Cleveland's League Park To Get New Life

By Braun Post Card Co. (Cleveland Memory Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Cleveland-based group announced plans to restore the former home of the Indians, League Park; it's worth doing this not just to revitalize the area, but to honor and celebrate history.

Before there was Progressive Field (earlier Jacobs Field or The Jake) in Cleveland, there was Municipal Stadium, widely derided as "The Mistake On The Lake". Huge, cold and forbidding, Cleveland Municipal was originally built as part of Cleveland's bid to host the 1932 Olympic Games.

Imagine that -- the Olympics in Cleveland.

Done? OK, before 1932, there was League Park, home of the Indians from their inception and also host to some Cleveland teams in the National League before 1900. Cy Young, in fact, had some of his greatest seasons there. Originally constructed in 1891, it was rebuilt in 1910 and located in what was once the finest part of the city of Cleveland:

The main road heading east from Cleveland is Euclid Avenue. Before the advent of the Interstate Highway, that was the street you would have taken to get from Cleveland to places like Buffalo and Boston. When John D. Rockefeller was building his fortune refining oil, he resided on Euclid Avenue. Later in the 19th century, dozens of newly made millionaires built their mansions on that same street. For over one hundred years the area east of Cleveland that Euclid Avenue passed through was one of the most prosperous neighborhoods in America. Through most of the 20th century, the finest office buildings, department stores and playhouses lined the street.

As with many stadiums of early 20th Century vintage, the area became blighted and the team moved out. Later League Park fell into disrepair, but unlike places such as Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Forbes Field, more of it survived. What remained included a ticket house and a bleacher wall surrounding an open field, and this week a plan was announced to restore League Park as a functioning part of a revitalization of that part of Cleveland:

City Architecture is wrapping up plans that include restoring the ticket house and a bleacher wall and creating a Major League-size diamond in the same place as the original. Home plate will go in the exact spot where it rested the day that Babe Ruth whacked his 500th career home run in 1929.

Plans also call for a community building with a museum, a youth baseball diamond and a field for football and soccer. If bids are low enough, the city could add a pavilion and splash park.

The project is expected to cost $5 million and, according to the article:

Fans from around the world have expressed interest in visiting after the restoration is finished, said Russ Haslage, director of the League Park Society, a nonprofit group of preservation advocates.

This is a good thing. Too often in the USA, we are quick to discard our history and heritage in the interest of "progress". A similar group wanted to do something very much like this with Tiger Stadium in Detroit, but such efforts were blocked by various entities even though there are no plans for any other use of that land.

There's one more curiosity about League Park. The stadium never had permanent lights, so the Indians played their night games at Municipal Stadium but remained at League Park for weekends and holidays through 1946. Can you imagine that today? A team with two home ballparks, very different in shape, size and capacity?

It actually worked out all right for the Tribe. In the 13 years they split time between the two parks, 1934-46, they had just four losing seasons, though they won no AL pennants. It might not work today, but it's a slice of baseball and American history well worth preserving and celebrating.

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