Filed Under Sports

League Park

A "Neighborhood" Home for Cleveland Sports

The construction of the massive, 70,000-seat Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the 1930s spelled the beginning of the end for a much older stadium— League Park. This ballpark was constructed in 1891 east of downtown in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood at Dunham Street (East 66th) between Linwood and Lexington Avenues. Lexington Avenue trolley-line operator Frank Robison shoehorned the ballpark into the residential neighborhood, conveniently generating revenues from fares and game tickets. Its tight quarters and restrictive right-field fence to fit the property gave rise to “pinball” baseball, leaving outfielders never knowing where the ball would ricochet. Close-by homes featured signs advertising local businesses for home-run promotions. Despite renovations in 1910 that replaced the original wood with concrete and steel, expanding capacity to over 20,000, League Park was deemed to be too small and antiquated for professional baseball after Municipal Stadium opened. 

League Park began its run as the home of the Cleveland Spiders who became the Indians in what was the site of the 1920 World Series, in which the Indians beat the Brooklyn Dodgers for their first championship. From 1916 to 1927, as a perquisite of owning the team, Jim Dunn changed the name to Dunn Field, but thereafter the name reverted to League Park. Negro League baseball teams also thrived at League Park from the mid-1930s, culminating with the Cleveland Buckeyes winning the the Negro American League World Series in 1945. The Indians played their last game at League Park in 1946, but for ten years prior to that they had been playing weekend and holiday games at the bigger stadium on the lakefront. During its heyday, the Park hosted MLB’s best—manager Tris Speaker, hitter Ty Cobb, slugger Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, infamous shoeless Joe Jackson, shortstop Ray Chapman, and champion Bob Feller, among others. Joe DiMaggio finalized his 56-game hitting streak at the Park in 1941; the streak ended the next day at Muny Stadium. The Indians initially achieved success after departing League Park, but the team's fortunes soon declined. The last thirty years or so of the Indians' tenure at Municipal Stadium were marked by losing seasons and tens of thousands of empty seats until their move to Jacobs Field in the mid-1990s and re-emergence of winning ways.

Though usually remembered for baseball, League Park also hosted a wider variety of sporting events. In the second and third decades of the 20th century, boxing drew crowds in the mild weather months to see Clevelander Johnny Kilbane defend his titles at the Park. Local high school football first appeared at the Park in 1896 when Central High met University School in a championship contest. More games were hosted over the years, including several Thanksgiving Day games between Cathedral Latin and St. Ignatius. College football also came calling to the facility between 1920 and 1949. The Big Four League of Western Reserve, Case Tech, John Carroll, and Baldwin Wallace used League Park regularly, hosting visiting teams from Ohio State, Ohio U., and others. The 1945 NFL champion Cleveland Rams, the last of a series of Cleveland professional football teams predating the Browns, also called League Park home between 1916 and 1950. Much of the stadium was demolished in 1952, when the site became a public park. However, a few remnants, including the baseball diamond itself, still stand today.

In 2002 the last of the grandstand structure was demolished. Cleveland city councilwoman Fannie Lewis mobilized local interest in capturing and preserving memories of the glory days of the stadium, and in revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood. Osborn Engineering, the firm that managed the 1910 refurbishment, provided design work for a renewed League Park recreation area. The Baseball Heritage Museum has been located at League Park since 2014. The Museum is dedicated to preserving the artifacts and stories of baseball’s past with a special focus on diversity in the sport; the stories of challenge and triumph intrinsic in the stories of the Negro Leagues and other underserved demographics in the sport. “General programming, youth educational offerings, community outreach and other initiatives are driven by the rich repository of life lessons in these stories. The Museum is also a driver of Cleveland’s sense of place, by continuously working to become a center of neighborhood life and a destination location for baseball and history lovers from across the city and across the country.”

Video

The History of a Neighborhood Ballpark Baseball historian Scott Longert describes the history of League Park. Bob DiBiasio of the Cleveland Indians organization describes the end of the League Park era. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Audio

The End Of League Park Bob DiBiasio of the Cleveland Indians organization discusses League Park history Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Ballgames at League Park Former sports reporter Jacob Rosenheim compares the atmosphere of League Park in the 1940s with today's modern stadiums. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Death Of Ray Chapman Bob DiBiasio recounts the 1920 death of Cleveland baseball player Ray Chapman Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Sneaking a Peek Boys sneaking a peek of a game at League Park Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
League Park, Cleveland The original wooden structure and main entrance at Dunham (East 66 St) and Lexington. The structures were renovated in 1910 with steel supported grandstands. Note the trolley tracks in the foreground, a major reason for its location along Lexington Avenue. Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Date: 1900 - 1910
Stadium Dimensions Architects made League Park fit snugly into the small city blocks of the Hough neighborhood. To make up for the short distance from home plate to right field, the right field wall was over 40 feet tall. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
1920 World Series Crowds line the streets outside League Park during the 1920 World Series. This World Series was one of baseball's most memorable. It included the first triple play, first grand slam, and first home run by a pitcher in World Series history. The Indians beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in five of seven games to win their first title. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1920
Boxing, ca. 1920s League Park hosted other sports besides baseball, such as boxing and football. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1920s
Gehrig and Ruth at League Park, 1927 The Park hosted many of baseball's greats during its 50 active years of baseball action. Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run at League Park on August 11, 1929. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1927
League Park, ca. 1911 League Park was constructed in the heart of a residential neighborhood. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1911
Ticket Line at League Park, 1940. Hosting events for several sports over the years, League Park accomodated crowds up to 19,000. The newer Muncipal Stadium held 72,000 to host baseball and football fans. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1940
Satchell Paige and Bob Feller, ca. 1948 Feller pitched his first major league game at League Park in 1936. Although Paige never played at League Park as an Indian, it is likely that he played there often during his days in the Negro Leagues. League Park was home to the Negro League's 1945 champs, the Cleveland Buckeyes. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1948
Old Timers Game, 1921 Posing are the participants in an "Old Timers Game" at League Park (then known as Dunn Field) on July 29, 1921. Source: The Library of Congress Date: 1921

Location

6601 Lexington Ave, Cleveland, OH 44103

Metadata

Michael Rotman and Jim Lanese, “League Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed February 1, 2023, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/16.