New Name and Offensive Fireworks as Indians Hoisted Pennant in 1921
Vince Guerrieri | On 25, Apr 2018
As the 1921 season dawned, the Cleveland Indians had a home with a new name – and a new souvenir of their achievement the previous season.
The Indians began the season on the road, with a four-game set against the St. Louis Browns and a pair of games against the Tigers in Detroit, before coming home to the familiar confines at the corner of East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue.
The ballpark had been known as League Park since its first inception opened in 1891 for the Cleveland Spiders. But starting in 1921, it had taken on the name of Dunn Field in honor of its owner, Jim Dunn, in honor of a promise he made.
Dunn had bought the team in 1916, and pledged to spend whatever it took to bring a winner to Cleveland – a promise he almost immediately followed through on by paying $55,000 (then the highest cash amount for one player) for Tris Speaker. Spoke led the Indians as player-manager to the pennant in 1920 and then the World Series, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games. Dunn also made improvements to the stadium, adding seating for spectators and the press.
“And now that the Indians are World Champions, I have consented to let the name of the ballpark be something else besides simply League Park,” Dunn told the Cleveland Press.
The Indians’ first game at the newly-named ballpark was April 21, and five days later, the team celebrated its achievement the previous year. Resplendent in their “Worlds Champion” jerseys, the team raised the pennant on the flagpole deep in center field at League, er, Dunn Field.
Among the guests were American League President Ban Johnson and Napoleon Lajoie, then as now one of the most accomplished players to wear a Cleveland uniform and so popular that for a time, the team was named in his honor. The postseason eluded him during his playing career – the closest he came was in 1908, when the eponymous Naps finished a half-game behind the Tigers – but he was invited to share the celebration. In what was described as a graceful move in the next day’s Plain Dealer, Lajoie went to the flagpole and helped raise the pennant. “The former great player received much applause from the fans as he marched to the flagpole and back,” the Plain Dealer wrote.
Of course, then it was time to play the game, and Speaker, the field general, set a league record, using 23 players in a game that turned into a battle of wits between him and Tigers player-manager Ty Cobb. In fact, Speaker pulled off three triple-shifts in the game.
The Indians came up in the bottom of the eighth down 8-7 against a new pitcher, Red Oldham. After Speaker walked with one out, Doc Johnston tripled to bring him home. Larry Gardner singled home Johnston with what turned out to be the game-winning run. The win went to Jim Bagby, who had come on in relief in the eighth. Because of Speaker’s strategizing, Bagby had been prepared to come on and pitch – or even to pinch-hit. He had, after all, just hit the first home run in a World Series by a pitcher the previous October.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project