Front Row Seat: Book about League Park focuses on memorable moments in Cleveland baseball

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

League Park, the home of Cleveland's baseball franchise in the early 1900s, was the site of one of baseball's most remarkable encounters -- Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.

The Indians hammered Brooklyn 8-1 on the way to winning their first world title, and three World Series firsts occurred -- all by Indians players.

• Second baseman Bill "Wamby" Wambsganss turned an unassisted triple-play -- the only one in World Series history.

• Pitcher Jim Bagby Sr., a 31-game winner during the regular season, slugged the first home run by a pitcher in a World Series.

• Outfielder Elmer Smith clobbered the first grand slam home run in a World Series.

The entire history of League Park is captured in a new book, "League Park -- Historical Home of Cleveland Baseball, 1891-1946" by Ken Krsolovic and Bryan Fritz.

The book details the 1920 Indians championship season in which Cleveland's star shortstop, Ray Chapman, was killed by a pitched ball and replaced by Joe Sewell, who became a Hall-of-Famer.

"One of their top players was killed, and they still won," Fritz said. "That's pretty incredible. The whole 1920 World Series was amazing. The unassisted triple-play was just unbelievable. [It was exciting] for those fans who squeezed into the game."

One of those fans was Raymond Fridrich, the grandfather of my wife Lori. As a 25-year-old, he was in attendance at League Park for the memorable Game 5 on Oct. 10, 1920.

"My father used to talk about that game," said Bill Fridrich, Raymond's son and my father-in-law. "A lot of guys wore straw hats back then, and when something exciting happened, the hats all went flying in the air.

"SOMETIMES, you'd get your hat back. Sometimes, you didn't. My father was a real baseball fan. He loved listening to Jack Graney broadcasting Indians games on the radio."

Fritz and Krsolovic also grew up as baseball fans listening to Tribe games on the radio.

"League Park has a lot of baseball history," Fritz said. "We started talking about all the different things that happened there and decided to write a book."

Fritz mentioned the legendary players who played at League Park -- Cleveland stars like Cy Young, Napoleon Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Bob Feller and Lou Boudreau, and opponents like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

League Park was constructed in 1891 in the middle of an eastside neighborhood on Lexington Avenue. Fritz said the owners of a saloon and two houses decided not to sell, so the ballpark's right field area was built around them. It seated 9,000 fans in a single deck.

The ballpark featured an advertising sign that proclaimed to ballplayers, "Hit a triple, win a free pair of shoes." Fritz said during the 1908 season, Cleveland star George Stovall said he remembered players being thrown out at third base 17 times because they tried to stretch a double into a triple, hoping to earn some free shoes.

The Indians star pitcher then was future Hall-of-Famer Addie Joss, who hurled a 1-0 perfect game victory in the midst of the 1908 pennant race. Joss died three years later of tuberculous meningitis.

"After doing the book, Joss became one of my favorites," Fritz said.

During that era, players did not wear uniform numbers, the "public address system" consisted of a man hollering into a megaphone and photographers were permitted to crouch on the field a short distance behind home plate.

THE BALLPARK was torn down as soon as the 1909 season ended because it was made of wood, and a new two-deck stadium was constructed out of concrete and steel. It was ready when the 1910 season began. The seating capacity increased to 19,200, and Fritz said the cost to build it was about $300,000.

Interestingly, Young pitched the first game at both the original 1891 opener and the 1910 opening game in the rebuilt park.

When the 1920 World Series rolled around, native Clevelander and future Hall-of-Famer Rube Marquard was a pitcher for Cleveland's opponent, Brooklyn. Fritz said Marquard was arrested by Cleveland police and charged with scalping tickets. He was found guilty and fined $3.80.

Marquard pitched and lost the first game of the World Series. It was the only game he pitched in.

"[Marquard being arrested] probably didn't affect the outcome of the World Series because everybody pitched so well for Cleveland, but it probably affected why Brooklyn didn't pitch him more," Fritz said.

One of the unique features of League Park was its right-field wall, which was only 290 feet from home plate but stood more than 40 feet tall -- higher than the "Green Monster" left-field wall at Boston's Fenway Park.

"Batted balls boun-ced in different directions, depending on whether they hit the fence, wall or a [steel] girder," Fritz said.

After the 1946 season, the Indians began playing full time at Municipal Stadium. By 1951, the Negro Leagues were fading in popularity, and League Park had become a thing of the past, so the Indians sold it to the city of Cleveland.

Yet the ballpark's history remains majestic.

"League Park -- Historical Home of Cleveland Baseball" can be purchased on amazon.com and at area bookstores.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

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