Indians Got Special Guest to Sing National Anthem at 1939 Opener

The Indians aren’t known for their celebrity fans, but they do exist.

Tom Hanks called the Cleveland area home as a young actor, and he’s been known to cheer for the Tribe. “How I Met Your Mother” was littered with Indians references thanks to creator Carter Bays, a Shaker Heights native. At one point, Bob Hope owned a piece of the team.

But when the Indians opened the 1939 season in front of a shivering crowd, significantly less than capacity at Municipal Stadium, they did so with an MGM contract player who was months away from superstardom.

The next day’s Plain Dealer said that the crowd of 23,957 – not even capacity at League Park – shivered under blankets but would always remember “Judy Garland’s rendition of the national anthem, as the flag was raised.”

Garland, described as “a pretty screen star,” sang with her fingers in her ears to keep her own time, the Plain Dealer explained. The band was at the other end of the field, and played ahead of her.

Garland, then a 16-year-old MGM contract player best known for Andy Hardy movies with Mickey Rooney, was in town as part of a publicity tour for her next movie, which had just completed filming a month before. Garland was the third choice – but the first available – to play Dorothy in the movie version of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” with Cleveland native Margaret Hamilton as the wicked witch. Garland, a vaudeville and stage veteran even at her age, embarked on a tour to promote the movie, including a stop in Cleveland for a two-week singing engagement at the State Theatre – and an appearance at the University School prom!

After Garland sang the national anthem, Bob Feller – himself not too far removed from being a teenage phenomenon – pitched a stellar game, giving up a solo home run to Barney McCosky and just two other hits (he’d improve on that for the following year’s opener, becoming the first and to date only pitcher to throw an opening day no-hitter). Hal Trosky doubled twice for the Tribe and knocked in two runs as the Indians won 5-1.

The Indians finished the season 87-67, but were 20 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. Garland ended up having the better year, as “The Wizard of Oz” made her one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and she received an honorary juvenile Academy Award the following year.

Photo: Cleveland Memory Project

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