Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, Inc. History

Address:
Jacobs Field
2401 Ontario Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
U.S.A.

Telephone: (216) 420-4200
Fax: (216) 420-4430

Website:
Private company
Employees: 1,897 (1998)
Sales: $151.7 million (1998)
NAIC: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs

Company Perspectives:

The Cleveland Indians Baseball organization is committed to fielding a championship ball club. Produced in world class facility Jacobs Field, which offers an environment of exceptional service, value and safety, the Cleveland Indians organization engages our community and provides a highly satisfying return for their loyalty and investment. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

1901:
Cleveland begins play in the American League.
1915:
Team becomes known as the Indians.
1920:
Indians win first World Series.
1946:
Franchise sold to Bill Veeck, Jr.
1948:
Indians win second World Series.
1986:
Indians sold to Richard Jacobs.
1994:
Jacobs Field opens for play.
2000:
Indians sold to Lawrence J. Dolan.

Company History:

An original member of the American League, the Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, Inc. is one of baseball's most enduring teams. Since moving into a new stadium, Jacobs Field, in 1994, the Indians have become one the most successful teams in baseball, and boast a record for consecutive regular-season sellouts. By the beginning of the new century the value of the franchise is second only to the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball.

Origins

Cleveland has had a big league baseball team since 1871. The Forest Citys played in the National Association from 1871 to 1875, when the National League was formed. Cleveland began play in the National League in 1879, becoming known as the Spiders in 1889. Cleveland became home to what many consider the worst ball club in the history of the game. The 1899 Spiders had the misfortune of being owned by Frank DeHaas Robison, who, after purchasing the St. Louis Browns, out of spite transferred the best Spiders to his new team. Cleveland won only 20 games, losing 134. Attendance was so sparse that after July most Spider games were played on the road. The team disbanded at the end of the season.

A New Century, A New League

The Western League, a minor circuit eager to challenge the Nationals, changed its name to the American League in 1900, and looked to expand to larger cities for its first season in 1901. Cleveland was a perfect fit, and a franchise was sold to a group of local investors. A coal baron named Charley Somers became the official owner of the new team. Known briefly as the Blues, then the Bronchos, the team then became known as the Naps, named after their star player Napolean Lajoie. When Somers' finances soured, Lajoie was traded away after the 1914 season, and a new name for the team was needed.

According to popular legend the Cleveland franchise became known as the Indians in honor of a Native American named Louis Sockalexis who had played briefly for the old Spiders in the 1890s. This explanation, however, is more likely to be a justification after the fact than reality. The Cleveland newspapers fielded fan suggestions that included Foresters, Some Runners, Tornadoes, Commodores, Rangers, Sixers, Speeders, and Harmonics, but Indians was not among the published nicknames. The talk of baseball that year was the miracle Boston Braves. When the sportswriters settled on the Cleveland Indians as the team's new name, it was more likely an allusion to the Boston ball club's use of the nickname Braves than to Sockalexis who played only 94 games in the city. Newspapers were reporting the team's new 'temporary' name well before the first mention of a connection to Sockalexis. Then it was recalled that the team had been referred to briefly as the Indians when Sockalexis had made an initial splash with the team. Unfortunately, Sockalexis was more troubled than talented, appearing only in twenty-one and seven games his last two seasons in baseball. After years of hard drinking, he died of a heart attack at the age of 41. Despite Sockalexis's personal troubles, the belief that the Indians were named in tribute to him is deeply held by the ball club and many of its fans. What is not in doubt is that the temporary nickname proved enduring.

In 1916 when Somers was in danger of losing the Indians to the bank, American League President Ban Johnson and a few of Somers' friends met at a Chicago bar to discuss the situation. For no apparent reason, Johnson decided that Sunny Jim Dunn should become the next owner, despite the fact that Dunn could only come up with $15,000. His partner in an Iowa construction business, Paddy McCarthy, thought he could add another $15,000. The bartender offered to kick in $10,000, and he, too, joined the growing consortium. Numerous other investors were solicited until Dunn had $500,000 to purchase the Cleveland team and bail out Somers.

