Saturday, July 5, 2014
How to Be a Yankee Fan In Cleveland -- 2014 Edition
Anyway, after the Yankees finish their series in Minnesota, they move on to Cleveland for 4 games against the Indians, and then to Baltimore for 3 against the Orioles.
Unlike a lot of these cities, I have been to Cleveland, and have even seen the Yankees beat the Indians at Jacobs Field -- sorry, Progressive Field. (Hate the corporate name. But love the "Flo" commercials.)
Before You Go. You've no doubt heard the legends of wind blasting off Lake Erie and "lake-effect snow." Well, this will be July, so cold and wind won't be an issue.
Cleveland.com, the website connected with the city's main newspaper, The Plain Dealer, is predicting temperatures in the high 70s by day, the mid-60s by night. Sounds good, right? But they're also predicting thunderstorms for Monday and Wednesday (though not for Tuesday and Thursday), so you may want to bring an umbrella.
Cleveland is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to change your timepieces.
Tickets. The Indians have fallen hard since beating the Yankees in the 2007 Playoffs and then blowing a 3-games-to-1 lead against the Red Sox in the ALCS. After that came the Bush Recession, which clobbered Ohio's economy. As a result, the Indians are averaging only 17,417 fans per game this season, with only the Tampa Bay Rays averaging less, and not by much. This is a drop by 2,000 fans from last season.
This should be shocking to those of you who remember their home field, then known as Jacobs Field for the owner who got the place built, being sold out every game from 1995 to 2001. But it shouldn't be shocking to those of you whose memories go back further, to the days when they played at 86,000-seat Municipal Stadium, a.k.a. "Cavernous Cleveland Stadium," where there were often 75,000 to 80,000 people who showed up disguised as empty seats.
However, the Yankees are always the biggest draw of the year for the Indians, and the park only seats 43,429 people, so, just to be on the safe side, don't just show up at the box office and say, "Gimme whatever you got."
Naturally, tickets to see the Indians play the Yankees are more expensive than those against other opponents. Field Boxes (lower-level infield) are $113, Lower Boxes (lower-level down the foul lines) are $75, Lower Reserved (left-field and right-field corners and right field lower level) are $43. View Box (first few rows of upper deck) are $50, Upper Box are $22, and Upper Reserved (pretty high up) are $18. The Bleachers, in left field under the big scoreboard, are $30.
Getting There. Cleveland is 500 land miles from New York. Well, not quite: Specifically, it is 465 miles from Times Square to Public Square; and 467 miles from Yankee Stadium to Progressive Field. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.
This may be a good idea -- if you can afford it: Like New York, Boston and Chicago, but unlike most of the American League cities, Cleveland has good rapid transit from the airport to downtown. In fact, with the extension of the RTA Rapid Transit’s Red Line in 1968, Cleveland became the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have rapid transit direct from downtown to its major airport. But round-trip fare could run you nearly $1,200. If this were a weekend series, and you were leaving Thursday night instead of Sunday night or Monday morning, it would be closer to $800.
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, named for William R. Hopkins, a City Manager in the 1920s and an early pilot, is about 12 miles southwest of downtown, and the Red Line takes 24 minutes, 9 stops, to get from Hopkins to Tower City. The cost for a single ride on any RTA line is $2.25, which is now cheaper than the New York Subway. An all-day pass is a bargain at just $5.00.
From Tower City, underneath the iconic Terminal Tower on Public Square, there is a walkway directly to the ballpark and the adjoining Quicken Loans Arena – meaning you could fly in, ride in, walk in, see a game, walk out, ride out and fly out, all in one day. But you really should take a day to see the city.
Train? Bad idea. Not because of the price, just $220 round-trip -- cheaper than Greyhound, for once -- but because of the schedule. The Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Cleveland's Lakefront Station at 3:27 in the morning. In reverse, the train leaves Lakefront Station at 5:50 AM and arrives back at Penn Station at 6:35 PM. Time-wise, this is incredibly inconvenient.
And, unlike the Cleveland Union Terminal, now known as Tower City Center but hasn’t had long-distance passenger rail traffic since 1977, Lakefront Station, at 200 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, is not exactly one of the great rail terminals of this country. To make matters worse, while the RTA Green Line and Blue Line both serve Lakefront Station, the RTA doesn't run overnight, and thus any Amtrak train that comes into the station will not be serviced by it.
