Cleveland’s World Championship, 1920: Tribe, Tunes, and Transport

Each installment of this series is presented as a snapshot of a specific recollection involving the Cleveland Indians, along with thoughts on what (s)he was driving and the music (s)he was listening to.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers still the defending champions, it made the most sense to go back in time to 1920 when the Indians won their own World Championship.

Today, our edited discussion is with Lloyd- whom we caught up with in 1948, via time travel.

GREG: If you were asked for a particular memory involving the Cleveland Indians, what would come to mind?

LLOYD: Almost 30 years ago. The 1920 Series. It was berries, I tell ya.

GREG: You experienced the first World Series win in Cleveland?

LLOYD: Why sure. I was in high school. Looks like the Cleveland nine might win another one, this year.

GREG: Do you know any bookies?

LLOYD: Say that again?

GREG: Sorry, never mind. Did you know Bob Hope at the time? I am aware of him being an Indians fan as a kid in 1920. One reason I tracked you down is because I understand you may have attended Fairmount Elementary with him.

LLOYD: Oh, sure, and we all knew who he was, when we were teenagers. Although Les didn’t finish high school. But he likes to say that he wrote so many test answers on his sleeve that his shirt graduated two years before he did.

Yes, I grew up with Les. His name was Leslie, then, you know. He didn’t like it when folks called him “Hope-Les.”

GREG: My understanding is that Bob followed the Indians, as a kid.

LLOYD: We all did. We would watch games through holes in the right field fence at League Park.
(Smiling) Nobody was ever sure how those holes would appear during the night.

Les’ favorite player was The Grey Eagle, Tris Speaker. And, for good reason. Spoke would play so close to the infield that he was known to take pick off throws from the pitcher and tag runners who strayed too far from second base. He tagged a few men out on stolen base attempts. He’d catch up to most deep fly balls, too. Over the shoulder catches in full gallop were routine for him.

GREG: When would you say the Indians began their march to the 1920 pennant?

LLOYD: Many would say it was when they acquired Speaker in 1916, and that would be hard to argue with. But the man who traded for Spoke was Sunny Jim Dunn. Mr. Dunn had been a railroad man, not a baseball man. But he purchased the Indians after the previous owner, Charles Somers, had had so much financial trouble that he was unable to field a competitive team. He even traded Joe Jackson to the White Sox, mostly for the money.

But when Mr. Dunn took over in 1916, the team immediately began to improve. He acquired several good ballplayers. Then, it became known that Tris Speaker was having a contract dispute with the Red Sox. Jackson, Speaker and Cobb were the best ballplayers in baseball at that time- just before Babe Ruth became the best ever. With Speaker in center field, and rookie pitchers Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby, the future for Cleveland was bright.

Then, The Great War hit the team hard. The Indians may have won the pennant in 1918, if it weren’t for the war. There was a “work or fight” rule in the United States, and baseball wasn’t considered “work.” So a lot of players who didn’t fight left to work in factories.

In 1919, the manager, Lee Fohl, either resigned or was fired. Nobody was quite sure. He always relied on Tris Speaker for advice, and during an important game, Fohl looked to Speaker to see which pitcher to bring in. He didn’t do what Speaker suggested, and the Indians lost a tough one on a Babe Ruth home run.

Speaker was installed as manager, and the team took off. The war ended, and more pitching arrived. George Uhle came from the Cleveland sandlots. Slim Caldwell was a guy that had been released by the Red Sox, because he was a drunk. Speaker signed him to a contract. The contract stated that Slim was to pitch, then get drunk afterward. He was to stay at home the next day. The following day, he was to show up and do a little running. The third day was a day to pitch batting practice. Back on the mound to start on the fourth day.

GREG: Didn’t he get struck by lightning on the mound at League Park?

LLOYD: Yep. Sparks were flying all around the park, on the metal railings. The ballplayers felt it in their shoes. Slim was struck on the top of his head, on the metal button on his cap. They say the jolt exited his body through his spikes. He was knocked out for a few minutes. When they revived him, he refused to leave the game, and he retired the final batter for the win.

Slim no-hit the Yankees, another former team of his, later that season.

1920- where to start? Here was a team with a great dog for a mascot. They moved into first place – over Babe Ruth’s Yankees – in early May, where they stayed for most of the rest of the season. Then, in August, shortstop Ray Chapman died after being hit in the head by a pitch. In September, the Black Sox scandal from the 1919 World Series surfaced. There was controversy over Cleveland’s pennant when Chicago, with some of its players suspended, lost some games late.

In the 1920 Series, Coveleski, one of the last legal spitball pitchers, won three games of the best-of-nine series. Local boy Bill Wambsganss, the second baseman and close friend of Chapman’s, turned the only unassisted triple play ever in the World Series. Elmer Smith hit the first World Series home run, and Bagby hit the first Series homer by a pitcher.

It was a best of times, worst of times kind of year.

GREG: What a run.

Tell me a little more about Bob Hope.

LLOYD: He was born an entertainer. When he was around ten, he’d do a Charlie Chaplin imitation on the street over on the near east side of town where he lived. His neighbors would watch and throw money down to him. Later, he took dancing classes over on Central Avenue.

GREG: Didn’t he sell two-cent newspapers on a street corner?

