There’s nothing like being somewhere other than Cleveland for spring training, and the Indians have definitely visited a multitude of places. In the 1920s, they visited New Orleans – enough that they saw fit to make political boss Huey Long a stockholder in the team. Currently, they’re in Arizona, a return to a location they’ve visited on and off since the 1940s. And thanks to “Major League,” Hi Corbett Field lives on in silver screen immortality as an Indians’ spring training home.
But during World War II, the Indians stayed closer to home – because they had to.
In January 1943, the Indians announced their spring training would be held at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue beat out Indianapolis and Marietta, among other locations, in no small part because the field house, just six years old, was regarded as “the last word in field houses,” said Indians general manager Roger Peckinpaugh. “It has an earth floor large enough to lay out a football field and we could hold infield practice there as readily as outdoors.” But the Indians were only able to hold morning workouts.
Wartime travel restrictions forced teams to play close to home (also leading to the cancellation of the 1945 All-Star Game), and the Indians weren’t the only ones in the Hoosier State. The Cubs and White Sox held training camp in French Lick (Larry Bird’s hometown), the Reds were in Bloomington, the Tigers were in Evansville, and the Pirates were in Muncie. As Florida was home to the Grapefruit League and Arizona was home to the Cactus League, spring training in Indiana was known as the Limestone League. In fact, the Plain Dealer described it as a “duration Florida.” “Short railroad hops will take us to the training camps of five other big league teams, and the Indians should get plenty of fast competition before they return home to open the American League season.”
But spring training in Indiana was difficult – and the only consolation was that so many other teams were in the same situation. National League President Ford Frick, himself an Indiana native, said, “There is no use pretending, a team cannot get in shape in weather like this.” Allie Reynolds, who played for the Indians before being traded to the Yankees for Joe Gordon, said he got shin splints out of the deal.
With the war over in 1945, spring training in 1946 was in Florida, and the weather made a difference. The Plain Dealer said the team was already farther advanced after two weeks than it was at the same time in any camp in Indiana.
“There’s nothing like outdoor baseball under the sun,” Boudreau said.