Thursday, March 05, 2009

Baseball Place No. 23: League Park; and Place No. 23A) Ray Chapman memorial, Progressive Field

I used to end up driving through some really bad neighborhoods.

But that was before I had Mandy, the magic voice inside my TomTom, to get me where I’m supposed to go without accidental detours.

That also explains why I didn’t accidentally stumble into what’s left of League Park in Cleveland when my son and I explored the city last summer.

All that remains of the former Cleveland Indians’ home is a section of grandstand wall and the ticket office that has been converted into a community center. Will, who lived in the city for a while, says the 6601 Lexington Ave. site is in a really, really bad part of town.

But it’s still important. Baseball was played on the site from 1891 until 1947, home to Cy Young. Babe Ruth hit his 500th homer there, Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker picked up their 3,000th hit there, and Jo DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak was snapped in the park.

Josh Pahigian bravely takes us to site as spot No. 23 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

But while we didn’t see the park’s remains, we did find something that was one of its features.

I present: Alternative Baseball Place No. 23A) The Ray Chapman plaque in Heritage Park, Progressive Field.

Chapman, of course, is the only major-leaguer ever killed by an injury sustained in a game. He was struck in the head by Yankee pitcher Carl Mays at the Polo Grounds in 1920.

A 175-pound brass memorial was soon hung at League Park. It features an image of Chapman over an infield and the inscription “He Lives In The Hearts Of All Who Knew Him.”

The plaque moved with the Indians to Cleveland Stadium, and for unknown reasons was taken down at some point put in a storage room under an escalator, according to a USA Today article.

It was discovered when the team moved to Jacobs Field, then, according to the story, was forgotten.

The Chapman memorial was discovered again in February 2007 by workers cleaning out a storage room, discolored with its writing unreadable.

The team had the memorial refurbished and became the centerpiece of Heritage Park, an exhibit of Indians history that opened in centerfield later that year.
It’s an impressive exhibit, with plaques honoring Indian greats, and ex-Mets like Carlos Baerga.

We later went to Lakefront Cemetery, where Chapman is buried. We didn’t find his resting place, but we did tour President James Garfield’s impressive tomb and stumble upon the graves of John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness.
Now, I know you’re thinking that I forgot Place No. 22. Not so! I’m planning something special, and it is taking some more time. So we just rearranged things a little.

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