How about Greyhound? There are 9 buses leaving Port Authority every day with connections to Cleveland, but only 2 of these are nonstop: The rest require you to change buses in Pittsburgh or Buffalo. The ride, including the changeover, takes about 13 hours. Round-trip fare is $272, although it can be $197 with advanced purchase.
The terminal, at 1465 Chester Avenue, adjacent to the Cleveland State University campus east of downtown, was a hideously filthy hole on my first visit in 1999, but apparently they got the message and cleaned it up, and it’s tolerable again. At least on the inside; on the outside, it’s a magnet for panhandlers. It’s a 7-block walk from the terminal to Public Square, but it’s better to take a cab, or to walk 3 blocks to the corner of 13th Street & Superior Avenue and take the Number 3 bus in.
If you decide to drive, the directions are rather simple, down to (almost literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important. You'll take I-80's Exit 173, and get onto Interstate 77 North. Take Exit 163 toward E. 9th St. This will take you into downtown. If you’re driving, I would definitely recommend getting a hotel, and there are several downtown, including some near the ballpark.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, and a little over an hour in Ohio. Counting rest stops, preferably at either end of Pennsylvania, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Cleveland, it should be no more than 10 hours.
Once In the City. Cleveland, which once had a city population of over 900,000, but is now under 400,000 with a metro area population of 3.5 million, was founded in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland, a hero of the War of the American Revolution, a General in the Connecticut militia, and a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company. When the Northwest Ordinance was passed in 1787, a lot of New Englanders moved to what's now the Great Lakes States, and many "original" Ohio families can trace their roots back to Connecticut and Moses' expedition to what was known as the Western Reserve.
Supposedly, the reason for the difference in spelling is that, in 1830, the city's first newspaper was established, but the editor found "Cleaveland Advertiser" was too long to fit on the incorporation form, so he dropped an A.
The city is centered on Public Square, at the intersection of Ontario Street and Superior Avenue (U.S. Route 6), with Euclid Avenue (U.S. Route 20) flowing into it. The Terminal Tower, a 708-foot Art Deco masterpiece, is at the southwest corner of Public Square, and includes the Tower City rail hub and shopping mall. It opened in 1930 and, until 1964, was the tallest building in North America outside New York. At the southeast corner is the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, probably the best memorial to the American Civil War outside of that war's preserved battlefields. And at the northeast corner is the Key Tower, at 948 feet now the tallest building in the State of Ohio; Richard Jacobs, who owned the Indians for a time, also owned the real estate development company that built the Key Tower (named for Key Bank) in 1991.
The sales tax in Ohio is 5.75 percent, and in Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland), it's 8 percent.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) runs a heavy rail Red Line, similar to New York's Subway, and light rail Blue and Green Lines. They converge at the Tower City, and all 3 run together from there to East 55th Street. The Blue and Green Lines both start at South Harbor, and run together to Shaker Square before diverging. The fare is $2.25, and is the same for RTA buses.
Going In. Progressive Field, named for the insurance company (with TV spokesgal Flo) and called Jacobs Field from 1994 to 2008 -- once "The Jake," it's now "The Prog" -- is 7 blocks from Public Square, at 2401 Ontario Street. Parking at lots around the ballpark runs from $5.00 to $20.
As I said, a walkway connects Tower City Rail and the ballpark. Ontario Street is the 3rd base side, Carnegie Avenue the 1st base side, 9th Street the right field side, and Eagle Avenue the left field side. Gates A and B, including a statue of Bob Feller, are at the left field corner. Gate C is a the right field corner, and Gate D is behind home plate. Each gate features a ticket office as well as an entry point.
Quicken Loans Arena (a.k.a. “The Q,” formerly Gund Arena) is across Eagle Avenue. It is the home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, a minor-league hockey team called the Lake Erie Monsters (but there’s no monster in Lake Erie, the way some people say there are in Loch Ness and Lake Champlain), and an Arena Football team called the Cleveland Gladiators.
The first thing that will catch your eye when you get to your seat is the big scoreboard in left field. The light towers are also distinctive, known as “The Toothbrushes.” If you’ve been to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, “The Jake” is going to seem rather familiar. The layout is nearly identical, with the wraparound being from the left field corner around home plate, around the right field corner nearly to center field, with the bleachers in left field under a huge board. There's even a statue of a legendary pitcher outside left field (in Philly's case, Steve Carlton).
