Typically when a team builds a new stadium they demolish their old home. Once the Indians and Browns left Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the 1990s, the lakefront structure was torn down in favor of new construction. Even though the Indians left League Park in the Hough neighborhood in the 1940s, portions of the stadium remain standing at the corner of Lexington Ave. and E. 66th. It seems like for years I kept hearing, “they’re going to rehab it, it’s really going to happen this time…any day now.” Every time I get my hopes up that something is going to happen, they’re quickly dashed. Finally, it looks as if the face lift will take place – League Park will get a $5 million renovation that will start in late spring or early summer. Originally built in 1891, and undergoing extensive renovations in 1911, the site will finally see the type of glory that has been absent for more than 60 years.
It’s amazing when you think about some of the people that played at League Park, and some of the important events that took place there. Tris Speaker prowled the outfield when the Indians won the 1920 World Series within its walls. Babe Ruth hit his 500th career home run there in 1929. The Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes called League Park their home when they won the 1945 Negro League World Series. Legendary Indians like Nap Lajoie (our blog’s namesake), Stan Coveleski, Cy Young and Shoeless Joe Jackson, Major Leaguers like Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb, and Negro League Hall of Famers like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston all set foot on League Park’s hallowed ground at one point or another.
Municipal Stadium was built in the early 1930s, but wasn’t used regularly by the Tribe until the late 1940s, once Bill Veeck bought the team. Otherwise they played most of their games at League Park, with occasional games at Municipal. Negro League teams typically could not afford their own stadiums (although in a few select cities, teams did own their own ballparks). In Cleveland, the Buckeyes (and a few of the 10 Negro League teams before them) usually paid rent to the Indians to use their facilities. While they played a few games at Municipal, most were at League Park.
If you look at old photographs from the crowds at League Park, you’ll see people dressed in their Sunday best. Women in dresses and hats, men in suits and hats – it was quite different from fan attire at modern games. While those stands no longer exist at the corner of E. 66th and Lexington, you do have the field itself, the ticket office and the one wall of the stadium. The original dugouts and tunnels supposedly still exist as well; filled in with dirt to prevent injury for people that use the field. Believe it or not, even in its current state people use League Park. Youth sports teams practice on the field and the vintage base ball team the Cleveland Blues use it to play their home games.
The timing is perfect for the League Park renovation. For one reason, the remnants of the stadium wall and the ticket office are quickly decaying. In order to preserve them, you need to act soon. One of the other reasons is that this summer, a major Negro League baseball convention is coming to Cleveland from July 19-22 – the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference. (Named for researcher Jerry Malloy). It’s one of the largest annual gatherings of Negro League researchers and players. The location shifts each year, so it’s very exciting that it’s coming to Cleveland this summer, and that it will coincide with the League Park renovations. I’m involved with the planning of the conference, so I can guarantee that I will mention it (and the Negro Leagues) again before this summer. I’d recommend setting the dates aside with plans to join us – fans of the game and fans of history will really enjoy themselves.