LLOYD: Sure did. Three of his brothers, too. They would spread out around an intersection. Ever hear of John D. Rockefeller? Richest man in the country? He lived down on Euclid – Millionaires’ Row – and was a regular customer of Les’. Mr. Rockefeller’s advice was to always have enough change, and not to trust anyone. That was Les’ story, anyway.

Les’ family was very poor. His father drank too much, and was rough with the boys. Les became kind of a bully for a time, and I think his upbringing was the cause.

GREG: Did you know of Bob as a boxer?

LLOYD: Yes sir, I did. But that didn’t last very long. He had been running around with a friend named Whitey Jennings, who was a hustler over in the pool room at the Alhambra. East 105th and Euclid. Together, they spent most nights down there. Took home a lot of change, too.

Anyway, Whitey decided to become a boxer. He chose the ring name of “Packy West,” after famous boxer Packy McFarland. Les, though- he thought HE was the better fighter. He became a boxer too. Called himself “Packy East.” In part due to his competitive nature. Les won his first two bouts. His third fight was his last- he got knocked out, and later said the last thing he remembered was the smile on the winner’s face.

GREG: A lot of what Bob got into as a youngster involved getting attention, and making money.

LLOYD: Les and Whitey used to hustle footraces, too. Back in those days, Sunday was the day many families would picnic at the amusement parks. The parks would hold footraces, with money awards. They’d often schedule them at the same time.

Les would call the company hosting the Euclid Beach Park picnic (like, say a local steel company), and pretend he was with the Plain Dealer. He’d say he was interested in sending out a photographer. When informed of the time of their footrace, he’d express disappointment that it was at the same time as the Luna Park race. The time would be changed: the guests would eat first, and then the race would be held.

So Les and Whitey would hop on the streetcar to Luna Park on Sunday, earning back their fare by singing and dancing along the way. They’d show up for the race, and cheat by getting a split-second jump before the start. They had a serious racing rival, and Les would bump him early in the race. Whitey would bump him halfway through. They would finish in the money, then get back on a streetcar up to Euclid Beach and do it again.

GREG: What were the parks like?

LLOYD: Well, you can go visit Euclid Beach Park right now, if you like. Luna Park and Euclid Beach- and three other amusement parks- were open at the same time, back in the day. Luna Park charged one admission, not per attraction like Euclid Beach. Luna Park served beer, and that set it apart. Prohibition came in 1920, and Luna Park took a big hit.

GREG: You know, it its interesting: in the first season after Prohibition became law, Slim Caldwell started 33 games for the Indians, finishing 20-10 with a 3.86 ERA. He pitched over 237 innings.

How do you think he pitched so well in 1920, with alcohol outlawed?

LLOYD: Good question, stranger. Although we both probably know the answer: just because you outlaw something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The Great Depression of the 1930s finished off Luna Park – not as many folks had the money for amusement parks. They were a lot of fun though. Besides the attractions, the picnics, and the shows, the parks were the place to take a date and dance.

We were just starting to see recorded music come out in the 1920s, by the way.

GREG: What are some examples of the music you liked?

LLOYD: Dance bands were fun. But we younger folks liked to run over to the Alhambra and other places
at Doan’s Corner to hear Jazz and Blues. Billie Holliday, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and a lot of other hot acts.

GREG: Can you tell me about the Cleveland streetcars?

LLOYD: There are still some streetcars around in Cleveland, here in 1948. But around twelve years ago or so, some of them began to be replaced by buses. All the way back around 1886, Frank Robison owned a couple of the dozens of streetcar lines in Cleveland. His branches were the St. Clair and the Payne Avenue. His first ballfield was at E39th and Payne. Within a couple years, it was destroyed by lightning. Robison’s lines ran farther out east, and he built a new park at E66th and Lexington. That was the original, wooden version of League Park. So, at that time, Robison owned the ballpark, the ballclub, and the streetcar lines.

Bill Veeck only just now has gotten the Indians to using Municipal Stadium full time. The Negro League Buckeyes play at League Park now. Paul Brown’s football team practices there. You can go see it if it suits you. But it has seen better days.

GREG: This has been fascinating, Lloyd. You’ve been very gracious with your time.

LLOYD: Before you go- tell me about some things that will happen in the future.

GREG: I guess you aren’t worried whether my telling you might upset the cosmic forces somehow?

OK let’s see… this year, 1948, will be a year in which the Indians, the Browns, the hockey Barons, and the Negro baseball leagues’ Buckeyes will each win a championship.

And… the American twenty something adults of today will, in 50 years, become known as The Greatest Generation. Their hedonistic kids will make a mess of the future.

You know the Dick Tracy watch telephone? Those will be available to be purchased by anyone.

You may not be surprised to learn that television will change society forever. But imagine watching a 21st Century baseball game with your children, and being subject to erectile dysfunction ads for three and a half hours.


GREG: And you know the rough and tumble Haymarket District? That’s where the next Cleveland Indians ballpark will go.


GREG: And, the Golden State Warriors will blow a 3-1 lead.


GREG: Thank you, Lloyd. Farewell my friend.

LLOYD: Don’t take any wooden nickels!

Besides Lloyd, sources included Bob Hope: The Road Well Traveled, Lawrence J. Quirk; Lost Cleveland: Seven Wonders of the Sixth City, Michael DeAloia; The Cleveland Indians, Franklin A Lewis; The Best They Could Be: How the Cleveland Indians Became the Kings of Baseball, 1916-1920, Scott H Longert; The Cleveland Indians Encyclopedia, Russell Schneider;