The ballpark faces northeast, and from some sections Cleveland’s taller buildings, such as the Terminal and Key Towers, can be seen. The field is natural grass. Outfield distances are as follows: Left pole, 325 feet; left-center, 370; center, 405; deepest part of the park, to the right of dead-center, 410; right-center, 375; right, 325.
In 1999, Jim Thome hit the park's longest home run, 511 feet. There is some dispute as to the longest ever at Municipal Stadium: Officially, Luke Easter holds the record with a 477-footer in 1950, but Mickey Mantle may have hit one there a little longer in 1952, and Ted Williams may also have surpassed it.
Food. Ohio -- much more than New Jersey and Maryland, which get into the conference this year -- is part of Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament. However, unlike the Tigers, White Sox and Brewers, there really isn’t a lot of great food options. Their “Ballpark Classics,” “Ballpark Grill,” “Cleats” and “Market Pavilion” stands have the usual fare, and there’s a Subway sandwich shop and a snow-cone cart inside. But you’re better off going somewhere either before or after the game and loading up.
There was a restaurant called the New York Spaghetti House on East 9th Street, just a few steps from the ballpark, but it went out of business in 2001. Original owner Mario Brigotti, who died in 1998 at age 99, was a friend of another Italian Clevelander, Mario Boiardi – a.k.a. Chef Boyardee.
Team History Displays. In their last few seasons at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Indians had their retired numbers on the outfield wall: 3, Earl Averill, center field 1929-39; 5, Lou Boudreau, shortstop 1938-50 and manager 1942-50; and 19, Bob Feller, pitcher 1936-56. Since the move to Jacobs/Progressive Field, those numbers are on a facing of the outfield stands. They have been joined by 14, Larry Doby, center field 1947-58 (grew up in Paterson, New Jersey); 18, Mel Harder, pitcher 1928-47; and 21, Bob Lemon, pitcher 1946-58 (and Yankee manager 1978-79 and 1981-82). And, of course, Jackie Robinson’s universally-retired Number 42 is up there as well. All of their honorees except Harder are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. They have also retired a number for their fans, 455, for the number of consecutive sellouts at the park from 1995 to 2001 (a record since topped by the Boston Red Sox in 2008, and lasting until 2012).
Outside the left field gates is a statue of Feller, who was the first Cleveland-based athlete to have his number retired, and is generally considered the greatest Indian of all time by those who don’t remember Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie and Tris Speaker, who played before uniform numbers became standard. (Though Speaker would later wear Number 43 as an Indians coach.)
In center field, the Indians have a “Monument Park” setup, called Heritage Park. Unlike the Yankees, who have a rather exclusive list, the team honors the 100 Greatest Indians, as chosen in a 2001 poll for the team’s 100th Anniversary.
From the team’s early days: Bill Bradley (no relation to the Knick-turned-Senator), Elmer Flick (Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown), Vean Gregg, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Addie Joss (Cooperstown), Napoleon Lajoie (Cooperstown, player-manager, team had previously been named “Cleveland Naps” in his honor before 1915 switch to “Indians” to copy Boston’s World Champion Braves), Robert “Dusty” Rhoads (not to be confused with the New York Giant who beat the Indians with a walkoff homer in the 1954 World Series) and Terry Turner.
From the 1920 World Champions: Jim Bagby Sr., George Burns (supposedly, the New York-born comedian named himself for this former Giant star), Ray Chapman (accidentally hit by Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, the only player to die in an on-field incident), Stan Coveleski, Larry Gardner, Jack Graney (became the first former player to become a broadcaster), Charlie Jamieson, Guy Morton, Steve O’Neill (no relation to the man of the same name who owned the Indians in the late 1970s and early ‘80s), Joe Sewell (Cooperstown), Tris Speaker (Cooperstown, player-manager of ’20 champs), George Uhle and Bill Wambsganss (pulled unassisted triple play in ’20 Series). There is also a monument to Chapman that had been on the field at League Park, before the team moved into Municipal Stadium full-time; it got lost, and was finally found when they unpacked after moving into Jacobs Field.
