Where to begin? I have so many memories of Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, the grand old gray lady, I couldn’t possibly know where to start, but the beginning always seems to be the best spot.
The vision of Cleveland’s city manager at the time, William Hopkins, then-Indians president Ernest Barnard, a future team president in Alva Bradley and the Van Sweringen brothers, Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium was dedicated on July 1st, 1931, carrying with it various cost overruns of roughly $500,000, a pretty substantial amount at the time.
The first actual event held at the stadium was on July 3rd, 1931, a heavyweight boxing title fight between Max Schmeling and Young Stribling, won by Schmeling in the 15th round by technical knockout.
A common misconception is that the impetus for bringing the stadium to life was to attract the 1932 Olympic Games. Those Games were awarded to Los Angeles long before construction began on the voter approved project.
Throughout most of its existence, the multi-purpose facility was the largest capacity stadium for baseball, with 78,000 available seats, shrinking just a bit to around 74,000 in its final years, while its 80,000-seat capacity ranked it as one of football’s highest as well.
The first baseball game was played at the stadium on July 31st of 1931, which disappointed a crowd of 80,184 as the Tribe lost to the Philadelphia Athletics and Lefty Grove 1-0. The then-Indians continued to bounce back and forth from League Park and Municipal Stadium from 1931 to 1946, which became necessary with the introduction of night baseball and League Park having no lighting available.
One thing that still bothers me to this day is when the stadium is referred to as “The Mistake on the Lake." Sure, it had its challenges, from partially obscured sightlines and the midges brought from the lake by the lighting on sweltering summer evenings, but it also had its share of indelible memories, good and bad from both football and baseball, that people still fondly reminisce about to this day.
We’re not going to talk about the bad; no, we’re going to share some of the good that you might not know about, like Ted Williams hitting his 500th career home run at the ballpark, the Beatles performing at the park in 1966, the Browns defeating the Lions 56-10 to win the 1954 NFL Championship, and hosting the first-ever Monday Night Football game September 21st, 1970 against Joe Namath and the New York Jets.
The list goes on and on, but my personal favorite memory is, without a doubt - and no, I’m not one of the 500,000 people who claim to have been at Len Barker’s perfect game on May 15th, 1981 (although I did watch it on TV) - being in attendance when Hall of Famer Frank Robinson became baseball’s first black manager on April 8th, 1975. My friends and I skipped school for the day (wwith mom’s permission of course), sat in the upper left field general admission seats and saw for ourselves Robinson hit a home run in his first at-bat as he doubled as the team’s designated hitter for the day, hitting the historic home run off the Yankee’s Doc Medich.
We’re sure you have favorite memories of your own, so our advice is the next time you and your friends are gathered around, remember that Cleveland Municipal Stadium memories are the easiest of conversation starters.