Team Successes and Failures

The Cleveland Indians would know both tragedy and triumph in 1920. On August 17, star shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the left temple by a pitch, and died twelve hours later without regaining consciousness. He is the only major league baseball player to die from an accident on the field. The team rebounded, however, and won the American League pennant, edging out the Chicago White Sox, who were forced to finish the 1920 season without eight of their best players following a gambling scandal that tainted the 1919 World Series. The Indians then defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series to win the team's first championship.

With the emergence of the New York Yankees in the 1920s, the Indians rarely challenged first place for the next generation. Businessman and president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Alva Bradley became the front man for a group of investors that bought the team in 1928. He is reported to have said, 'I'm the perfect man to own the Indians--I know nothing about baseball!' He was certainly true to his word. He alienated fans by banning radio broadcasts in 1933. He changed managers so often that Cleveland became known as 'the Graveyard of Managers.' Only once under Bradley's ownership, in 1940, did the Indians seriously threaten to win the American League. The team lost the championship to Detroit by one game.

Even the construction of a new ballpark didn't help the franchise. After playing its entire history in League Park, which had been built for the Spiders in 1891, the Indians moved into cavernous Cleveland Stadium on July 31, 1932. With 76,000 seats it was easily the largest baseball facility in the country. After drawing 80,000 for its opening game, the Indians saw attendance drop dramatically. Playing the entire 1933 season in the Stadium, the Indians averaged less than 6,000 fans a game. The following year, to save money, the team returned to League Park for all but Sunday games and holidays.

Following the 1941 season, the Indians were once again in need of a new manager. The youngest member of the team, 24-year-old shortstop Lou Boudreau, wrote to Bradley to express his interest in the job. With nothing to lose, Bradley invited the player to meet the board of directors. Boudreau, a University of Illinois Physical Education graduate with future plans for coaching, spoke to Bradley and his backers. Only one, George Martin, chairman of the board of Sherwin-Williams paints, voted for Boudreau. He liked the young man's confidence and good looks, and argued that the move would spark debate and possibly ticket sales. The board voted again, but this time with a unanimous result. Boudreau was hired as the new player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, much to the surprise of everyone in baseball, not the least of whom were his teammates.

The 'Boy Manager' took over the team in 1942 and wasted no time in showing that he had a lot to learn. International events, however, worked in his favor. America was plunged into World War II, and baseball teams had to scramble to find able-bodied players. Boudreau was exempt from the draft because of arthritic ankles. He was one of the stars of the American League and popular with fans, so there was no thought to replace him as manager, despite less than stellar results. Only twice did the Indians post winning records under Boudreau from 1942 to 1946.

Post-World War II Becomes a Golden Era for Indians

Another change in ownership after the war precipitated a golden era for the Cleveland Indians. On June 21, 1946 the club was sold for $1.6 million to Bill Veeck, Jr., as part of a ten-member syndicate. The son of a baseball executive, Veeck was a self-described hustler eager to run a baseball team in his own way, after years of working for the conservative ownership of the Chicago Cubs. He circulated with the fans to learn what they wanted; he had the public address system fixed; he promised to put Indians' games on the radio, even if he had to give away the rights; he had the women's rest rooms cleaned every two innings; he even allowed fans to keep baseballs that were hit into the stands, an act of generosity foreign to the previous ownership. Veeck ran his team in a manner that was not only ahead of its time, but peculiar to his personality. He might present an orchestra to entertain the fans before the game, or fireworks and circus acts after the game. He gave away nylons or orchids on Ladies Day. He brought in flagpole sitters. He gave away livestock. He gave away used cars. He answered his own phone and took any call that came through to his office. He stood at the turnstiles and shook countless hands. And the fans loved him. The Indians topped one million in attendance for the first time in 1946. The following season, now playing exclusively at the Stadium, they drew more than 1.5 million, second in the American League, despite finishing a distant fourth in the standings.

Veeck would do anything to improve his team or draw a crowd, even if it was controversial. Only 11 weeks after African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier with the National League Dodgers, Veeck signed 23-year-old Larry Dolby. Robinson, who was 28, had been prepared for Brooklyn by playing a year with the Dodgers' minor league team in Montreal, as well as going through spring training in 1947; but two days after signing, Dolby was playing for the Indians. Although the move was lauded in most quarters, signing Dolby was hardly without controversy. Teammates were distant, a situation not helped when Dolby was unable to eat or room with the team on the road. Opposing players and fans were not above hurling racial epithets. Even umpires were hostile. The best that could be said for Dolby's first year with the Indians, in which he batted only 32 times, was that he endured it.