From the 1920s and ‘30s: Averill, Harder, Sewell, his brother Luke Sewell, Wes Ferrell (the Cooperstown Hall probably should have elected him instead of his brother Rick Ferrell), Lew Fonseca (better known as the director, editor and sometimes narrator of the official World Series highlight films in the 1940s and early 1950s), Willis Hudlin, Johnny Hodapp and Joe Vosmik.
From the 1940 team that just missed the American League Pennant: Harder, Johnny Allen (former Yankee), Feller, Boudreau, Odell Hale, Jeff Heath, Ken Keltner and Hal Trosky.
From the 1948 World Champions: Feller, Boudreau, Doby, Keltner, Lemon, Gene Bearden, Mike Garcia, Joe Gordon (came to the Indians in the trade that sent Allie Reynolds to the Yankees), Steve Gromek, Jim Hegan, Dale Mitchell (helped Dodgers win 1956 Pennant and became Don Larsen’s last victim in his perfect game), Satchel Paige (Cooperstown) and Al Rosen (general manager of Yanks’ 1978 World Champions and now the last surviving man who played on a World Series winner in Cleveland).
From the 1954 Pennant winners: Feller, Doby, Lemon, Garcia, Hegan, Mitchell, Rosen, manager Al Lopez (Cooperstown), Bobby Avila, Luke Easter, Don Mossi, Ray Narleski and Early Wynn (Cooperstown).
From the 1959 team that nearly won a Pennant: Rocky Colavito (Bronx native who closed his career with the Yankees), Jim “Mudcat” Grant (who pitched the Minnesota Twins to a Pennant and is now an Indians broadcaster), Herb Score (Queens native whose stunning career what short-circuited by a line drive from Yankee Gil McDougald, but became their beloved broadcaster, their Phil Rizzuto, their Richie Ashburn), Woodie Held, Minnie Minoso, Jim Perry (Gaylord’s brother and a pretty good pitcher in his own right), Vic Power (had been in Yankee system) and Al Smith (better remembered for his “beer shower” while chasing a home run for the White Sox in the ’59 Series).
From the 1960s: Max Alvis, Joe Azcue, Gary Bell, Tito Francona (father of former Red Sox manager and current Indians manager Terry), Sam McDowell (briefly a Yankee toward the end of his career), Luis Tiant (better known as a Red Sock but also a Yankee toward the end), Johnny Romano, Sonny Siebert and Leon Wagner.
From the 1970s: Buddy Bell, Dennis Eckersley (Cooperstown, though not for what he did in Cleveland), Ray Fosse, Rick Manning, Toby Harrah, George Hendrick, Duane Kuiper, Gaylord Perry (Cooperstown), Frank Robinson (with 1975-77 Indians became baseball’s first black manager, although he’s in Cooperstown for what he did before that), Andre Thornton and Rick Waits (who had this nasty habit of beating the Yankees, including in the 1978 regular-season finale to force the Bucky Dent Playoff).
From the 1980s: Len Barker (pitched a perfect game in 1981), Bert Blyleven (Cooperstown, but not for what he did with the Indians), Tom Candiotti, Joe Carter, Joe Charboneau, Mike Hargrove (managed them to their 1995 and ’97 Pennants), Brook Jacoby, Doug Jones and Pat Tabler.
From the 1995 and 1997 Pennant winners: Hargrove, Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga (who they sent to the Mets in exchange for Jeff Kent, dumb Met trade), Albert Belle, Julio Franco (starred for the Tribe in 1980s but returned to them for 1997 Pennant, closed his career with the Mets), Kenny Lofton, Jose Mesa, Charles Nagy, Orel Hershiser, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez (not only was he an Indian, but shaved his head instead of wearing dreadlocks, and as far as we know he was clean then), Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.
Since 1997: Roberto Alomar (Cooperstown) and Travis Fryman.
Stuff. Team stores are located throughout the ballpark. However, if you’re looking for Native American-themed items, you won’t find any aside from things with the “Chief Wahoo” head logo on them. The Indians are sensitive about that sort of thing, including frequently wearing caps with a block C on them instead of the Chief's head… but not so sensitive as to change the name of the team.
The 1920 World Series was before the age of official World Series highlight films, but the 1948 highlight film is available on DVD. However, there is, as yet no DVD of The Essential Games of the Cleveland Indians.
