Cleveland Heritage Museum Provides Off-Season Baseball Balm
Bill Veeck, Indians owner during the 1948 World Series championship season, understood passionate baseball fans. “There’s two seasons,” he once said. “Winter and baseball.”
It was February 10. My son Brad and I, having had enough winter and craving some baseball, headed to the Baseball Heritage Museum, on Cleveland’s east side. The museum is part of League Park, in the park’s original ticket booth. League Park was home to the Cleveland Indians, the old Cleveland Rams of the NFL and the Cleveland Buckeyes, a 1945 Negro League championship baseball team. If you love baseball and its history, go to this museum. Memorabilia abounds.
A statue of Elmer Flick catches the eye as we entered. Flick, Bedford native and hall of famer, played for the Cleveland Naps, in the 1900s. It is said that the team rejected a Ty-Cobb-for-Elmer-Flick trade offer! An oversized bat and glove, draw attention. So do the baseball trading cards, vintage sets sponsored by Our Guy Cigars and Pharoahs Choice. “The mission of the museum,” reads the website “is to preserve and present the history of diversity in baseball by entertaining, educating, and enlightening the visiting public about the multicultural heritage of baseball and the values it represents.”
The collection illustrates that mission. Team photos of of the Cleveland Buckeyes, Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs give props to the Negro League. Other photos tell of Caribbean teams and the significant Latin American contribution to the big leagues, as do a Santurce (Puerto Rico) jersey and an Al Lopez-signed baseball. Barnstoming teams, women’s baseball, Cleveland Sandlot baseball and Jewish ball players all receive their due.
Cleveland’s sandlot baseball roots show in a photo of a mammoth baseball crowd. The poster reads “National Intra-City Championship Game, White Autos 11 - Omaha Lexus 6. Sunday, October 10, 1915. Estimated figure 115,000. Brookside Stadium” (This stadium is now Cleveland Metroparks Brookside. Controversy over actual crowd size still exists as attendance was free.) The Wenham Truckers, a dominant industrial league squad, in an era of company- sponsored teams, made headlines in Cleveland sports pages into the 1970s. Echos of those great teams and some headlines survive in this collection.
Special programming aids in the nod to women in baseball on March 24th with “You Can’t Play Ball in a Skirt!” a portrayal of Alta Weiss, who paid for medical school by playing professional baseball in the early 1900s. Actor Anne McAvoy tells this in character. An “All America Girls Baseball1943-54” sticker reminds of the league made famous by Geena Davis and Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own.”
On April 12th, meet co-author Bob Weschler, whose book “The Jewish Baseball Card” is a definitive chronicle of Jews in baseball, detailing 170 major league Jewish players 1871 through 2016. Collections efforts are on-going: witness the museum’s fund raising effort to purchase the ball Babe Ruth hit for home run # 456, 90 years ago June 7, 2018. The Babe belted 46 at League Park.
In 1997, during the MLB All-Star game week in Cleveland, museum founder Robert Zimmer planned to attract customers to his jewelry store on East 4th by displaying Negro League artifacts. Overwhelming customer reaction converted baseball history into Zimmer’s passion. He now serves as museum president.
En route to the museum, Brad & I passed Progressive Field. The count down sign said “Only 58 days until Opening Day!”
The Baseball Heritage Museum can help survive that wait.
For more info, the website is www.baseballherigagemuseum.org
Retired corporate sales & marketing guy. Longtime free-lance sports writer.