Veeck had no doubts about keeping Dolby, who he felt certain would become a star player. Who he didn't care for was his young player-manager. But when word leaked to the press that Veeck was trying to trade Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns, he was smart enough to embrace the ensuing controversy. Even though the deal had fallen through, he milked it for every drop of publicity before announcing at a press conference, 'Since the people are against trading Lou Boudreau, then I shout fervently that he will not be traded.'

In 1948 Boudreau was motivated to produce his best season. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League as he led the Indians to their first World Series title in 28 years. It was a magical year for the team, as it drew more than 2.6 million fans, a Cleveland record that would not be broken until 1995. Although the Indians would remain one of the top teams in the American League for the next several seasons, 1948 would prove to be the pinnacle of achievement for the Cleveland Indians in the twentieth century.

After the 1949 season Veeck was sued for divorce by his wife and was forced to sell the team to pay for the settlement. Over the next 35 years the Indians would undergo numerous changes in ownership. The team enjoyed a stellar regular season in 1954, winning an American League record 111 games, only to lose to the Giants in the World Series. The Indians would field several competitive teams after that, but would be relegated for long stretches to the bottom half of the American League standings. Attendance in the decaying Stadium never approached the levels that Cleveland had reached under Veeck's leadership. Financially strapped, the Indians were poorly positioned to operate in the costly new era of free agent players that began in the 1970s. Over the years, rumors circulated that the team would be relocated to Seattle, Atlanta, New Orleans, and other cities. During these years, the Indians could boast of one achievement, at least: in 1974 it became the first major league team to hire an African-American manager, Frank Robinson.

A New Beginning in 1986

In 1986 the Indians were sold to real estate developer Richard Jacobs for $35 million. Although improvement on the field was not realized immediately, the new management team invested heavily in player development and scouting, as well as marketing. The Indians endured setbacks, such as losing a club record 105 games in 1991; but the most devastating moment since the death of Ray Chapman occurred during spring training in 1993 when a boating accident took the lives of pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin, and severely injured Bob Ojeda. The final year in Cleveland Stadium was played with a pall cast over it, although the team played well in the second half of the season.

The Indians opened Jacobs Field, a state-of-the-art facility that ushered in a new era of excellence, in 1994. The team was in contention when a players' strike ended the 1994 season, and in 1995 the Indians continued its stellar play, finishing the year with baseball's best mark. The team advanced to its first World Series since 1954, but lost to the Atlanta Braves. As the Indians began to string together five consecutive Division championships, and another World Series appearance, it set attendance records. The 1948 mark was finally broken in 1995 when 2.8 million fans attended Indians' games. The following year the team would break three million and begin a consecutive regular-season sellout streak that would stretch into the next century.

In 1998 the Indians became the first independent publicly traded Major League Baseball team when an IPO raised $60 million. The stock did not, however, perform well. It opened at $15 and soon dropped below $10. As successful as the Indians were, the club still reported a net loss in 1998 of $2.5 million. After Jacobs announced in May 1999 that he intended to sell the team, the stock rose to a level above $20.

In November 1999 the club announced that the team had been sold for $323 million to Ohio lawyer Lawrence J. Dolan. It was the largest amount ever paid for a baseball team, eclipsing the $311 million paid for the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to the Wall Street Journal the price would have been higher if the Indians played in a larger television market. Broadcast revenues for 1998 were only $19 million, compared to the Yankees' $50 million. The sale was approved in January 2000 by Major League Baseball. Shareholders of the Indians voted their approval of the deal the following month. On February 15, 2000, Dolan and family trusts assumed ownership of the team, delisted it from the NASDAQ, and took the company private once again.

Principal Competitors: Cincinnati Reds; Pittsburgh Pirates; Detroit Tigers.

Further Reading:

  • Pietruska et al., Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia, Kingston, N.Y.: Total Sports, 2000.
  • Pluto, Terry, Our Tribe, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
  • Thorn et al., Total Baseball, Kingston, N.Y.: Total Sports, 1999.
  • Walker, Sam, 'Attorney Set to Buy Cleveland Indians in $320 Million Deal,' Wall Street Journal, November 5, 1999, p. B2.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 37. St. James Press, 2001.