Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Golden Age of Baseball

Have you ever been to a place where Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Bob Feller, Tris Speaker, and Nap Lajoie were all present in some form? You cannot say yes if your answer was either “Card Show” or “Cooperstown”. While both places are great, they are not historic landmarks. Okay maybe Cooperstown is, but none of them played ball there.

I’ve been in a baseball nostalgia for quite some time. Starting to sort all the early 60’s cards has only made the hunger for vintage even stronger. I’m starting to get into pre-war baseball. Watching “The Golden Age of Baseball” shows makes the hunger that much more insatiable. I could try and buy a bunch of pre-war cards, but I want more history. What I want is actually in my backyard.

(Re)Built by Osborn Engineering in 1910 (whom also built Comiskey, Fenway, and Yankee Stadium among others) League Park had 21,414 seats. Originally it was a wooden facility that had 9,000 seats prior to 1910. The Tribe called it home from 1910 through 1946. From 1946 till 1951 the Tribe split their games between League Park and Municipal Stadium. Much like older stadiums, the dimensions were incredible; 290’ to right, 385’ to left, and a fantastic 460’ to dead center. Many would think that lefties had a power alley. Nope, if they wanted to hit a homer the ball had to clear a 60 foot fence onto Lexington. Good luck with that lefties.

Unfortunately Municipal Stadium won and League Park was completely demolished in 1951.

So what happened to this forgotten relic of baseball’s past? Let me show you my adventure to League Park….

But first a little prologue…

All last night I psyched myself up for this small trip with the thought of “shit, I’ll be on the same land that Ruth, Gehrig, Feller, Lajoie, Speaker, Young, and many others have played ball….how the hell would I pass this up?” Pretty easy actually, it’s not in the best of neighborhoods.

The east side of the city isn’t the best place to be. In fact, coming home from a concert a few years ago, I was stopped at a red light maybe 10 blocks south of the park when a cop pulled up, looked at me and said “You should probably get the hell out of here as fast as possible.” Thoughts of what might happen raced in my mind as to what could happen. I flip flopped all day whether I wanted to go or not. I gave it the green light after I saw photos and stories of past accomplishments of Young, Joss, Lajoie, Speaker that all took place at League Park.

Driving to League Park is pretty simple if you know the city, which I do. I parked on a one way street just north of the park, which back then would have been the third baseline. Although League Park is simply a field now, I got nervous walking up. Ghosts from years past I suppose. First thing I noticed and walked directly up to was this:

Home Plate. I actually had thought there was a plaque in the ground to dedicate the former field, but I guess not. Kicking some dirt up around home plate, the same dirt former members of the hall did was neat.

Two things remain, the first base wall and the former ticket office.

The 1st base wall is held up by metal supports that were put in. I'm not sure when, but they look pretty recent. The ticket office was supposedly turned into a recreation room. Ideally I wanted to go inside, but there was various groups of youth football with parents and all the doors were either boarded up or sealed. I will eventually one day see the inside of the building. Maybe.

Here's an closer view of one of the supports found on the length of the wall.

More supports down the first baseline all the way to the ticket office. You'll notice the lighter molding that runs down the wall. I believe that was part of the grandstand that ran down the line and turned into field box seating. Not entirely sure though.

After I checked out the wall and walked up close to hopefully find a lose brick on the ground for a keepsake (no luck) I walked out the exit gate onto E.66. Turning around and checking out the architecture from 100 years ago was amazing. Imagining what I'd be looking at with a full park surrounding the exit was even more special.

Another small detail I really enjoyed about League Park was the brickwork on the outside frame. The patterns of the bricks was fascinating and definitely gave the deserted and demolished old park some character in it's afterlife.

Taking a brief walk down the street I was able to get to the ticket office. Trust me, I glanced everywhere for a possible way in. Not entirely sure if I found an entrance what I would have done...I didn't want to risk getting arrested for trespassing, but something this old and the history behind it might be semi worth it. But then again, probably not.

Finally I reached the front of the old building, at the corner of E.66 and Lexington.

Next to the building (which had some fencing off done, but was mostly falling apart) was this Historic Landmark and RENOVATION sign. Supposedly $1.8 million was put aside for a renovation project in which the grounds would house softball/baseball fields and a new ticket office. Again, supposedly the whole project would cost the city $18 million. It never happened, and honestly will never happen. Too much corruption and other issues at hand. And with the economy the way it is, who wants to fix up an old park, for no solid reason?

After seeing League Park and not really being able to poke around as much as I would have liked to, I decided to check out the wall one more time. That and take a photo of my personal favorite area of the former park. The player's tunnel.

The player's tunnel was connected to the dugout on the first base side. Here's how I think the dugout tunnel works: First pair of stairs connects to the dugout which leads down to the tunnel itself. It angles left and another pair of stairs leads the players up behind the tunnel to the dressing room. Again this is my estimation so I'm not 100% sure. Here's the photos, you tell me what you think.

Dugout to the tunnel stairs well.

Pretty sweet hole that leads to the middle of the tunnel. If you didn't know it was there, that'd be a bad fall.

Back stairwell that I assume leads to the locker room.

One last photograph of the ticket office, which I will re-visit eventually.

While many dedicated baseball fans know what's located at Yawkey Way or Waveland and Addison, I believe E.66 and Lexington tops them all.

1 comment:

Tony Mc said...

Great read! It looks like an interesting place to visit.