advanced to the NFL championship game, which was played at Cleveland Stadium. A month later, the Rams announced their intention to move to Los Angeles.
After the Indians’ departure, the only team regularly using the ballpark at East 66th and Lexington was the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues. They, too, were on borrowed time. The integration of baseball in 1947 – first with Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers and then of Larry Doby, signed by Veeck to play for the Indians – spelled doom for the Negro Leagues, and by 1950, the Buckeyes were no more, leaving League Park to oblivion. Most of the stadium was torn down in 1951.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project