The best books about the Indians are a series by Terry Pluto, the great columnist of The Plain Dealer: The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a 33-Year Slump, about the fall from regular contention from 1940 up to the trade of Colavito for Harvey Kuenn 20 years later, and hadn't even been in a Pennant race through the book's 1994 publication; Burying the Curse, about the Jacobs-led recovery, the new ballpark, the return to contention and the 1995 Pennant; and Our Tribe, an overall history of the team that dovetailed with the life of Pluto's father Tom, born in the World Series year of 1920 and died in 1998, just after their most recent World Series appearance; Pluto himself remarked that he was born in 1955, just in time to miss the last Pennant the team would win for over 40 years. Our Tribe is, I believe, truly one of the best books ever written about a baseball team. Its chapter comparing the less-than-intellectual Cleveland hitters Shoeless Joe and Manny is fascinating, and shows that "Manny Being Manny" started well before Ramirez arrived in Cleveland, let alone in Boston.
During the Game. Cleveland fans really hate the Yankees. Which is understandable, as the Yankees ruined many a Pennant race for them: 1921, 1923, 1926, 1940 (even though the Yanks didn’t win that one, either), 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1957. Too long ago, you say? Well, the Yankees also ruined the Indians’ bid for a Pennant in 1998, and also won Pennants that Indian fans felt their team should have won in 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2001. That the Indians beat the Yanks in Division Series play in 1997 and 2007 seems only to have fed their contempt for us. As city native Drew Carey put it when they finally broke their 41-year Pennant drought in 1995, “Finally, it’s your team that sucks!”
So don’t tell the classic "Cleveland Jokes." You know, the ones about the city going broke in 1969 (besides, New York came pretty close to going broke in 1975) and Lake Erie catching fire the same year (actually, it was the Cuyahoga River, not the Lake). Or the one told by 1970 outfielder Richie Scheinblum: "We should change our name to the Cleveland Utility Company. All we have are utility players." Or the one told by the late umpire Ron Luciano: "I loved umpiring Indian games, because they were usually out of the race by Memorial Day and I knew my calls wouldn’t affect the Pennant race." Or the one told by ex-Indian Graig Nettles on a Yankee flight into Hopkins: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land in Cleveland. Please set your watches back 42 minutes." Or Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff's line: "They made me feel at home in Cleveland. So I had to escape again."
And you definitely do not want to remind Indians fans that George Steinbrenner was from Cleveland. However, it’s not as bad as it would be if you were wearing Pittsburgh Steelers or Cincinnati Bengals gear to a Browns game: Chances are, no one will try to pick a fight with you. But, aside from Red Sox and Met fans, Indian fans may hate the Yankees more than anyone else.
The mascot is Slider, a big pink thing that doesn’t seem to be any animal in particular. During the 1995 Playoffs, the man in the Slider suit performed a stunt, and injured an ankle. The Indians played the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS, and for the first time ever, both mascots were injured, as the Mariner Moose had broken an ankle during a stunt a few weeks earlier.
The Indians also have an unofficial mascot, John Adams. The native of nearby Parma was a drummer in his high school band, is a longtime employee of AT&T, and teaches at Cleveland State University. Starting in 1973, he sat in the bleachers at Municipal Stadium, 513 feet from home plate -- he had it measured -- and pounded away on a 26-inch-wide bass drum while the Indians batted, and during the 9th inning when the Indians were getting close to victory. He said Indians fans used to bang on their seats during rallies, but since he was in the bleachers, where there were no seats, just wooden planks, he needed something else to bang on. It was publicized by Bob Sudyk, the famed reporter for the now-defunct Cleveland Press. Herb Score nicknamed him "Chief Boom-Boom."
Since then, he claims to have missed only 37 home games in 40 years -- mainly midweek afternoon games when the phone company wouldn't give him the day off -- and made the move from the last row of the bleachers at Municipal Stadium to the last row under the scoreboard at Jacobs/Progressive Field. He claims he goes through 3 sets of mallets a year, and occasionally has to replace the skins on his drum, but that he's still using the same drum from the beginning.
He was invited to throw out the first pitch for a Playoff game against the Yankees in 2007, and when he drummed for his 3,000th game (though not consecutive) in 2011, the Indians set up a first-pitch ceremony with another of their club's characters, 1980 American League Rookie of the Year and noted wacko Joe Charboneau: "Super Joe" threw the pitch, and Adams hit it with his drum.
