TWINSBURG — Cy Young. Babe Ruth. Ty Cobb. Joe DiMaggio. Lou Gehrig. Hank Greenberg. Satchel Paige. Bob Feller.
These are names that Major League Baseball fans will recall for eternity. They are Hall of Famers — the best of the best.
Although they share many things in common, one of interest to Northeast Ohioans is that they all played at League Park in Cleveland.
The grandstands at the stadium, which first hosted baseball in 1891, are long gone, but baseball itself still is alive there. A full-sized field with artificial turf is used extensively by young players.
A portion of the original brick wall along the right field line remains, and the stadium’s old ticket house-clubhouse-office building has been transformed into the Baseball Heritage Museum.
On April 3, the museum’s director of education Joe Gazzo talked about League Park and the museum before a handful of local residents at a Rotary Club of Twinsburg-sponsored event at Twinsburg Government Center.
Gazzo, a talented artist and art teacher who has drawn many portraits of famous baseball players, presented one of his prints of DiMaggio to the Rotary Club, which is offering it in an online auction to raise funds for the Baseball Heritage Museum.
LEAGUE PARK FACTS
League Park is located at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. Cy Young pitched the first game there on May 1, 1891, and the stadium hosted its last Major League game in 1946.
It was the home of the Cleveland Spiders, Lake Shores, Naps, Buckeyes (of the American Negro League) and Indians, and the site of the Indians’ 1920 World Series championship.
Although Cleveland Municipal Stadium opened in 1933, League Park continued to be the venue for some of the Tribe’s games until 1946.
League Park was known for its short — 290 feet from home plate — right field wall, which was 40 feet high. The center field fence was a whopping 463 feet from the plate.
The original stadium was partially rebuilt and enlarged into a concrete and steel structure in 1910. From 1921-27 it was called Dunn Field after the Indians owner. At its peak, it could seat about 25,000 fans.
The grandstands and most of the walls were torn down in 1951, leaving only the portion of the brick wall which remains today and the ticket house / clubhouse / team offices.
According to Gazzo, League Park is the oldest former Major League venue still being used for baseball. All the other locations have been replaced by parking lots or various types of buildings.
Among other firsts at League Park were the first grand slam in World Series history, the first unassisted triple play (in the 1920 World Series) and Bob Feller’s first game (1936).
The stadium was where DiMaggio managed a hit to extend his record streak to 56 games. Gazzo said the next day the streak ended at Municipal Stadium when Lou Boudreau helped turn a double play to hold DiMaggio hitless.
It was the site of Ted Williams’ only inside the park home run and once hosted a Johnny Kilbane pro boxing match. Shoeless Joe Jackson lived on Lexington Avenue near the stadium during his tenure with the Naps.
Some Cleveland area high school teams now use the field for games, and other groups such as police officers and firefighters play there.
On the outside of one of the remaining brick walls at League Park are murals on nine arches isymbolizing the nine innings in a baseball game. Each contains a sports legend from Cleveland Indians / League Park history.
Gazzo said he once took a fellow who tried out for the Indians in 1940 to League Park. The man didn’t make the team, but enlisted in the Army and served in World War II.
"He walked out to the mound and stood there for a few minutes, and began shedding tears," said Gazzo. "It was a very touching moment."
Gazzo said many people don’t know anything about League Park, or don’t realize it’s still around. "But we’re trying to change that," he said.
The Baseball Heritage Museum got its start when jewelry store owner Robert Zimmer began displaying memorabilia from the negro baseball leagues in his downtown Cleveland store in 1997.
With money from several foundations, businesses and organizations, he acquired space in the 5th Street Arcades, where the museum was situated from 2009-14.
When League Park was restored at a cost of $6.2 million, the museum moved its growing collection of artifacts there. Items from many pro leagues — even women’s leagues — are on display.
Among the items are portraits of famous baseball players by Gazzo, Hall of Famer Elmer Flick’s statue and Babe Ruth’s 437th home run ball.
The latter is on loan to the museum. Gazzo said a man retrieved the ball outside the stadium after Ruth’s homer and was able to get Ruth to sign and date it.
Gazzo said the value of the ball, however, has been diminished because it eventually was signed by a handful of other players.
Gazzo said a stairway in the museum, which now deadends into a wall, once continued into a tunnel running to the home team’s dugout, allowing players to go back and forth from the clubhouse.
In 2017, the museum was recipient of funding through the Larry Doby Youth Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, created by Indians manager Terry Francona and members of the 2016 America League champion Indians.
"The museum is not haunted; it’s magical," said Gazzo. "It’s an amazing place. Lots of former pro players have visited, and hundreds of stories have been told by visitors."
Gazzo said supporters of the museum are very passionate about baseball. A couple of well-known supporters are former Indians player Vern Fuller (1960s) and Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio.
He said the museum gets many items donated, and donations are always welcome. He added the museum wants to buy a building across the street, which once was an ice cream parlor and deli, and restore it for that purpose again.
Gazzo said one of his art students completed a portrait of current Indians player Francisco Lindor, of which Gazzo has made reprints. One is displayed in the museum and one was sent to the Smithsonian Institution.
Special events will take place at League Park when the Indians host the 2019 All-Star Game. The museum is open Wednesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment.
Gazzo said he has become intrigued by Shoeless Joe Jackson, noting he grew up in Chicago and his grandparents talked about the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. He displayed one of his drawings of Jackson.
Gazzo told the audience about an interesting occurrence at League Park involving DiMaggio and a young clubhouse attendant.
DiMaggio came into the clubhouse after a game, laid his ballcap — which had his name imprinted under the brim — on a bench and headed into the shower.
The youngster hid his hat under some towels, and when DiMaggio came out of the shower he couldn’t find it. Since the team had to leave the stadium quickly, DiMaggio didn’t have time to look for his hat, and the youth ended up taking it home.
Gazzo said the youth sold the hat for $8,000, which financed a surgery for his mother. Years later, the hat was sold for $85,000.
Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or firstname.lastname@example.org