1920: Tragedy and Triumph
On May 28, the Indians stopped in Pittsburgh for an exhibition game against the Pirates at Forbes Field. In-season exhibitions were surprisingly common during the year, and it wouldn’t be the last one the Tribe would play in the 1920 …
It was only May, but the matchup between the Indians and White Sox at the Polo Grounds was already being billed as the Little World’s Series.
The Indians were regarded as a smart choice to win the American League pennant. …
Once again, the Indians arrived in a city and were unable to play their first game of a series. Rain forced the cancellation of the game scheduled for April 30 at Navin Field. Fortunately, both teams had a scheduled off …
For all outward appearances, the White Sox were still regarded as one of the best teams in the American League, and more than a few people saw the possibility of a repeat.
Inwardly, though, there was trouble. Almost as soon as the Reds had defeated the White Sox in the World Series, rumors started to brew that the series might have been fixed. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, rebuffed by American League President Ban Johnson as having sour grapes, hired his own private investigators to look into the matter.
In 1920, with fewer games and more doubleheaders, teams had more off days. But it was not uncommon for those days to be eaten up by travel (trains, not planes, in those days) and teams would actually schedule exhibition games during the regular season. Some of them were interleague matchups in the days where unless you lived in Chicago, Boston, New York or Philadelphia, you didn’t have the opportunity to see both leagues. And some of them were barnstorming games against local teams.
But the Indians’ off days were starting to fill already with makeup games. The weather was playing havoc with the schedule as the season dawned for the Indians. The team could only play two of four scheduled games in the opening series against the St. Louis Browns, and the next series, a visit by the Tigers, would only play three of four.
April 14, 1920, dawned as the kind of day Clevelanders could expect in April by the lake. The sun shone, but the wind whipped and cold temperatures prevailed.
But nearly 20,000 hale, hearty fans were willing to brave the elements. …
After travel restrictions were lifted for 1919, Indians owner Jim Dunn started holding spring training in New Orleans, and 1920 spring training arrangements were going to be difficult. The Indians would be fighting for lodging and other accommodations, as the city was taken over for horse racing through April.
Dunn realized he would incur more expenses than the average owner, but thought of it as an investment, said Plain Dealer sportswriter Harry Edwards.
“Jim has spent lots of money on the team,” Edwards wrote. “The training schedule has been costly. The Indians won’t make as much out of exhibition games as most of the other clubs, but Dunn sees farther. He sees crowded stands throughout the coming season because the Indians are almost sure to be up there. And even though the training season is more costly to him, he’ll catch up with the profits later on.”
Major League Baseball was at a crossroads in 1920. After weathering the storm of the Federal League, the American and National Leagues – then run as separate businesses – were facing a crisis of leadership and issues that could tear apart the game itself.
The Indians represented one of the most stable clubs in the American League, but it looked like other teams in the junior circuit were coming apart at the seams.
At the time, the game was overseen by a national commission of three men: American League President Byron “Ban” Johnson, National League President John Heydler and Reds owner Garry Herrmann. Johnson was issuing directives that were being ignored, and ignoring problems that threatened the foundation of the sport.
Tris Speaker was the leader of the 1920 Indians, but the heart and soul of the team was its shortstop, a man who led singalongs in the clubhouse and smuggled baseballs out of League Park to give to kids after baseball games.
By 1920, Ray Chapman was regarded as one of the best all-around shortstops in Major League Baseball. F.C. Lane of Baseball Magazine said Chapman was as good as the legendary Honus Wagner. But after a seven-year career, Chapman was teetering on a farewell tour.
In 1916, Tris Speaker was regarded as one of the greatest center fielders in baseball, and was a defending champion with the Red Sox. He was also an Indian-killer, with a .380 batting average at League Park.
He was also a holdout in spring training after seeing his salary cut in half, from $18,000 to $9,000. With the Federal League vanquished, there was no place for players to jump ship to, and owners could go back to their normal penury. In fact, the only reason Speaker got $18,000 from Boston president Joe Lannin was because he had been offered $100,000 to be player-manager of the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, the Federal League team named by its owner Robert Ward, who also owned the Tip-Top Bakery.
In 1916, Cleveland Indians owner Charles Somers was looking for someone – anyone – to buy his team.
Somers bought into the American League when it was founded as a major league in 1901. In addition to the team then called the Blues, he also owned Boston’s American League club – ultimately divesting of it in 1908 – and floated loans to the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Athletics.
Somers also owned several minor league teams, including the Toledo Mud Hens, which he moved to Cleveland in 1914 to forestall a Federal League team from playing in League Park. The Federal League had operated as a minor league in 1913, but was going to challenge Major League Baseball’s supremacy starting the next year.