Jacobs Field Nearing Twenty Years Of History
By Vince Guerrieri
Twenty years ago last week, construction started on Cleveland’s field of dreams.
On April 16, 1992, concrete started being poured for the new baseball stadium as part of the Gateway Project in downtown Cleveland, which also included a new arena that would be the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, then playing in the Richfield Coliseum.
For the 20 years before that, the fate of the Indians in Cleveland was tenuous. In the early 1970s, plans were being made for the Tribe to play a series of “home” games in New Orleans, a possibly prelude to moving the team there. Starting in 1973, the Indians’ home, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, was run by Browns owner Art Modell under the guise of the Cleveland Stadium Corporation. Modell said he was being bled dry for repairs for the stadium, and the Indians were his tenants, paying rent but not sharing in the revenue (Modell’s reasoning was that he built the loges in the stadium, so he should get the money from them).
In the late 1970s, owner Steve O’Neill started talking about a new home for the Indians. In 1984, Cuyahoga County voters were given a chance to vote on a new domed stadium downtown, but the vote failed. Property started to get bought up around the site of the old Central Market for a new stadium, but it wasn’t until voters approved a sin tax (on beer and cigarettes) that construction could start in earnest on Gateway, at the Central Market site. Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said that the voting down of the sin tax could lead to the Indians leaving town.
Construction started. Indians owner Dick Jacobs put up more than half of the $195 million cost for construction, and the rest was financed by the sin tax revenue. Major League Baseball was in the start of a construction boom. New Comiskey Park, a soulless shell, was built in 1990, and the Orioles left Memorial Stadium for Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The new home for the O’s was hailed as an architectural masterpiece and a great baseball experience – and suddenly provided the model for any new ballpark construction.
Jacobs bought the naming rights for the field, which was Jacobs Field for the first 15 years of its existence (and many fans still call it the Jake for tradition’s sake). The Indians moved into the new stadium in 1994, and were leading the wild card when the season ended because of a players’ strike. The Cavs, after a 20-year experiment toward regionalization, moved back into Cleveland in the fall of 1994.
And the Indians’ new home coincided with what can safely be called the golden era of Cleveland baseball. The Tribe won five straight division titles from 1995-1999, and another in 2001. The mixture of a gleaming new ballpark and a run of success hasn’t been duplicated – although there are some fan bases who hoped for it.