At the old Stadium, his drumming was especially noticeable when there was a small crowd in the huge old stadium, and it used to particularly bother Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski, who complained about it to the media. "Ever since then," Adams said, "I play a little louder when the Red Sox are in town." In spite of the big crowds the Indians got in the Hargrove years, he could still be heard over the noise.
Since 2007, the Indians have had a takeoff on the Milwaukee Brewers' Sausage Race, the Sugardale Hot Dog Derby. At the end of the 5th inning, a race is held between hot dogs with the following toppings: Mustard, listed as "the all-American boy of the group" on the Indians' website; Ketchup, wearing nerd glasses in "honor" of the Charlie Sheen character in the Indians-themed Major League films, and like Sheen will cheat in order to be "Duh, winning"; and Onion, a female character who is described as a diva, and supposedly has a crush on Mustard, which irritates Ketchup. Nevertheless, last year, Ketchup won 29 races, Mustard 28, Onion 24. (Sometimes Slider attempts to influence the outcome of the race.)
The Indians do not have a regular song to play in the 7th inning stretch after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." But after a win, they play The Presidents of the United States of America’s version of Ian Hunter’s “Cleveland Rocks” – the version you may remember as the theme to The Drew Carey Show. (Although the 1st season of that show had Drew himself singing "Moon Over Parma" and the 2nd season had the Vogues' 1966 hit "Five O'Clock World" -- which probably had to be dropped since you don't want to be a Cleveland guy with a Pittsburgh group's song.)
The Indians may shoot off fireworks after a night game. These have a particularly loud echo through the skyscrapers of downtown Cleveland. Be warned.
After the Game. Cleveland has some rough areas, but you should be safe downtown. There are a number of places you could go after the game, with names like the Greenhouse (2038 East 4th Street at Prospect Avenue) and the Winking Lizard (811 Huron Road East at Prospect). A House of Blues is at 308 Euclid Avenue, 5 blocks from the park.
I couldn’t find a reference to any bar in the Cleveland area that specifically caters to New Yorkers, and references to Giants or Jets fan clubs, unlike in some cities (where they’re more likely to tolerate NY football fans than baseball fans), came up empty.
Sidelights. Cleveland has a losing reputation. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, the Browns haven’t won an NFL Championship sine 1964 (Super Bowl –II, if you prefer), and the Cavaliers have played since 1970 and have played in just 4 NBA Finals games and won a grand total of none of them. But Cleveland is still a great sports city.
As I said, Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavs, is next-door to Progressive Field. he Browns's new stadium, now named First Energy Stadium, stands at on the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway at West 3rd Street, across from Lakefront Station to the south. To the east are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Science Center – good museums, but expensive.
Formerly named simply Cleveland Browns Stadium, the new stadium was built on the site of Municipal Stadium, which was the Indians’ part-time home from 1932 to 1946, and their full-time home from 1947 to 1993. The NFL’s Rams played there from 1936 to 1945, winning the 1945 NFL Championship Game there, but moved to Los Angeles due to lousy attendance. The Browns, founded with the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and moving into the NFL in 1950, played there until 1995, before being moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens and being reborn in 1999. The U.S. soccer team has played 2 games there, a win over Venezuela in 2006 and a draw to Belgium in 2013.
The Browns won the AAFC Championship in all 4 seasons of that league’s existence, then won NFL Championships in 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964. In fact, the Indians played in a league championship game every season they played, from their 1946 debut until 1955. The 1950 NFL Championship Game, won by a Lou Groza field goal in the last 30 seconds of a chilly Christmas Eve encounter over, ironically, the Rams, is regarded as one of the greatest games in pro football history, although the Rams got revenge in the 1951 title game in Los Angeles. The Browns lost the 1952 Title Game at home to the Detroit Lions, lost to the Lions in Detroit in 1953, beat the Lions at home in 1954, and beat the Rams in Los Angeles in 1955. A new generation of Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship Game at home against the Baltimore Colts – though it’s hard to argue that Baltimore taking the Browns in 1995 was revenge.
Still, that ’64 Title remains the city’s last World Championship. No city with at least 3 major league sports teams has waited longer. Most Clevelanders who watch college football are Ohio State University fans, even though Ohio Stadium is 145 miles away in Columbus, which is further from Browns Stadium than the Steelers' Heinz Field, 135 miles. Still, while O-State has won many Big Ten titles and some National Championships over the years, including since 1964, they are a team for the entire State, not Cleveland-specific, and have played very few home-away-from-home games in Cleveland. And Cleveland State only restarted their football program in 2010. So while Cleveland is a great pro football city and a great high school football city, it is not a good college football city.
