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The early years

From its start on April 24, 1901, Cleveland's American League franchise has reached its 100th anniversary, one of just four Charter A.L. clubs (along with Chicago, Boston, and Detroit) to play continuously in one city. In fact, professional baseball in Cleveland is one of the city's oldest traditions, dating well back into the 19th century and approaching its 134th year in 2002.

From its roots to the present, Cleveland baseball has been distinguished by great ballplayers and great moments. It is through the fortunes of the men that have played for the Indians, and the memories they have created, that the history of the Cleveland Indians is learned and appreciated.

Professional baseball in Cleveland began June 2, 1869 when the Cleveland Forest Citys met the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Cleveland was represented in baseball's first p r o f e s s i o n a l league, the National Association of 1871. That club disbanded in 1872. Cleveland's return to pro baseball came in 1879 in the National League (established in 1876).

After six seasons, Cleveland dropped from the N.L. before the 1885 campaign. In November of 1886, a Cleveland team was admitted to the major league American Association, replacing Pittsburgh's team that moved to the N.L.Following two seasons in the A.A., Cleveland returned to the N.L. in 1889.

In 1890, Cleveland had two m a j o r l e a g u e t e a m s , one in the N.L. and one in the new Players' League. The P.L. folded after the 1890 season, which also marked the end of the A.A. and left the N.L. as a major league baseball monopoly.

Cy Young
Cy Young (Cleveland Indians)

Cleveland enjoyed ultimate success and failure in the N.L. from 1891 through 1899. Led by Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young, the Cleveland Spiders began play at a new ballpark, League Park, located at the corner of East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, on May 1, 1891. Cleveland never led the N.L. in wins, but earned three trips to the N.L. equivalent of today's World Series (1892, 1895, and 1896). Cleveland lost a post-season championship series to Boston in 1892, defeated Baltimore to win the Temple Cup championship series in 1895, and lost a Temple Cup rematch with Baltimore the following year. The Spiders began a tradition of championship professional baseball that would be joined by the Indians in 1920 and 1948 and the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues in 1945.

A newsworthy addition to the 1897 Spiders was Louis Sockalexis. Considered a supreme baseball talent, Sockalexis played just 94 games for the Spiders from 1897 through 1899 and his downfall mirrored that of Cleveland's N.L. club. When club owner Frank DeHaas Robison, who also owned the N.L.'s St. Louis franchise, sent Cleveland's best players west to St. Louis, the remaining players stumbled to the worst season in pro baseball history (20-134). Cleveland was dropped from the N.L., opening the door for a new franchise in a new league.

League Park
League Park (Cleveland Indians)

By the turn of the century, Cleveland was an established major league city, perfect for the designs of Ban Johnson who moved to turn his minor league Western League into major league competition for the N.L. Aided by the finances of Clevelander Charles Somers, Johnson's Western League became the American League and, after a year of minor league play in 1900, went head-to-head with the N.L. starting in 1901. The new franchise played at Cleveland's established baseball home, League Park.

Cleveland had the honor of playing in the first A.L. game in its major league history, April 24, 1901 at Chicago. All the other games scheduled for that date were rained out.

Cleveland's biggest baseball star in the early days of its new franchise was Napoleon Lajoie. After its inaugural big league A.L. season in 1901, Somers acquired the greatest batsman in baseball from Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. When Lajoie, who jumped from Philadelphia's N.L. team to its competitor in the A.L., became emerged in a legal tug-of-war, Mack, owner and manager of the A's, sent Lajoie to Cleveland to bolster the junior circuit. (Somers had helped Mack with finances to establish his Philadelphia club.) Cleveland also acquired another future Hall of Famer in rookie pitcher Addie Joss.

Initially known as the Blues (1901) and Broncos (1902), Cleveland's nickname became Naps, in honor of Lajoie, in 1903. With a first class ballpark, solid ownership, and future Hall of Famers in second baseman Lajoie, Joss, and outfielder Elmer Flick, Cleveland had the makings for championship contention.

Nap Lajoie
Napolean Lajoie (Cleveland Indians)

Under player-manager Lajoie, Cleveland peaked in 1908 in a down-to-the-wire pennant race with Chicago and Detroit. Other key players for Cleveland included third baseman Bill Bradley, first baseman George Stovall, and shortstop Terry Turner. Despite perhaps the greatest game ever pitched, Joss' 1-0 perfect game victory against Chicago's Ed Walsh on October 2, the Naps finished second.

Managing took its toll on Lajoie. Returning to player-only status in 1909, Nap reversed a declining batting average and engaged Ty Cobb in a memorable batting race in 1910. Baseball historians still argue whether Cobb or Lajoie deserves designation as 1910 A.L. batting champ. In 1910, another legendary batter joined the Cleveland roster in Joe Jackson. Like Lajoie, Jackson was acquired from Connie Mack's Athletics. While "Shoeless Joe" would supplant Lajoie as Cleveland's all-time batting leader, he could not bring the Naps close to a championship. Tragedy struck in 1911 when Joss was stricken with spinal meningitis and died on April 11 at age 31.

Addie Joss
Addie Joss (Cleveland Indians)

A benefit game, to raise money for Joss' survivors, was held on July 24, 1911 at League Park. A forerunner of today's All-Star Game, the benefit game featured future Hall of Famers Cobb (wearing a Cleveland uniform since he forgot his Detroit uniform), Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Sam Crawford, Bobby Wallace, and Walter Johnson along with Cleveland players Lajoie and Cy Young. Young, the winningest pitcher in major league baseball history, had returned to Cleveland in 1909 to close out his illustrious career that began with the Cleveland Spiders.

Cleveland endeavored to build another contender with Lajoie, Jackson, shortstop Ray Chapman, catcher Steve O'Neill, and pitchers Cy Falkenberg and Vean Gregg. Those efforts were undercut by a challenge from the upstart Federal League. The Feds raided both A.L. and N.L. teams, with Cleveland hit particularly hard with the loss of Falkenberg. The Naps lost a then franchise record 102 games in 1914 and attendance sank to disastrous lows as the Lajoie era in Cleveland came to a close. Lajoie's departure, following the 1914 season, prompted a name change for the Cleveland franchise. On January 17, two Cleveland newspapers (The Leader and The Plain Dealer) reported that Indians had been chosen to replace Naps. The Plain Dealer said, "President Somers invited the Cleveland baseball writers to make the selection. The title of Indians was their choice, it having been one of the names applied to the old National League club of Cleveland many years ago." When Chief Sockalexis first arrived, baseball in Cleveland suffered an abrupt downturn in fortune. Now, the Indians would rise to glory with a new owner and star player.

The release of Lajoie and the trading of Jackson to Chicago for three players and much needed cash was not enough to keep the Somers' ownership afloat. Into the picture stepped Clevelander Jim Dunn. "Sunny" Jim helped finance a deal that brought the great center fielder Tris Speaker (embroiled in a contract dispute with Boston Red Sox ownership) to Cleveland. Dunn succeeded Somers as owner of the Indians. Led by Speaker and manager Lee Fohl, the Indians narrowly missed the pennant in 1918. When miscommunication resulted in a key loss in 1919, Dunn dismissed Fohl and made Speaker player-manager. Cleveland finished a close second again in 1919.

Read on:   Early Years | First World Series | Glory Years | Trying Time | Renewed Glory