This article was written by Stephanie Liscio
The first regular-season game at Jacobs Field was played on April 4, 1994. Through seven innings the Indians were down 2-0, and it looked as though the storyline would center on Randy Johnson’s dominant pitching performance. The Indians finally got to the lanky southpaw in the bottom of the eighth, when Manny Ramirez doubled to tie the game. The Indians won, 4-3, on a walk-off single by Wayne Kirby in the bottom of the 11th inning. The exciting and emotional finish seemed to signify the changes that were about to take place for the Indians. Gone were the dreary, sparsely attended games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium; the Jacobs Field era had begun.
After years of planning, the Indians were finally able to leave the less-than-optimal confines of Municipal Stadium for the brand-new Jacobs Field. Unfortunately for the Tribe, the 1994 season came to a disappointing end in August with a strike that even canceled the World Series. The Indians had looked likely for the playoffs that season, but finally ended their 40-year-plus postseason drought in 1995.
It’s no secret that the Indians were on the lookout for a new home as far back as the early 1980s. One of the early plans centered on a domed stadium for both the Indians and the Browns, paid for by tax dollars. A ballot initiative for a property-tax increase to be put toward funding the ballpark went down to a crushing defeat on May 8, 1984, by an almost 2-to-1 vote. It appeared that the citizens of Cuyahoga County had made their opinion clear, but Governor Richard Celeste refused to call it a defeat for the dome itself, just for the tax increase (likely meaning new stadium plans would continue, with other financing sources than a property-tax increase).1
Even though it was considered a relatively low-turnout election, there appeared to be a lot of interest in the potential dome. Precincts ran low on nonpartisan ballots that bore just the ballot initiatives and not the primary candidates. Extra ballots had to be flown in from their printing plant in Dayton to replenish the dwindling supply.2 The next year, architect Robert Corna proposed another covered stadium, which he called the “Hexatron.” This project never got past the rendering phase, so it didn’t even make it as far as a public vote.3 Despite all of the uncertainty on funding, the city began to acquire property to house new sports facilities in December 1985. By April of 1986, the teams had agreed on the design objectives. Demolition of the buildings on the site, now being referred to as “Gateway,” began in June of 1987.4
While the property acquisition represented a major hurdle conquered, financing the project was something that still had to be solved. This would be managed by a “sin tax” on alcohol and cigarettes, an issue that came to vote in a ballot initiative on May 8, 1990. The initiative passed, exactly six years after voters vetoed the property-tax increase. It wasn’t an overwhelming win, at 51.7 percent for and 48.3 percent against, but it meant that the money would be used toward the $344 million Gateway plan. The 15-year tax was supposed to generate $275 million, and would take effect on August 1, 1990. Voter turnout was considered high for a primary election, with a lot of interest toward the potential new stadiums. Opponents of the ballot initiative thought the money could go to better use in other areas of the city, rather than to help finance sports facilities for millionaire owners.5
Ground was broken at the Gateway property in 1992, with plans to house new facilities for both the Indians and the NBA Cavaliers. The excavation was called the “most monumental” in Cleveland since the excavation of the site of the Terminal Tower in the 1920s. The Gateway land was once home to the Central Market or the Haymarket district. Archaeologists who excavated at the site before construction began found a soggy baseball that was at least 100 years old among the broken bottles, cisterns, and false teeth that were uncovered at the site.6
The architects, Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum of Kansas City, Missouri, had a $161 million budget for Jacobs Field.7 The entire 28.5-acre project had a $360 million budget and represented the first significant construction in that area of the city in more than 20 years.8 (The dollar total was a bit higher than the original $344 million projected cost). Taxpayers would fund about half of the bill, while the rest would be covered by the private sector and the Indians and Cavs. Gateway Development Corporation planned to raise some money by selling $20 million worth of 10-year leases for luxury boxes at the ballpark. Investors could also purchase stadium revenue bonds.9
By the end of 1992, more than 1,850 pieces of structural steel were in place, and the upper deck in right field was already standing. Down the left-field line, the steel structure for the Indians’ offices were in place, and the entire framework was supposed to be finished by the end of December 1992.10 By February 1993, 60 percent of the steelwork was complete, even though the site was essentially a parking lot just over a year earlier. There was even a 25-foot-high observation deck installed where fans could come and watch the progress three days a week.11 Fans got an up-close look at the new ballpark before Opening Day, in the form of an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 2.
