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League Park

Cleveland Municipal Stadium captivated the city for years, but the cavernous stadium was far from the city's first sporting venue. From 1891 through 1947, League Park housed numerous teams while creating moments that would last the test of time. This is its story.

The Spiders

The Cleveland Spiders were in a pickle. Having been born in 1887, the former American Association team had joined the powerful National League two years later. But the monopolistic National League could only bring so much revenue and like any good businessman, team owner Frank Robison sought more. He found what he was looking for in a plot of land near his streetcar line on the corner of Dunham Street (later named E 66th) and Lexington Avenue in the Hough neighborhood.

In those days, that neighborhood had numerous prominent families, enough to rival nearby Millionaire's Row off of Euclid Avenue. Seeing that sort of financial opportunity, Robison scooped up the property and had a 9,000 wooden seat ballpark built in time for the beginning of the 1891 season.

The Spiders first opponent in their new ballpark was the Cincinnati Reds, whom Cy Young beat 12-3. Even though the venue had been built for them, the Spiders could never build a true contender with their best season coming in an 1892 "World Series" loss to Boston.

They never did have a winning season and by late in the century, their days in the NL were numbered. In 1899, along with the Senators, the Louisville Colonels and the Baltimore Orioles, the Spiders were contracted out of the National League and sent to the minors. But their ballpark, their legacy, would live on long after they were gone.

A Storied History

With the Spiders gone, League Park was hardly in limbo for long as the minor league Lake Shores played their first and only season there in 1900. The American League's Cleveland Indians showed up the next year and would provide the stability that the young ballpark needed to last. With the American League officially a part of the major leagues, crowds began to form, forcing a much needed expansion to the now-miniscule League Park. It expanded in 1910 from 9,000 to 21,414 seats

Addie Joss pitched only the fourth perfect game in baseball history there on October 2, 1908 in a 1-0 Indians win over the While Sox. From there, the ballpark began collecting memories. On July 19, 1915, the Washington Senators stole eight bases in the first inning. It's still a major league record. Five years later, on the heels of losing Ray Chapman to a freak accident, the Indians won the World Series.

That championship winning season marked the end of the Dead Ball Era, ushering baseball into the Age of the Home Run. With it brought numerous heroes at the plate, none bigger than the Yankee's Babe Ruth. On August 11, 1929, Babe Ruth slammed his 500th home run at League Park in a 6-5 Cleveland win.

By 1932, a new 81,000 seat spectacle opened up on the shores of Lake Erie. Sparkling like a diamond in the rough, the Cleveland Municipal Stadium was the envy of everyone in the country. Seeing the opportunity for more revenue, the Indians packed up and moved into the new stadium, staying there the rest of the year before splitting time between there and League Park from 1933 through 1947. the Indians moved full-time into Municipal Stadium because it had the one thing -aside from more space- that League Park never had: lights.

When the Indians left, the wrecking ball soon followed. By 1951, League Park was mostly demolished. Along with it were the countless memories made from the vast amounts of teams that had called it home over the years. Apart from the Spiders, the Lake Shore and the Indians, the ballpark had hosted other teams such as the NFL's Cleveland Tigers and Rams as well as the Buckeyes from the Negro Leagues. While a park is still there, today it is for recreation, often hosting Little League games rather than the biggest names in the game.

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