A ballpark opened in April in Cleveland, and the city virtually shut down to take notice.
It wasn’t regarded for its size, but for its comfort. It was regarded as state of the art, with influences from other ballparks of the era. “No seat is a bad one,” a Plain Dealer article extolled.
Jacobs Field in 1994? No, League Park in 1910.
In 1891, Frank Robison, owner of the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, built a ballpark at East 66th and Lexington – not coincidentally, at the end of a streetcar line he owned. League Park, like many other ballparks that were starting to spring up, was little more than a wooden grandstand around a field.
Robison took everything worth taking of the Spiders to St. Louis, and the team folded, replaced within a couple years by the Indians of the new American League.
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the first era of modern ballpark construction was underway. Steel-reinforced concrete had enabled the construction of large structures, billed as fireproof. Shibe Park in Philadelphia opened as the first modern ballpark in 1909, as had Forbes Field in Pittsburg (a federal regulation removed the h in 1890; it would not return until 1911, two years after Forbes Field opened). Both ballparks were viewed for inspiration – and to learn from their mistakes. The Plain Dealer reported that of the 21,000 seats at League Park, more than 12,000 would have unobstructed views – a concern because of the steel poles that were often used in grandstand construction.
Construction was estimated at $300,000 – in dollars, what a player making the league minimum would make by the trade deadline, but an equivalent to $7.5 million today.
The Naps began the 1910 season with a five-game road trip, taking two of three from the defending American League champion Tigers, and sweeping the White Sox in a two-game set before coming home for the grand debut of new League Park on April 21, 1910.
It was a party big enough to relegate the death of Mark Twain into one column of the front page of the next day’s Plain Dealer. The rest was all baseball. American League President Ban Johnson threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and many other owners attended as well. “It’s the best in the league,” said Washington President Tom Noyes.
Edgar Willett got the starting nod for the Tigers, but the Indians went with tradition, starting Cy Young, who had opened the original League Park in 1891.
Willett gave up just two hits in the first seven innings of the game. Young got a double – it might have been a triple if he were a younger man – in the eighth, but the Naps were unable to push a run across. The Tigers went on to win 5-0.
That evening, at Cleveland’s Hollenden Hotel, a banquet was held, featuring the luminaries of baseball, including Athletics owner Ben Shibe and Reds owner (and president of the National Commission that oversaw the major leagues) Garry Hermann. Tigers manager Hughie Jennings praised the new ballpark – while wishing the Naps would finish no higher than second. Naps owner Charles Somers was hailed as the man who saved major league baseball in Cleveland – not the last person identified as such.
“Cleveland had been one of the doubtful cities of the American League,” Johnson said. “But it is now one of the most solid in our circuit.”