During the game, fans gave the ballpark high praise. One told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that it didn’t feel like Cleveland and was reminiscent of classic parks like Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium, and Fenway Park. Of the fan proximity to the field, a fan said, “We’re so close, it’s almost like you can call a player a name and he’ll run over at you.”12 Sight lines were to be much better than those of Municipal Stadium. Thomas V. Chema, executive director of the Gateway Economic Development Corp. of Cleveland, speaking of the support poles that impeded views at Municipal Stadium, said during construction, “The only Poles in this ballpark will be of the ethnic variety.”13
The praise continued after President Bill Clinton took the mound to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, against Seattle on April 4, 1994. Even despite the feeling of close proximity to the field, some said the steel and brick façade of the park gave it an aura of strength. A Plain Dealer writer, pointing out the ballpark’s connection to the city’s working-class roots, wrote, “It’s a beer-drinker’s kind of place more than a white wine-sipper’s.”14 One of the few groups that didn’t seem eager to lavish praise on the new ballpark were cigarette smokers. Since a major part of the funding came from the “sin tax,” smokers felt they should be able to smoke wherever they wanted. But smoking was banned from all of the seats, much to their displeasure.15
The Indians decided to make a fairly clean break from Municipal Stadium. They planned to leave the past in the past, and not transfer items from Municipal to the new ballpark, specifically the giant lighted Chief Wahoo. The club kept the Wahoo logo on uniforms, but the lighted Chief went to a new home at the Western Reserve Historical Society. The Indians also left a number of seats behind; Municipal seated close to 80,000, while the new ballpark seated about half that. One of the features of the new ballpark was a statue of Bob Feller, paid for by the sale of engraved bricks. Even though the building and its contents represented a break from the past, the team that played at Jacobs Field was a mix of new and old players, in terms of both youth vs. veterans, and players new to the Indians.
The Tribe had a core of young players in place, ready to take the field in 1994. Players Sandy Alomar Jr., Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, and Charlie Nagy were complemented by veterans like Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez. The Plain Dealer noted in a 1993 article that teams entering new ballparks typically enjoyed success after their move. Eleven ballparks had opened around baseball since 1960, and 9 of the 11 teams improved during their first year in the new park. Three teams even won their division in their park’s inaugural season — the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970 with Three Rivers Stadium, the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 with Riverfront Stadium, and the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 with SkyDome. Three teams won the pennant or a World Series within the first two years of its new park’s existence during– the San Francisco Giants won the pennant in 1962 (Candlestick Park opened in 1960); the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in 1963 (Dodger Stadium opened in 1962); and the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 1967 (Busch Stadium opened in 1966).16 The Indians were hoping the enthusiasm engendered by the new ballpark, coupled with their blossoming young players and experienced vets, would amount to a winning equation.
And boy, did it work. The Indians had a 66-47 record, in second place in the AL Central, at the time of the strike in 1994. By 1995 they dominated the division with a record of 100-44, and finished 30 games ahead of second-place Kansas City. They had the division locked up by September 8, and eventually won the pennant, only to be defeated in the World Series by the Atlanta Braves in six games. The Indians added several more veterans before the 1995 season — Tony Pena, Dave Winfield, and Orel Hershiser — and saw many of their young hitters enjoy an incredible year offensively. Albert Belle finished the season with a 1.091 OPS and 50 home runs; Jim Thome a .996 OPS and 25 home runs; Manny Ramirez a .960 OPS and 31 home runs; Sandy Alomar a .810 OPS; and Carlos Baerga an .807 OPS. All of them, as well as Kenny Lofton, hit better at Jacobs Field than on the road.
The Indians’ success continued throughout the 1990s. In 1996 they again made the playoffs, but lost in the Division Series to the Baltimore Orioles. The 1997 Indians, despite winning just 86 games during the regular season, came heartbreakingly close to winning it all — they lost in the 11th inning of Game Seven to the Florida Marlins. In 1998 the Tribe lost to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and in 1999 they lost the Division Series to the Boston Red Sox. The end of the 1999 season represented the end of an era — Dick Jacobs, owner of the Indians since 1986, sold the team to Larry Dolan for a record (at the time) $320 million. The Indians narrowly missed the playoffs in 2000, but returned in 2001 and lost in the Division Series to the Seattle Mariners. From June 12, 1995, until April 4, 2001, the Indians enjoyed a 455-game sellout streak as fans embraced the first winning baseball they’d seen in the city for more than 40 years. After the 2001 season, the Tribe started a rebuilding phase that all but ended an era.
By the time the Indians returned to the postseason in 2007, the roster looked quite different from those ’90s era teams. However, the Indians got a bit of that old Jacobs Field magic on October 5, 2007, in Game Two of the ALDS against the New York Yankees. The Indians were down 1-0 going into the eighth inning, shut down for most of the game by starter Andy Pettitte. Joba Chamberlain, the young reliever who recorded the final two outs in the seventh inning, was about to start the eighth against Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore. Joining the Indians and Yankees on the field were thousands of tiny bugs called midges; and no matter what Chamberlain seemed to do, he couldn’t escape the swarming insects. Flustered, he walked Sizemore on four pitches. His first pitch to Asdrubal Cabrera was wild, and Sizemore advanced to second base. Cabrera sacrificed Sizemore to third, and Chamberlain got Travis Hafner to line out for the second out. Was it possible that he could escape from this jam unscathed? Unfortunately for him and the Yankees, his first pitch to Victor Martinez was wild, allowing Sizemore to score the tying run. The Indians won the game in the 11th on a walk-off single by Hafner off Yankees reliever Luis Vizcaino.
