While there are many different baseball stadiums throughout the United States, you will be hard to find one that is as famous as League Park, which is located in Cleveland, Ohio. Having been situated over in the northeast corner of then E. 66th Street right on Lexington Avenue, League Park truly was one of the shining jewels of the Hough neighborhood. Built back in 1891, League Park was originally an all wood stadium that would later be rebuilt with the use of concrete and steel later on during the early 1900’s, this particular remodel being done in 1910 to be exact. But what is a baseball park if there are no baseball teams to play in it?
League Park Baseball Teams
Having been home to several different professional sports teams, some of the more popular ones include Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians. Before they moved into the park however, League Park was originally home to the National League’s Cleveland Spiders between the years of 1891 and 1899, as well as the Cleveland Lake Shores who played in the Western League and was the minor league version of the Cleveland Indians during the year 1900. As if the legendary baseball stadium wasn’t busy enough, it would also play home to the Cleveland Spiders between 1914 and 1915, hosting the minor league team who played in the American Association. Several years later during the 1940s, League Park would be known as the home of the Cleveland Buckeyes, one of the first baseball teams in the Negro American League.
Football at League Park
Aside from baseball, there were also a number of other teams who were fortunate enough to have played at League Park stadium. For example, the college football team that represented Western Reserve University, the Western Reserve Red Cats, would be one of those lucky teams to play at League Park between 1929 and 1941. While the Red Cats would only have played some of their home games at the stadium during that stretch of time, they would eventually move to the Mid-American Conference and end up playing all of their home games there between 1947 and 1949. These home games would be some of the best in college football history, facing big name teams such as the Ohio State Buckeyes, the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Pittsburgh Panthers, and even the Cincinnati Bearcats, often times having their big annual Thanksgiving Day showdowns there. Unfortunately, the very last football game to be played in League Park would take place against Western Reserve’s big rival, Case Tech, on November 24, 1919. Western Reserve would go on to dominate that game by the likes of a 30-0 victory.
Even though Cleveland Stadium officially opened during 1932 and had a much larger seating capacity, as well as being much easier to access by car, the iconic League Park would continue to hold games by the Indians baseball team until the end of the 1946 season, although most of the games would take place only on weekdays. The weekend games, which were typically much more popular and would regularly draw in much larger crowds, would all take place at the newer, much larger Cleveland Stadium. As with all things, League Park would eventually see it’s end when most of the stadium would be demolished during 1951. While there are some remnants that still remain to this day, the most recognizable is going to be the ticket office that was originally built back in 1909.
Deciding that League Park was a historic and iconic part of Cleveland history, extensive renovations would be done to League Park and it would be rededicated on August 23, 2014. This is when it would get a name change and become the Baseball heritage Museum, as well as the Fannie Lewis Community Park.
The League Park Structure
Back in 1891 when League Park was originally opened, it had a total of 9,000 wooden seats that spectators were able to utilize. There was a single deck grandstand that was homed right behind home plate, a special covered pavilion that ran right along the entire first base line, and some bleachers that were placed in several other locations throughout the park. What made the League Park stadium structure so unique, was the fact that it had been designed to fit right into that part of Cleveland’s street grid. What this means is that the park had to be contorted to some rather odd rectangular shaped dimensions (when compared to what the shapes would be by today’s standard).
As for field size, the outer fence in left field was set at 117 m (385 feet) back, 140 m (460 feet) away from Homeplate in center, and 88 m (290 feet) out in right field. If batters were interested in hitting homeruns, they would need to so by hitting the ball over a fence that was 12 m (40 feet) high. To give you a visual of what this 40 ft wall looked like, the ‘Green Monster’ that is currently used in the stadium at Fenway Park, is only 37 feet high.
League Park would essentially have to be rebuilt before the 1910 season were to take place, as the stadium would need to be updated with the use of steel and concrete double-decker grandstands. This would help to improve the seating capacity from the original 9,000, all the way to 21,414. The work on the stadium would be completed by a local architecture firm known as Osborn Architects & Engineers. This same architecture firm would go on to design several other major stadiums in the years that followed, some of the most notable being the Polo Grounds, Comiskey Park, Fenway Park, and Tiger Stadium. What would make this addition to League Stadium so great, would be that the front edges of both the upper and the lower decks would be vertically aligned, meaning that the front rows of the upper deck would be much closer to all of the action going on during the games. While it would be great for those in the front rows, the back rows of the upper deck would not even be able to see very much of the foul territory.
Along with this renovation, the fence would be reconfigured as well. The left field fence would be moved 10 feet closer; the center field fence would come in to make it 40 feet closer, and the right field fence would end up not being moved, maintaining its original distance of 290 feet.
While the outer fence may have been brought in a bit, if batters wanted to hit homeruns, they would still need to beat the 40-foot fence. To make up for the difference in fence placement, the fence in left field would only be 5 feet tall, but 375 feet away from home plate.
When it comes to League Park Cleveland, there are not going to be many other stadiums that have had such a colorful past. It is for this reason that League Park is considered to be one of the most historic stadiums that has ever been built and played in when compared to any other stadiums. From the classic duals that took place between major league and negro league baseball teams, to the classic rival games that were played by the college football teams of the era, League Park is always going to be remembered for its unique design and ability to create lifelong memories for all who were able to experience it.