By Kevin Kelley
Baseball greats such as Cy Young, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio played there. But Cleveland’s League Park never enjoyed the favorable reputation as other ballparks dating from the same era, such as Fenway Park in Boston, Comiskey Park in Chicago or Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
The reason, said Bryan Fritz, is that the Major League Baseball team that played there wasn’t very good much of the time. The Cleveland Indians appeared in only one World Series in their years there, he noted.
Fritz, a Fairview Park resident who works as a prosecutor for the city of Cleveland, co-wrote “League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball, 1891-1946.” Fritz and his co-author, Ken Krsolovic, presented a talk on the ballpark Saturday at Westlake Porter Public Library.
While League Park is not fully appreciated nationally, the authors say they’ve received great feedback from Clevelanders about their book. Krsolovic said that’s because Clevelanders have a greater sense of sentimentality than those from other parts of the country, and because a small portion of the park still exists.
“Even though they tore down almost the entire stadium, it’s still got a field there,” Fritz said. “And you can still walk out onto the mound, or where the mound was, and think, ‘This is where Lefty Grove or Cy Young or Bob Feller pitched.’ Or walk to center field and think, ‘This is where Tris Speaker played, or Willie Mays.’ Or go to home plate and think, ‘This is where Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and DiMaggio and Ty Cobb played.’ So it’s really an amazing place.”
Nearly seven decades have passed since the Indians last played a game at League Park, so the authors were warned that interest in their subject might be limited. But Krsolovic said that has not been the case.
“Even if you never saw a game there – maybe you just heard your parents or grandparents talk about it – there’s still a fascination there,” Krsolovic said. Fritz and Krsolovic met in the 1980s while playing softball. They learned they shared an interest in not only baseball but also ballparks, as both collected postcards that featured baseball venues.
Soon they discussed writing a book on
“The more we got into it, there more amazing things we found,” Krsolovic said.
League Park opened with seating for about 9,000 fans for the 1891 Cleveland Spiders’ season. The ballpark’s location in the Hough section of Cleveland was selected, the authors said, because Spiders owner Frank Robison also owned the trolley lines that ran out to that area.
At the end of the 1909 season, the stadium was rebuilt, with concrete and steel replacing wood, and seating expanded to accommodate 19,200 fans.
For the 1920 World Series, additional seats were added in front of the center field fence and above the right field wall. The Indians agreed to play the first three games of the best-of-nine series in Brooklyn so the additional seating could be built for the remaining home games, the authors said. Indians second-baseman Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play, as well as what Fritz called “lights-out pitching,” helped Cleveland beat the Dodgers, 5 games to 2.
The authors say their extensive research for the book allowed them to correct a few misconceptions about the ballpark, including one about its most distinctive feature, its high right field wall. When built, League Park was shoehorned into the existing neighborhood. This meant that the length from home plate to center field was a deep 460 feet, while the right field line measured a mere 290 feet. While many books state that League Park’s right field wall was 60 feet tall, Krsolovic said they were able to establish the height at 48 feet. Still, that’s 9 feet taller than Fenway Park’s left field “Green Monster.”
In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Indians played games at both League Park and Cleveland Stadium, an arrangement Fritz said was unique in the history of baseball. The team abandoned League Park entirely after the 1946 season. Much of the ballpark was torn down in the early 1950s, with additional remnants disappearing in later years.
However, the ticket house and a section of wall along the first-base line still stand at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue. Now owned by the city of Cleveland, League Park is in the final stages of a $6 million renovation as a community park that both authors say they are excited about. Fritz and Krsolovic say they will provide updates on the renovation project on their Twitter feed, @LeagueParkCle.