Despite going up three games to one on the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, the Indians ended up losing the series in seven games. The offseason would lead to more changes for Jacobs Field, (and soon the Indians in general). In January 2008, Progressive Insurance bought the naming rights to the ballpark for about $3.6 million per year for 16 years. It was disappointing for fans who had grown to love the name Jacobs Field, and who associated the team’s renaissance with the construction of the ballpark. (The original Jacobs Field name had ended up being an almost last-minute deal. Less than two months from Opening Day in 1994, Jacobs purchased the naming rights for $10 million. It had just been referred to mostly as “Indians Ballpark” before that, and several local corporations had some level of interest in putting their name on the park. At one point in 1993, some fans started a drive to name the field after Ray Chapman, the Indians infielder killed by a pitch in 1920.17 In the end, the building took the name of the man who had helped to shape those 1990s teams and pushed for a new baseball facility in Cleveland.)
The Indians extensively renovated the park between the 2014 and 2016 seasons. The first major overhaul of the ballpark, it lowered the seating capacity from just over 40,000 to around 35,000. During the first phase of renovations, the Indians added a number of new food concession places and areas in which children could play, and opened up the Gate C entry to better views of the city. The home and visitors bullpens were moved together, one tiered above the other, while a portion of upper deck seating was removed and replaced with standing room areas. In the right field corner, the Indians opened a two story bar entitled “The Corner” that includes rows of standing rails in front of it, replacing seating. In 2014 a statue of future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome was added outside of Gate C at the ballpark, joining the statue of Bob Feller. A statue of Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League, was dedicated during the summer of 2015. A statue of Lou Boudreau joined those three in 2017, while a statue of Frank Robinson, the first African American manager, was added to Heritage Park in 2017.
During the second phase of renovations, walls and seats were removed behind home plate and the third base line to open the area to the concourse. The Indians also added a bar entitled “The Homeplate Club” with exclusive access to the season ticket holders in the diamond and field box seats. With the closure of the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, some of the museum’s items were installed in the Terrace Club, and there was exhibit space added in “The Corner” bar as well. In 2016 Jacobs/Progressive Field hosted its third World Series as the Chicago Cubs broke their 108-year championship drought after a dramatic Game Seven victory in extra innings. Even though the park may look different than it did at its opening in 1994, the goal remained the same — to bring Cleveland its first World Series title since 1948. There would be no better place to celebrate one than the ballpark at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
This article appeared in “1995 Cleveland Indians: The Sleeping Giant Awakes” (SABR, 2019), edited by Joseph Wancho.
1 Gary R. Clark, “Dome Loses by 2-1 Vote; Hart Scores Ohio Upset: Proponents agree to try other plans,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 1984.
2 Jim Parker, “Dim Night for the Dome,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 1984.
3 “The biggest unbuilt projects of the last 30 years,” Crain’s Cleveland Business. crainscleveland.com/article/20100301/30THANNIVERSARY/100229858. Accessed January 8, 2015.
4 Indians 2009 media guide. cleveland.indians.mlb.com/cle/downloads/y2009/progressive_field.pdf.
5 Catherine L. Kissling, “Gateway Project Takes First Big Step,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 1990.
6 Elizabeth Sullivan, “20 Feet Down to History,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 3, 1992.
7 Steven Litt, “Analysis: Gateway Architects Mindful of Budget in Ballpark Planning,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 24, 1992.
8 Kevin Harter, “Gateway to Boost City, Chema Says,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 25, 1992.
9 James M. Biggar, “Gateway: The Bigger Picture,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 10, 1992.
10 Paul Hoynes, “Right-Field Stands Already in Place at Gateway,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 1, 1992.
11 Steven Litt, “From the Upper Deck at Gateway Construction a Riveting Panorama,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 21, 1993.
12 James F. McCarty, “Dress Rehearsal a Hit With Cleveland Fans,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 3, 1994.
13 Harter, “Gateway to Boost City.”
14 Joe Dirck, “New Ballpark’s Best Game in Town,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 5, 1994.
15 A number of articles and letters to the editor in the Plain Dealer discussed fans’ annoyance with any potential smoking bans or limitations. For examples, see Catherine L. Kissling, “Gateway Smokers May Get the Gate,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 18, 1993; Joe Dirck, “Geez! Here’s Response to Touchy Issues,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 31, 1993; and Bruce Hooley, “Smokers are Getting Blown out of Stadiums,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 29, 1993.
16 Rich Exner, “New Parks Usually Bring Winning Baseball Teams,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 3, 1993.
17 “Fans Speak Out for New Park to be Named Chapman Field,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 21, 1993.