Municipal Stadium hosted a Beatles concert on August 14, 1966. The Beatles also played Cleveland's Public Auditorium on September 15, 1964. That building, which opened in 1922, not only still stands, it now hosts the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Elvis Presley sang there on November 6, 1971 and June 21, 1974. It also hosted the Republican Conventions of 1924 (nominating Calvin Coolidge) and 1936 (Alf Landon). 500 Lakeside Avenue East, a 6-block walk from Public Square and across from City Hall.
There were 2 different ballparks known as League Park, constructed at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue on the city’s East Side. The first was built in 1891, and was the home of the National League’s Cleveland Spiders until 1899 and the American League team that became the Indians from 1901 to 1909. A second park built there in 1910 was the Indians’ home until 1946.
Unlike most parks of the pre-World War I era (or even before the 1960s), something remains of this park: The ticket office that stood in the right-field corner still stands. And there is a baseball field, a public park, on the site today, although it is currently undergoing renovations. However, this is a poverty-stricken neighborhood – it has never really recovered from a race riot in 1966 – so do not visit at night. The Number 3 bus will take you up Superior Avenue to 66th, and it’s a 6-block walk; a bus called “The HealthLine,” which can be picked up on Euclid Avenue across from the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at Public Square, will take you up Euclid Avenue to 66th, and it’s a 7-block walk.
There is a Baseball Heritage Museum, inside the 5th Street Arcades shopping center at 530 Euclid Avenue. It began as a private collection of Negro League memorabilia, and it grew to include stuff from the Indians and all kinds of baseball, including amateur, industrial/semi-pro, women's and international leagues.
The Cleveland Arena was home to one of the great minor-league hockey teams, the Cleveland Barons, from 1937 to 1974, the World Hockey Association’s Cleveland Crusaders from 1972 to 1974, and the Cavaliers from their 1970 debut until 1974. It was here, on March 21, 1952, that local disc jockey Alan Freed hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball, which is often called the first rock and roll concert (which is why Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). The place held about 10,000, but about twice that tried to get into Freed’s show, launching him on a career that would take him to his pioneering job on New York’s WINS and then WABC.
Elvis sang at the Arena on November 23, 1956. (While the 1988 film Heartbreak Hotel shows him, played by David Keith, in concert at the Cleveland Arena in 1972, that film is fiction, and the website elvisconcerts.com clearly states that he gave only one concert in the State of Ohio that year, at the University of Dayton Arena.)
The Arena was demolished in 1977. The HealthLine bus will drop you off at 36th Street; but, again, this is an uneasy neighborhood, so be aware of your surroundings.
From 1974 to 1994, between the Cleveland Arena and the Gund/Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs played at The Coliseum at Richfield, a.k.a. the Richfield Coliseum. This was also the home of the minor-league Barons in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons, and the NHL version of the Barons (who had been the California Golden Seals) in the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons, before money problems forced them to be merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
On March 24, 1975, in his first fight after regaining the heavyweight title from George Foreman, Muhammad Ali fought a journeyman fighter from North Jersey, Chuck Wepner, a.k.a. the Bayonne Bleeder. Wepner actually knocked Ali down in the 9th round, and that pissed Ali off: He clobbered Wepner, but the Marine veteran refused to go down, until he had nothing left and fell to an Ali punch with 19 seconds left in the 15th and final round. Supposedly, seeing this fight on TV led Sylvester Stallone to create the character of Rocky Balboa. Wepner is still alive at age 74, and recently retired from running a liquor store in Carlstadt, Bergen County.
Like the Meadowlands Arena and the Nassau Coliseum, the Richfield Coliseum had two levels of seats and one level of concourse – and, when a full house of 20,000 showed up, this was a mess. The location was also bad, picked because it was halfway between downtown Cleveland and downtown Akron, but it didn’t exactly help people of either city. When the Cavs moved out, its days were numbered, and it was demolished in 1999. The site is now a wildlife sanctuary. 2923 W. Streetsboro Road, and don’t expect to take public transportation: The closest bus, the 77F, drops you off almost 6 miles away.
