Posts By Vince Guerrieri
One hundred and four years ago today, the Indians got the first view of one of the greatest players of all time – one who would bedevil them for the better part of the next two decades.
When the Indians (at that point still known as the Naps) met the Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, they did so before a crowd of 11,087 – the largest non-holiday crowd to see the Naps (who lost 102 games that year, giving no one a really good reason to see them). But they were there to see Boston’s newest pitcher, acquired from the minor league Baltimore Orioles, the team in his home town.
The next day’s Plain Dealer only used the pitcher’s last name: Ruth. His given name was George, but he became known worldwide as Babe, a nickname hung on him because of his naivete in his brief time with the Orioles.
By 1938, League Park had already seen an abundance of baseball history.
Cy Young opened the place – first in 1891 when it was home to the Spiders, and then the new concrete-and-steel ballpark in 1910. Addie Joss threw a perfect game at the close of the 1908 season in what might have been the greatest game ever pitched. Legends like Tris Speaker and Napoleon Lajoie patrolled the field, and the Indians won the 1920 World Series there.
And all those moments were on display July 3, 1938 – when League Park hosted an old-timers game between representatives of the 1908 and 1920 teams, at that point the two best teams in Indians history.
Last year, as the Indians’ prepared for what we hoped would be a lengthy playoff run, I said I was getting a 1996 vibe from the team.
That team followed up a World Series appearance with the best record in the major leagues and high expectations – and a quick exit from the postseason, losing in the American League Division Series.
Last year’s team followed up the best record in the American League and high expectations – and a quick exit from the postseason, losing in the American League Division Series.
I promise you, I derived no pleasure from being right.
Nothing ever really dies on the internet. That’s how I ended up talking to the guy who was the infamous Baseball Bug.
Ron Chernek emailed me last week, saying he’d stumbled upon the article I’d written last year about the Baseball Bug, Cleveland’s short-lived mascot in the 1980 and 1981 season (actually, his son stumbled upon it; Chernek by his own admission isn’t particularly active on the internet or social media). He offered to tell his story and I offered to listen.
Ninety years ago this week, League Park was invaded by the over-the-hill gang.
The Athletics came to town, and their roster included talent on the rise like Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove – three key cogs in the teams that would win three straight pennants from 1929-31 (including World Series in the first two of those years) – but it was also home to some players who were great names but had their best days behind them.
It was once said that Moe Berg could speak seven languages – but not hit a curveball in any of them.
Berg, whose itinerant baseball career included two stops in Cleveland, didn’t have to be a good hitter in the days when catchers were more prized for their skill calling games and with the leather than with the bat. But it’s his post-baseball life that’s of interest to moviemakers.
Last Friday, Corey Kluber reached a milestone, with his 1,228th strikeout, putting him alone in third place on the Indians’ all-time list (he added one more before the end of his outing).
It’ll be a while before he catches up to Sudden Sam McDowell with 2,159 strikeouts (Bob Feller stands atop the list with 2,581 Ks), but by reaching third place, he passed two Hall of Famers who were contemporaries, but took vastly different paths to their 1,227 strikeouts with the Indians: Bob Lemon and Early Wynn.
Dave Garcia, a baseball lifer whose eight-decade career included stints coaching and managing the Indians, died Tuesday at the age of 97.
Garcia died in San Diego, where he had been in long-term care, but prior to that he could be spotted at Petco Park. His baseball career started in 1938 when the East St. Louis native was signed to a contract by the St. Louis Browns following a tryout. He got beaned and was promptly cut in spring training. The year after, a knee injury derailed him. He had a decent year in 1942, but World War II intervened, and he served three years in the U.S. Army Air Forces. After that, baseball was his career – and a lengthy one.
Eleven years ago this week, Sports Illustrated put Grady Sizemore on the cover.
The story raved about Sizemore, the Indians center fielder virtually stolen from the Expos in the trade that sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal. His on-base percentage kept improving. He had size. He had speed. He had power. He had legions of female fans – “Grady’s ladies,” they were called. Best of all, he was under team control for another five years. The story likened his numbers at that point to Duke Snider, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers.
“To watch him play day in and day out is a rare treat,” said Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro. “All of us, from the front office to the players to the bat boys, are fortunate to see him every day. He is without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation.”
It wasn’t to be.
By the time Charles Somers was forced to sell the Indians after the 1915 season, whatever good will – and cash – he had was gone. Which is a shame, because probably nobody did as much as he did to keep not just the Indians, but the entire American League, afloat in its first decade.
Known as the “good angel of the American League,” Somers used his personal fortune to help build stadiums in Chicago and Philadelphia in addition to Cleveland, and at one point, while owner of the Indians (at the time called the Naps), he also owned shares in Boston to keep that team above water. In fact, the team was called the Somersets in some newspapers because of their owners.
Seventy-two years ago this week, Bob Feller became just the second pitcher in Indians history to throw multiple no-hitters, getting his second no-no against the Yankees.
To finish it off, he had to go through the meat of the Bronx Bombers’ lineup, including Tommy Henrich, nicknamed “Ol’ Reliable” by longtime Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen for his ability to deliver in the clutch.
But it’s entirely possible that Feller and Henrich could have been teammates – possibly in Cleveland OR New York.
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.