Cleveland has a historic landmark in its Hough Neigborhood. Many people know it’s there, but other than a quick drive-by, there isn’t much of a reason to stop. I’m speaking of course of old League Park, the baseball field that was the one-time home of the Cleveland Indians and the Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes. The structure sits vacant on the corner of E. 66th and Lexington.
This is the place that saw Babe Ruth’s 500th home run in 1929 and where Bob Feller fired fastball after fastball. Legends of the game played in this hallowed park and then after 1946, it became outdated. Cleveland Municpal Stadium was the spot for the baseball action in Cleveland while League Park just sat there empty, year after year, decade after decade. It was never razed.
Cleveland historians for almost 20 years have attempted to come up with plans to restore and renovate this legendary ground. None of the ideas took shape, from the mayoral eras of Mike White and Jane Campbell. Plans ranged from anywhere from $2 million to $18 million. Then yesterday, Mayor Frank Jackson’s Chief of Staff, Ken Silliman announced the city’s intentions to put $5 million into rebuilding League Park and its adjacent land. According to Silliman, a museum and a youth baseball field will be the big keys to the project.
At first blush, as a baseball fan and historian myself, my thoughts were “it’s about time.” League Park is a historical baseball site that I remember my father driving me past when I was a kid. But all I ever did was drive past it. So much history went on there, something had to be done to this.
But this was also 25 years ago that my father pointed this out to me. The site was old, run down, and dilapidated then. Add 25 years to it and things obviously haven’t improved. Add in the fact that the current generation of baseball fans is dwindling and the game back in the days of League Park might as well have been a completely different sport, and it makes me wonder if restoring League Park is a good idea.
Writing this piece made me very conflicted on the subject. I’ve literally gone back and forth. The place hasn’t been in use in 60 years. Is now really the time to be putting the city’s money into it? Clevelanders of all ages know – our city is not in a place financially to be throwing out $5 million bouquets to fix up an old ballpark as a local tourist site. How about pumping $5 million into the city school system?
Proponents of the restoration will say that this is indeed re-investing in the city and one of its toughest neighborhoods. Paula Gist of the League Park Heritage Committee claims this is about more than just League Park. “This is important to us, to our neighborhood. We don’t want just a ballpark; we want a revitalization.”
I understand where she is coming from completely, but with all of the city’s issues, projects such this one and the Browns quest for $5.8 million in city funds for stadium repairs, are lightning rods. We aren’t exactly flush with cash in these economic times in Cleveland.
However, this is something that should have happened 20-25 years ago. Long time Cleveland natives always wonder why we aren’t making attempts to restore the city’s proud neighborhoods. Now, they are. So with that I have to applaud Frank Jackson and the city for finally going through with this long overdue project. I just hope that it actually comes to fruition.
(hat tip to reader Scott for alerting me to this)
(photo via Thomas Ondrey/PD)