By Nicole Hennessy
The Cleveland Indians endured many reincarnations, including the Forest Citys, the Cleveland Spiders and the Cleveland Bluebirds, before settling on Chief Wahoo and Slider and becoming the Cleveland Indians.
And in his new book, “The Best They Could Be: How the Cleveland Indians Became the Kings of Baseball, 1916-1920,” Scott H. Longert details the team’s rocky and unlucky past, leading up to its eventual World Series win in 1920.
A historian and writer, Longert has spent his career researching baseball, having written a previous book, “Addie Joss: King of the Pitchers,” as well as several baseball history articles for The Plain Dealer’s Sunday Magazine, the Baseball Research Journal and The National Pastime.
Fascinated by the circumstances leading up to the Indians’ world series win, Longert went into his research with a working knowledge of the time period, as he had focused on it while earning his M.A. in history from Cleveland State University.
At Lakewood Public Library Sept. 11, he went through slides, showing old photos of Cleveland players and locals heading to the stadium, scandalized that women began arriving to the games unaccompanied.
“It was an amazing year in 1920. A lot of different things happened, some very good, some horrible,” he said. “But somehow they managed to persevere and bring home a pendant.”
Longert continued his talk, listing and talking about dozens of specific players, like Ray Chapman, the only player ever killed during a game, having been hit by a fastpitch.
Players coming from the Navy, headed overseas for war or local guys, Longert introduced each one, filling in the list with anecdotes about them and the team’s unofficial mascot, “Larry the Dog.”
When the Indians finally made it to the World Series, nearly 20 years after the team established its major league status, the stadium was flooded with local and out-of-town fans cheering or looking for tickets, vendors selling food and souvenirs, and children coming up with schemes to turn a profit. Even on the rooftops surrounding the stadium, people sat, watching.
“People were just delirious and happy,” Longert said.
It wasn’t just the team’s previous losing streak that made this such an inspiring event. It was also the war America had been through and was going through. And everybody loves an underdog story.
Up 7-0 in the fifth inning, the game looked like a steal, and it was.
“The town was crazy!” Longert exclaimed. “It was pandemonium, and the city celebrated.”
A few days later, the players gathered around Wade Oval in University Circle, greeted by crowds that showed no signs of thinning, fireworks shooting off into the sky at dusk.
Longert continued, “We were finally champions of the world.”
Scott H. Longert’s book, “The Best They Could Be: How the Cleveland Indians Became the Kings of Baseball, 1916-1920,” can be purchased through http://www.amazon.com or at Barnes & Noble.