The 1920s and 1930s are not remembered as halcyon days in Cleveland baseball history.
Six years after the Indians won the World Series in 1920, owner Jim Dunn was dead, ownership was in disarray and player-manager Tris Speaker had left the team under a cloud of suspicion after allegations of gambling on fixed games.
But that’s the era encapsulated in “No Money, No Beer, No Pennants,” the newest book from Cleveland sports historian Scott Longert.
It’s Longert’s third book, following “Addie Joss: King of the Pitchers,” about the Indians Hall of Famer, and “The Best They Could Be: How the Cleveland Indians Became the Kings of Baseball,” encapsulating the years from Dunn’s purchase of the team in 1916 to their 1920 World Series victory.
Longert said his latest book came together in about two and a half years, less time than his previous two took – a testament to the availability of resources online.
Longert started researching the development of Municipal Stadium. Like most Indians fans, he recalled going to games there, and how it served for such a long time as home for the Indians as well as the Cleveland Browns, and other events from the World Series of Rock to Notre Dame college football games.
“I read some things about it, but I was really interested in how it got started,” he said.
The idea of a large lakefront stadium had been floated throughout the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1928 that voters passed a bond issue for construction of a stadium that could hold up to 90,000 for signature events like baseball or football games – or even the Olympics.
Longert said he found no evidence for the oft-stated truism that the stadium was built in an effort to lure an Olympics to Cleveland, but he noted that sportswriter Ed Bang had suggested – futilely, it turns out – that the stadium accommodate a track for running events.
The stadium never hosted an Olympics, but it turned out to be an ideal venue for the Major League All-Star Game – an event that wasn’t even in existence when the stadium was considered in the 1920s.
Longert uncovers some interesting facts in the book. Louisiana Gov. Huey Long – the populist “Kingfish” and model for the political boss in “All the King’s Men” – owned stock in the team, which trained in that era in New Orleans and stayed at the city’s famous Roosevelt Hotel. Also, the Indians made an attempt to buy Jimmie Foxx when Athletics owner/manager Connie Mack was holding a fire sale from those dynastic teams. “They offered $50,000 or $60,000, but Tom Yawkey had money to burn,” Longert said. Yawkey, the owner of the Red Sox, ended up sending $150,000 and three players to Philadelphia for Foxx.
Mack was selling off his players literally to keep the doors open and the lights on at Shibe Park, Longert said. And that’s the other focus of the book: the toll the Great Depression took on Cleveland, the Indians, and baseball in general. After beginning play at Cleveland Stadium in July 1932, the Indians played the rest of the season there as well as the 1933 season, before opting out and returning to League Park, which they owned (they rented Municipal Stadium).
“No Money, No Beer, No Pennants” gives a sense of just how dire circumstances were for baseball. Longert said the Reds were close to folding, and the Red Sox weren’t far behind until Yawkey swooped in and bought the team in 1933. “It was hard times for a lot of folks and just to keep baseball afloat in that era was a feat,” he said.
The book also details some of the Indians players in that era who aren’t as well-known, but were demonstrably talented, like Willis Hudlin (who is probably most notable for giving up Babe Ruth’s 500th home run and is featured on the book’s cover), Hal Trosky, and future Hall of Famer Earl Averill.
“These are great players and they needed their due,” Longert said. “They didn’t have the best record, but they had talent. The Yankees and Athletics were so dominant in that era that it was difficult for even good teams to break through.”
Listen to an interview with Longert from “The Sound of Applause” HERE.