Cleveland Municipal Stadium: The mistake by the lake


Municipal Stadium in Cleveland was actually ahead of its time by being rather similar to the multi-purpose venues that became so prominent in the 1960s and 1970s: the cookie-cutter types that still leave angst among baseball fans unfortunate enough to have one plopped into their fair city.

I had the fortune, or misfortune, to attend several games at the ball yard in the early 1970s. The good thing was Municipal was a reasonable distance from downtown. A walk of about ten to fifteen minutes would get you there. The bad thing was it was on the lake and it seemed every time I attended a game, the wind was blowing in and any breeze off of Lake Erie brought in both stench and cold air.

Then there were the bugs.

I never witnessed the ritual of the bugs that would be drawn in from nearby Lake Erie by the stadium lights. Saw it on TV a few times and games would occasionally be halted until the swarm dispersed. The problem is chronic to the lakefront area, but is, as I was told, isolated to only a few weeks period.

Then there was the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night. A good idea gone really, really bad.

If bigger is truly better, Municipal Stadium was your place. The park was beyond immense. I believe it held game attendance records for years with baseball seating that approached 80,000. The interior was cavernous and rather decrepit. Renovations did take place a decade or so down the road, but I never got to experience any updating. They even installed some luxury suites.

The thing is I actually liked the place. I wish I could pinpoint the reason? Maybe it was because Ted Williams hit number 500 in Cleveland? My assumption is that some of it has to do with my formative baseball years in the 1950s.

I already had adopted the local custom here in the Boston area of having a dislike of the New York Yankees and the Indians did manage to beat them out in 1954. In fact that Indians team set a then-record with 111 wins and had, arguably, one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled.

As the decade progressed the Indians approached the same level of consistent mediocrity that my Red Sox had so heartily embraced, and, like the Red Sox, they did have some talent that appealed to this young fan.

Rocky Colavito, the rocket armed right fielder, known for home run production. Vic Wertz, a one-time polio victim, had fearsome left-handed power. Wertz played a bit for the Red Sox. I recall he almost hit two grand slams in one inning against the dreaded Yankees back when he played for Boston. Old vet Mickey Vernon who saw late career duty with both and won a pair of batting titles earlier in his career. Then came a personal favorite – Minnie Minoso, who seemed to shift between Cleveland and Chicago White Sox.

The field itself had what appeared reasonable lines for those with long ball tendencies with 320’ down the lines and 400’ to center field. Originally CF was a distant 470’ before fences were added to diminish field dimensions. I found a great site that details that info and gives some of the events that were staged at Municipal.

Municipal also had the one item that many newer fans rarely come into contact with – structural poles. Like Fenway, get a grandstand seat and get a partial obstruction.

The first two games I saw at Municipal were back to back games with the Indians squaring off against the Yankees and then the next day against Boston. In fact the Yankee game was actually the second game of a double header – I was “recovering” and missed the first contest.

The Yankee game was memorable since Mike Kilkenny pitched for Cleveland. Kilkenny was a left-handed flame thrower who once, when he pitched for Detroit, almost decapitated Carl Yastrzemski. The Indians did win in a contest that probably had ten of us left when it finished. Neither the Indians nor New York had any players that actually stood out. The next day, Monday, normally a travel day for me, was spent in Cleveland to see the Red Sox.

The Red Sox of 1972 had some talent starting to creep up. Carlton Fisk was catching, Reggie Smith – why did they ever trade him? – was holding down CF and in this game a Cleveland reject, Luis Tiant, came in to pitch a bit.

I attended a few more games at Municipal, but when my employment status changed it was no more road trips. I have been to the Cleveland area several times since then, but never returned to Municipal or to Progressive Field.

Look for Sean Sylver’s profile of Progressive Field.