League Park becomes new home for Baseball Heritage Museum
At one point, League Park was the home field for the Cleveland Indians and the NFL’s Cleveland Rams. It was the practice field for the Browns.
And now, it’s the home of the Baseball Heritage Museum.
The museum was started downtown as a display in a jewelry store during the All-Star summer of 1997. From there, it moved into the Colonial Arcade on Euclid Avenue in 2006. Now, it’s in a building that used to house ticket offices and team offices for the Indians.
The museum, which displays artifacts relating to the Negro Leagues, is in a perfect location. In addition to the Indians, League Park served as home to the Cleveland Buckeyes, who won the Negro League World Series in 1945. In fact, League Park is the only stadium that can boast being home to Negro League world champions, a World Series champion and a winner of the Temple Cup, the trophy given to the National League playoff champions when there was only one major league.
The museum includes artifacts such as a trunk used by Hilton Smith of the Kansas City Monarchs, who advised the team to sign a multi-talented athlete from UCLA by the name of Jackie Robinson. Smith was a contemporary and teammate of Satchel Paige, the ageless wonder who helped the Indians to the 1948 World Series.
There are also exhibits detailing the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – immortalized in the movie “A League of Their Own” – as well as pertaining to Indians history, a lot of which took place at the new musuem location.
League Park opened at the end of a streetcar line in 1891 as home to the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. After the Spiders folded at the end of the 1899 season, a new baseball team started play at League Park, ultimately entering the American League when it was formed in 1901. The team was known variously as the Blues, Bronchos and Naps before becoming the Indians. By then, League Park had gone from being a wooden grandstand with a baseball diamond on it to a steel-and-concrete stadium.
Construction of Cleveland Stadium downtown sealed League Park’s fate as a major league facility, and its location in the Hough made it less than prime real estate for redevelopment. But the city of Cleveland, which owns the property, spent more than $6 million to renovate it and turn it into a park – the first former Major League Baseball ballpark to be repurposed.
Now, Little League, high school and amateur baseball teams can pitch from the same mound where Cy Young did, hit in the same batter’s box where Babe Ruth hit his 500th career home run, and field where Bill Wambsganss turned the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.
Adjacent to League Park is Fannie Lewis Park, which includes a walking path, a splash basin and a statue of its namesake, a Cleveland councilwoman who advocated the park’s renovation, but was unable to live to see the day when it happened.