This article was written by Joseph Wancho
“Marvelous. It is the last word in baseball parks. A great thing for baseball.” – National League President John Heydler1
John Heydler was not the only visitor who was in awe of the newly opened Cleveland Stadium. Many dignitaries were on hand as the Cleveland Indians hosted the Philadelphia Athletics in the first ever game at the new ballpark located on the shores of Lake Erie. The VIP list also included Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, American League President Will Harridge, Athletics owner Thomas Shibe, Ohio Governor George White, Cleveland Mayor Ray Miller, and Indians alumni: Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, Bill Wambsganss, Jack Graney, Elmer Flick, Charlie Jamieson, and Chief Zimmer.
The new ballpark was erected on a landfill, and the project took 370 days to complete at a cost of $3,035,245. It was christened on July 3, 1931, with a heavyweight boxing match between Max Schmeling and Young Stribling. Schmeling was awarded the victory with a 15-round TKO.
The Tribe ventured about five miles west from League Park to the new ballpark. League Park, like many ballparks in their day, was built within a neighborhood. With limited parking, the main transportation was streetcars and buses. Cleveland Stadium offered large parking lots and easier access for potential fans. The Cleveland Press estimated about 80,184 came out for the Sunday matinee. It was by far the largest crowd to see a major-league baseball game.
Governor White threw out the first pitch to Mayor Miller, as they both gave speeches along with A’s manager Connie Mack. They all spoke to the crowd via a microphone and a powerful sound system. Cleveland general manager Billy Evans served as master of ceremonies. “I am so glad to be here,” said Mack. “Once we played in New York against the Yankees before a paid crowd of 76,261 people. It was the largest baseball crowd in history. I believe Cleveland has surpassed that number.”2
Of course it was not an official opening without the presence of Tommy Connolly. The chief umpire of the American League came down from the office and onto the playing field to be present for yet another ballpark opening. Connolly had been present for the opening of Fenway Park, Comiskey Park, League Park, Yankee Stadium, and Griffith Stadium. The retired arbiter took his place down the third-base line.
After all, there was a ballgame to be played. That simple fact may have gotten lost in all of the hoopla that came with the extravaganza. As the curtain came down on the month of July, it went up on the shiny new ballpark, with the Yankees atop the American League standings. The A’s were in second place, 8 games out; while Cleveland was in third and right on the Athletics’ heels at 8½ games back.
Philadelphia was the kings of the AL, winning the pennant in the past three seasons. In 1929 the A’s bested the Chicago Cubs in the World Series and in 1930 the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals then outlasted the A’s in the rematch the following season in seven games.
The A’s had a club that could hit with anyone. Their lineup included Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mule Haas, Jimmy Dykes, and Bing Miller. Lefty Grove (14-7, 3.06 ERA) who was the starting pitcher for this game, led a capable staff that included George Earnshaw, Rube Walberg, and Roy Mahaffey. Grove had lost two games to Cleveland on consecutive days earlier in the month. He was charged with a loss on July 12 as he went the distance in a 7-6 defeat. The next day he came in to relieve Mahaffey. Grove surrendered three runs, two earned, in four innings of work in a 7-5 loss in 10 innings. Both games were at Shibe Park.
The Indians may not have been as offensively prolific as the Athletics, but they could score. Willie Kamm at third base and Johnny Burnett at shortstop were a formidable pair on the left side of Cleveland’s infield. The outfield of Joe Vosmik, Earl Averill, and Dick Porter were a solid trio of batsman. Mel Harder (11-8, 4.15 ERA) was the starting pitcher for the Indians. Harder was on a five-game win streak, and like Grove had solid mound mates including Wes Ferrell and Willis Hudlin.
The leadoff hitter for the Athletics was Max Bishop. The left-handed-hitting second baseman singled to center field for the first hit. After Haas struck out, Cochrane walked. But Harder whiffed Simmons and Foxx flied out to snuff out any threat.
Harder and Grove kept the bats quiet, and the teams scoreless, throughout the game. Cleveland’s best chance to break the deadlock came in the bottom of the seventh inning. Averill led off with a single to right field, and Vosmik followed with a bunt single to put runners on first and second. Grove made the defensive play of the day when Ed Morgan also laid down a bunt, but this time Grove made the play, throwing to third to nip Averill by an eyelash. The Cleveland Press reported that if the pitcher were a right-hander, he would have had to turn his body to make the play. But the southpaw Grove had little trouble firing the throw to the third baseman. The rally ended when Luke Sewell went down on strikes and Bill Cissell grounded out to Grove.
In the top of the eighth, Harder got two quick strikes on Bishop. But the diminutive second baseman battled Harder and worked him for a walk. Bishop advanced to second base on a bunt by Haas and scored on a single by Cochrane.
The Athletics led, 1-0, and that was how the game ended, with Grove shutting out the Indians. He struck out six, walked two and scattered four hits in nine innings of work to raise his record to 15-7. Harder was the hard-luck loser. He went eight innings before giving way to Oral Hildebrand. Harder struck out seven and walked two over eight innings.
“What a wonderful crowd,” said Mack. “What a fine spirit prevails over the fans. The fact that our team played the first game in such a stadium before such a crowd is a great compliment. Baseball has certainly changed.”3
At season’s end, the A’s hold on the rest of the AL had been broken. The Yankees (107-47) once again claimed the top spot, as the A’s finished in second place with a 94-60 record. Cleveland ended its season with an 87-65-1 mark, good for fourth place.
Because of falling attendance, the Indians returned to League Park. Owner Alva Bradley moved Sunday doubleheaders, and specific games that were thought to bring in large crowds, to the stadium. When Bill Veeck bought the Indians, he moved the entire home schedule to Cleveland Stadium beginning in 1947.
The Indians closed the chapter on Cleveland Stadium just as they began it. They were shut out by the Chicago White Sox, 4-0, on October 3, 1993.
The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com for box scores/play-by-play information, and other data, as well as Retrosheet.
1 Al Silverman, “Landis Lauds Stadium as Perfect for Baseball,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 1, 1932: 17.
2 Franklin Lewis, “Connie Mack Marvels at Crowd’s Spirit, Cleveland Press, August 1, 1932: 18.