Elvis sang at the Coliseum on July 10 and 18, 1975; and on March 21 and October 23, 1976. Elvis actually gave concerts in Cleveland before becoming nationally famous. On February 26, 1955, nearly a year before “Heartbreak Hotel” hit the charts as his first national hit single, he did 2 shows at the Circle Theater, at 105th & Euclid (built 1920, demolished 1959 for the expansion of the Cleveland Clinic, hence the bus is called the "HealthLine," and this area is a bit safer). On October 19, 1955, he again played 2 shows at the venue. The next day, he did a matinee at Brooklyn High School (9200 Biddulph Road, Number 45 bus to Biddulph and walk a mile west) and an evening show at St. Michael’s Hall (Mill Road & Wallings Road, 77F bus to Wallings, walk a mile west and a couple of blocks south on Mill).
No NCAA Final Four has ever been held in the State of Ohio. Ohio State won it in 1960, and lost Finals in 1939, 1961, 1962 and 2007, but they're in the State capital of Columbus, 142 miles from Public Square, and considerably closer to Cincinnati. The most notable college in the area is Cleveland State University, whose Vikings notably reached the Sweet Sixteen as a 14th seed in 1986, upsetting Indiana and St. Joseph's of Philadelphia before David Robinson and Navy beat them by 1 point to keep them out of the Elite Eight, but that's as close as any Northern Ohio team has come to the Final Four. Their campus is headquartered on Euclid Avenue between 17th and 26th Streets.
With the demise of the Barons, minor-league hockey has been played at the Coliseum and The Q, but the closest NHL team is the Pittsburgh Penguins, 134 miles away. It's not clear how much of the fandom of the Columbus Blue Jackets, 143 miles away, comes from Cleveland, but with Cleveland being a big boost to Ohio State's fandom, I can easily imagine Clevelanders preferring a team from Ohio's capital, however much they might dislike the State government, over the team from Steeler Town.
There is a Cleveland Museum of Art, but it's way out on the East Side of the city, at 11150 East Boulevard at Wade Oval Drive, near the campus of Case Western Reserve University. It's a 15-minute walk from the Euclid-East 120th Street Station on the Red Line, or a 35-minute ride on the HealthLine bus.
Cleveland was home to a President, James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated just a few months into his Presidency. Although he died near us, at his “Summer White House” in Long Branch, New Jersey, he was born in the Cleveland suburb of Orange (now Moreland Hills, and he was the last President to be born in a log cabin), and his home, Lawnfield, stands at 8095 Mentor Avenue in Mentor, northeast of the city. It takes 4 buses to get there: The 3, the 28, the R2 and the R1, but it is possible to get there without a car or an expensive taxi.
William McKinley, elected in 1896 and 1900, was from Canton, 60 miles away, and there are some historical sites there relating to him. We Yankee Fans also know Canton as the home town of Captain Thurman Munson. But most sports fans know it as the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 2121 George Halas Drive NW, off Exit 107 on Interstate 77.
Also associated with Ohio are Presidents William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Howard Taft, but they were from the Cincinnati side; and Rutherford B. Hayes and Warren G. Harding, but they were from closer to Columbus.
If you’re a fan of The Drew Carey Show, and you remember the cast's hangout, the Warsaw Tavern, you should know that there is a real-life bar with that name, in Brooklyn (a separate city) south of downtown, on West 22nd Street at Calgary Avenue. Take the Number 35 bus.
The House from the film A Christmas Story, in which Cleveland stands in for Chicago and author Jean Shepherd’s hometown of Hammond, Indiana, is at 3159 W. 11th Street at Rowley Avenue, and was restored by a fan to its exact appearance in the movie, made in 1983 but set around 1939 or so. Take the Number 81 bus. The Higbee's store was also real, but was most likely based on Chicago's real-life Marshall Field's chain. Higbee's still stands on Public Square, and the sign visible in the movie is still there, but the store closed years ago, and is now home to the Cleveland Convention & Visitors Bureau and Horseshoe Casino Cleveland.
A visit to Cleveland can be a fun experience. These people love baseball. They don’t like the Yankees, but they love baseball, and their city should be able to show you a good time. Again, don’t mention that The Boss was a Clevelander. And, for your own sake, don’t mention the name of Art Modell.
And one more warning, from Major League: Is very bad to steal Jobu's rum.
Is very bad.