Bike Co-Op Ride Featuring Cleveland Baseball History

It’s spring and thoughts turn towards … Riding? Baseball?  How about a ride featuring Cleveland baseball history, what could be better! 

The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op leads Saturday Social rides on the first Saturday of every month.   With baseball around the corner, the March ride featured a few important historic stops for Cleveland baseball history.

Cleveland Municipal Stadium

The first stop visited the site of Cleveland Municipal Stadium, home of the Cleveland Indians for 61 years--the place where Cleveland Browns Stadium, now known as First Energy Stadium--now stands. The original Cleveland stadium was made possible in 1928, when the City issued a $2.5 million bond, using public money for the construction. The Stadium was built over a landfill full of old used cars and tires. Groundbreaking was held in June 1930, with construction completed in July 1931 in time to host a boxing championship bout between Young Stribling and Max Schmeling.  Schmeling won and kept his title.

The stadium also hosted numerous music concerts, including the Beatles in 1966, the Rolling Stones, the Jackson 5, Bruce Springsteen and a September 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, with an all-star lineup featuring Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Aretha franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.

Cleveland Municipal Stadium hosted Indians pitcher Len Barker's “perfect” game on May 15, 1981, in which he faced twenty-seven Toronto Blue Jay batters, recording twenty-seven outs in 3-0 victory.  At the time, it was only the tenth official perfect game in baseball history. 

Another great moment came when Frank Robinson--in his debut game as the first African American Manager in baseball history--stepped to the plate on opening day, 1975 and smacked a home run to left field.   One Indians official said, "in a style befitting his Hall of Fame talent, Frank hit one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history."

However, any list of baseball Stadium memories has to include “Ten Cent Beer Night, “the June 4, 1974 promotion that turned into a bench-clearing riot. The game was out of control early, with streakers, a father/son “mooning,” fire crackers, fight and the riot causing a forfeit when the game could not be completed.  

Progressive Field

The group next swung by the Indians' current home, Progressive Field, stopping at the East 9th Street statute of legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller (1918 - 2010).  Whether called "the Heater from Van Meter” (Iowa), "Bullet Bob,"  or "Rapid Robert," Feller’s record was awesome, pitching for  Cleveland  from 1936-41, and 1945-56, interrupted by his US Navy Service.  Interestingly, he is only Cleveland professional athlete to be immortalized with a statue.

Feller is acknowledged by his baseball peers as one of the greatest in the history of the game, spending his entire eighteen-year career with Cleveland. He had 266 wins (most in Cleveland history) and 2,581 strikeouts.  He led the league in strikeouts seven times, winning twenty or more games six times, with three no-hitters, including baseball's only opening day no-hitter on April 16, 1940, against the White Sox in Chicago. 

Feller enlisted in the Navy two days after the 1941bombing of Pearl Harbor, assigned to the USS Alabama. He earned six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars while serving on missions in both the Pacific and North Atlantic and he was made an honorary member of the Green Berets. 

Feller never played minor league ball, but in 1936 when first in Cleveland, he pitched a game for Rosenblum Clothes in the local industrial league, where 20,000 people saw him strike out 15 batters against the Poschke Barbecue team at Brookside Park. His first official start, August 1936, which is called the greatest pitching debut ever, Feller beat the St. Louis Browns and struck out fifteen batters.  Two weeks later, on September 1936, Feller broke the American League record with seventeen strikeouts in a victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. He was still only 17 years old.  In 1937, Feller was featured on the cover of  Time Magazine

For all his success, Feller also challenged baseball commissioners over exhibition games, travel to Cuba and was ultimately elected the inaugural president of the Major League Baseball Players' Association in 1956, laying the groundwork for challenging baseball's “reserve clause,” which set baseball on the course towards the right of a player to enter free agency and play where and for what they could negotiate. 

League Park on Lexington Avenue

The ride’s last stop was at historic League Park, by some standards, America's oldest Historic Ballpark, which opened May 1, 1891.  The park hosted baseball greats including Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth (who hit his 500th home run over the wall onto Lexington Avenue), Addie Joss, Napoleon Lajoie (his 3,000 hit was at League Park in 1914), Tris Speaker, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg and Cy Young.  League Park was also home of the Cleveland Buckeyes, who won two Negro American League championships (1945 and ’47) and the Negro League World Series (1945).

Perhaps no game was more note-worthy than game five of the 1920 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The game featured the first grand slam home run in the history of the Series, (by Cleveland right fielder Elmer Smith); the first home run by a pitcher in a World Series game (by Cleveland pitcher Jim Bagby); and the only unassisted triple play in Series history (by Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss).

That’s a lot of baseball history packed into an afternoon.  Hopefully, we’re poised for more history this season. We can hope anyway! Play Ball!!!

Kevin Cronin

Solo practicing lawyer, with a commitment to fairness for kids, cycling and a vibrant arts scene.

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Volume 1, Issue 8, Posted 9:43 PM, 04.07.2013