Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 20

Handout 1 - Fact Sheet

Cleveland Spiders

After the Civil War, baseball began to gain prominence as a major American sport. Rounders, based on the British game of cricket, had been played in the United States for years. Abner Doubleday, a general during the Civil War, organized and standardized the rules and popularized the game as a leisure-time activity among soldiers serving in the Union army. By the 1890s baseball had become one of the most popular spectator sports in America and organized professional leagues sprang up across the country. The professional team in Cleveland was a member of the American Association during the 1887-88 season and in 1889 joined the newly formed National League, where it remained until ousted from the league in 1900. In the 1890s the most prominent owner of the team was Frank DeHaas Robison, a streetcar tycoon who made his money in the horse-drawn trolley business. First known as the "Forest Citys," after 1889 the team came to be known as the "Spiders," allegedly because of the "skinny and spidery" build of the majority of its players.

Robison built a ball park at E. 39th and Payne Avenue, along side his trolley line. He hired Oliver "Pat" Tebeau as his manager in 1891. Tebeau was known as an advocate of "rowdy baseball." He regularly harassed umpires and opposing players, and was quoted as saying that "'a milk and water,' goody-goody player, can't ever wear a Cleveland uniform." By 1891, Robison had replaced the original ball park with a new facility at Lexington and East 66th. Known as League Park, this became the home of Cleveland baseball teams until the Stadium opened on the Lakefront in the 1930s.

In 1892 the team became a contender and was one of only two teams (the other was the Baltimore Orioles) to make money that year. With Denton "Cy" Young, George "Nig" Cuppy, John Clarkson and Charles "Chief" Zimmer on its roster in 1892, the team placed second behind the Boston Beaneaters.

In 1895 and 1896 the team finished second behind the Baltimore Orioles and played the Orioles for the Temple Cup, the most important baseball contest in the days before the advent of the World Series. In 1895 the Spiders were victorious. They won three games at home, where a barrage of potatoes and other missiles were aimed at the Orioles by spectators. They followed up their three wins in Cleveland with a loss in Baltimore amid a hail of eggs and rocks thrown in retaliation for attacks on Baltimore players at League Park. Finally however, the team emerged as champions when they won a fourth and final game, which ended with the players being chased from the field by a angry mob of fans.

In 1896, the Spiders lost the Temple Cup to the same Baltimore Orioles in four games. Fan attendance fell off in 1897 and 1898 and Robison threatened to move the team to another town. In 1898, Robison purchased another team in St. Louis and as punishment for the fans' failure to keep up attendance figures, he moved his best players, including Cy Young, to the St. Louis team. Games were played in other cities and the team was called "the Wanderers" in the press instead of the Spiders. The inept play of the team members caused fans to refer to them as the "Misfits." Bookies gave 4-1 odds in Cleveland that the team would not win 2 games in a row and they were able to accomplish that feat only once in the 1899 season. Finishing the season with a 20-134 record and a .129 winning percentage, the team was dropped from the National League in 1900.

While the later Spider teams were inept, the teams of 1895 and 1896 had two players who would become Hall of Famers and a third player who would give his nickname to the present Cleveland baseball team.

Jesse "Crab" Burkett was a left-handed outfielder who holds the record with Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb for hitting .400 or over during three seasons. He began his professional hitting prowess. Burkett played for the Spiders between 1891 and 1898. During this time he never hit below .345 and led the league 3 times in total base hits. Known as a rough and ready player, Burkett once pushed John McGraw of the Baltimore Orioles off third base and sat on him while waiting for Cy Young to throw him the ball in order to tag McGraw out. Burkett was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

Denton True "Cy" Young was a Gilmore, Ohio farm boy who became the best pitcher in Cleveland baseball history. Young was a pitcher with the Spiders between 1890 and 1898. During his career he won 511 games. Over 16 seasons with the Spiders and other teams, he won twenty or more games. He averaged 8 innings a game for 22 seasons. In 1899 Young together with other standout players from the Spiders were moved to the St. Louis team by owner Robison. In 1901 Young was one of the highest paid baseball players in the country, earning $3,000 dollars for a season. During his career he pitched 3 no-hit, no-run games as well as a perfect game in 1904. During his career he appeared in 906 games. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, Young has been immortalized in the Cy Young Award, given each year to the outstanding pitcher in the National and American League.

Louis Francis Soxalexis was a Penobscot Indian from Maine.A Spider player for only two years, Soxalexis, an outfielder batted .338 over 66 games in 1897. Troubled by alcoholism, he appeared in only 21 games in 1898 hitting .224, and by 1900 had faded into obscurity. After the demise of the Spiders, a new team was established in Cleveland after the "baseball wars" of the early 1900s. Settled firmly in the new American League, the team was named after Napoleon Lajoie, the team's star player, and were called the "Naps." When Lajoie jumped the team to play for another club, the owners conducted a contest to find a new nickname for the team. A fan suggested that the team be called the "Indians" as a tribute to the troubled Soxalexis. The fans and owners liked the name and the "Naps" became the "Indians."


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