At the turn of the century, professional baseball was evolving at a rapid rate. Although leagues had come and gone, the dominant National League still provided the majority of quality baseball players in the game at the time. Chicago entrepreneur Ban Johnson sat out to come up with an equally competitive league, and in 1901 he finally formed enough investors, and the American League was born, with eight franchises across the northeastern United States.
One such franchise was in Cleveland, Ohio. Previously in 1899, wealthy pork baron Frank Robinson had bought the Cleveland Spiders franchise and had gutted it of its stars for the other team he owned, the St. Louis Browns. However, he really longed to return to Cleveland, and when he was given the opportunity to be the owner of the new Cleveland team, he jumped at the chance. Before the age of the official (and highly marketed) nickname, the team's bright blue socks and pinstripes earned them the moniker the Cleveland Blues. The team played one season before abandoning that bland title, and it was hardly a season to remember.
Robinson rehired many former players from his old St. Louis and Cleveland teams, including skipper Jimmy McAleer, leftfielder and longtime Buffalo Bison Ollie Pickering and shortstop Bill Bradley, as well as a number of National League jumpers on the team: Brooklyn Bridegrooms' star first baseman Candy LaChance, Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Jack McCarthy, and the teams' relative ace, Wizard Hoffer, who had began his illustrious baseball career with a 31-6 rookie season, along with an aging star in "Ol' Rubber Arm" Gus Weyhing.
Unfortunately, most of the players on the team were minor league pickups and players with no experience. The lone bright spots at the plate were McCarthy, who batted .321, and Pickering, who hit .309 and stole 36 bases. On the mound, Hoffer struggled mightily, finishing 3-8, while 21-year-old Earl Moore proved more useful, going 16-14 with a 2.90 ERA. The rest of the team fared much more mundanely, and against more established talent across the board, the team finished an abysmal 54-82, 29 games behind the first place Chicago White Sox.
Some highlights of their singular season:
- On April 25, second baseman Erve Beck hit the first home run in American League history against the White Sox - but the team lost 7-3. Beck would hit 6 home runs that year, good enough for ninth place in the league.
- On May 23, the Blues were down 13-5 in the ninth inning with two outs. Jack McCarthy came to the plate and got two quick strikes. Then he roped a single to right. Harmless enough, right? The Blues then proceed to score nine straight runs to win the game 14-13, setting the major league record for runs scored in the ninth inning with two outs.
- September 15 marked the low point in the already disappointing season. The Detroit Tigers ganged up on the Blues and set the record for biggest margin of victory in American League history: a 21-0 shellacking. Lucky for the Blues, there was an unofficial mercy rule in effect, and the game finished in the seventh, before it got any worse!
The following season, the local Cleveland paper held a contest, and the winning nickname, the Bronchos, took over for the Blues. Today of course you know the team as the Cleveland Indians, but for a while they were just the Blues, playing day to day in the wonderful world of baseball.
Cincinnati Reds | Cleveland Bronchos