Cleveland Indians

From Ohio History Central
Cleveland Indians Pennant.jpg
Cleveland Indians Pennant, 1948

Professional baseball in Cleveland originated during the nineteenth century. It officially began on June 2, 1869, when the Cleveland Forest Citys played the Cincinnati Red Stockings. In 1871, Cleveland had a team in the National Association, but this team ended operations in 1872. The city entered a team in the National League in 1879, and the club played in this association for the next six years. Without a team for just a single year, Cleveland sponsored a team in the American Association beginning in 1886. This same club switched to the National League in 1889.

During the early 1890s, the Cleveland team, known as the Spiders, prospered, with pitching great Cy Young as the organization's most notable player. The Spiders played in the league's championship game in 1892, 1895, and 1896, winning the championship trophy, the Temple Cup, in 1895. Unfortunately for the Spiders, Frank DeHaas Robison, the team's owner, sent the team's best talent to St. Louis, where Robison owned another professional team. The end result was several dismal seasons for the Cleveland club, including one where they won twenty games and lost 134. In 1899, the National League prohibited the Spiders from playing in the league due to the team's dismal record.

Professional baseball quickly returned to Cleveland. Cleveland sponsored a team that played its first game in the American League on April 24, 1901. Interestingly, all other American League games scheduled for this date were rained out except for this one. Although the Cleveland team has undergone several name changes, it has played in Cleveland continuously since 1901. Initially the club was known as the Blues. Its owners changed the team's name to the Broncos in 1902, and then they renamed the club the Naps in 1903. In between the 1914 and 1915 season, the team became known as the Cleveland Indians, its current name, because the owners hoped that a name change would reinvigorate the team and help its fans to forget several recent dismal seasons. Two local newspapers selected the team's name, a throwback to an earlier Cleveland team that had played in the National League. The name change and an infusion of new talent, especially Tris Speaker, helped the Indians finished second in the American League in both 1918 and 1919. During the 1920 season, Cleveland won the World Series against Brooklyn, New York. During the fifth game of the series, Elmer Smith of Cleveland hit the first grand slam in World Series history, Jim Bagby, the Indians' pitcher, hit the first home run by a pitcher in World Series history, and Bill Wambsganss completed an entirely unassisted triple play, the only one ever in World Series history.

The Indians' good fortune continued during the 1920s, as the team remained a strong contender but it did not win a championship. Under new ownership, the team switched from playing its games at League Park, the club's home since its beginnings in 1901, to Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The first game in the new stadium occurred on July 31, 1932, with a narrow Cleveland loss. Interestingly, Cleveland Municipal Stadium proved to be very costly for the owners to operate. As a result of this, the Indians played most of its games from 1934 to 1947 in League Park, only playing in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on holidays and weekends when larger attendance occurred. Beginning in 1939, Cleveland Municipal Stadium began to host night games as well. This was a new experience for Cleveland residents, as League Park never had lights installed.

The 1940s proved to be a tumultuous decade for the Indians. The team nearly won the division in 1940, but it suffered disappointing seasons during the World War II years. In 1947, the club finally moved permanently to Cleveland Municipal Stadium. This was the same year that the team's owner hired Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. In 1948, the Indians won the World Series in six games. The team continued to be a major presence in the American League, never finishing lower than second place during the early 1950s and winning the pennant in 1954, although the Indians lost in the World Series that year in a four game sweep.

The Cleveland Indians fared unfavorably during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and the early 1990s. The team endured seven different owners during a twenty-five year span beginning in the 1960s. Likewise, owners routinely traded players, preventing fans from ever truly identifying with the players and the team. Between 1960 and 1993, the Indians never finished higher than third in the American League, and they only accomplished this feat on one occasion. One of the bright spots for the team during this era was the hiring of Frank Robinson as both a player and a manager in 1974. Robinson was the first African American to manage a team in Major League Baseball. At his first at-bat as an Indian, Robinson hit a home run. Unfortunately for him, his teams continued to struggle, and he was terminated in 1977, despite having the only winning season for the club between 1968 and 1976.

The Cleveland Indians' fortunes improved with the club's move to a new ballpark -- Jacobs Field. Using young players and signing them to relatively cheap contracts for longer periods of time, the team began to escape the doldrums of the past thirty years. In 1995, the team won its first American League title since 1954. In 1996, the Indians won more games than any other team in the regular season, but the club failed to advance through the playoffs. The next season, the team had a poorer record but returned to the World Series, only to lose in extra innings in seven games to the Florida Marlins. The team remained a contender for the rest of the 1990s. The early 2000s have seen the club performing admirably as it rebuilds for another run at a successful post season.

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