Cleveland Baseball: The First Inning

[Piano plays Cleveland Rocks at a quarter tempo]

Narrator

Baseball arrived on the shores of Lake Erie early, in the late 18th century. However, baseball truly arrived in Cleveland with Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie. Having jumped shipped from Philadelphia, Lajoie would become a star in Cleveland.

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Roger Angell

Well, at the time, and you have to realize it was a different era, a different time, a different epoch, an altogether different period of American history, and at the time, there was money to be made in Cleveland. Using what was the largest freshwater source in the world, at least, outside of India at that time, Cleveland had built three empires. The first, was an interstate freshwater shipping empire-the empire of the Steinbrenners. The second was, of course, doughnut cake-not cake doughnuts but from whence cake doughnuts are made. The raw material of cake doughnuts, which was being quarried in Northern Ohio. And, finally, there was the Cleveland lozenge money. A lot of money was being made on lozenges at that time.

Daniel Okrent

So, Napoleon, which was a nickname for "Nap", he had the most beautiful swing you'd ever seen. So beautiful, they named the team after him. But, before they named the team after him, the way that came about, it was at about that time that a young kid, a young kid who would become a scourge, and I'm speaking of course of Shoeless Joe Jackson. So, Shoeless Joe, who literally is playing shoeless! Shoeless! He's constantly disrespecting the game-always walking around shoeless, insisting on being called Shoeless, and, of course, placing multiple bets on each game, all while shoeless. Jackson is doing all of this until, finally, someone has to stand up to him. Napoleon does. He stands up to him, and I heard this directly from the mouth of Rocky Colavito, who was there, Napoleon says, "You keep walking around shoeless and I'll call you d____less." And that's the etymology of the word "d____less." Napoleon Lajoie made that up.

Narrator

Lajoie's stay in Cleveland shaped the early fortunes of the franchise, so much so that the team kept his name until he left the team to go play for another team. The first championship to ever be won in Cleveland, though, was not won by Napoleon or the Naps. It was won by the Cleveland Indians on the strength of their fiery player-manager, Tris Speaker.

George Will

Tris Speaker illuminates at least, at least, three wonderful things about humanity.

[George Will stares straight ahead for 90 seconds]

Narrator (off-camera)

What are those three things, Mr. Will?

George Will

The free market, purebred water dogs, and Derek Jeter.

[Piano plays Burn On at a 1/16th tempo]

Narrator

Things moved quickly after Cleveland's first championship and, by 1948, the New York Yankees had won an additional 15 championships.

Bob Costas

When Cleveland won in '48, I think that sort of woke the world up to this idea that, hey, there's a city out there! And that city's called Cleveland! Though, in all honesty, many people still don't know where that is. But it was good that they won-that was a good thing to happen to that city at that time.

Stephen Jay Gould

It's giddying to think about-a whole tiny city, like an ant colony or a salmon farm, out somewhere in the Midwest, all caught up in this great thing of "Baseball!" that they were just discovering! And, yes, the war had just ended but that wouldn't crush the joy of these communities. That joy was inherent-it is inherent-to the game itself and, of course, to Boston.

George Will

Liberty and, more than that, the idea of liberty. The premise of it-of living free, in a place that you've built with people that you admire and that admire you.

Narrator (off-camera)

What question were you responding to, Mr. Will?

George Will

Someone has been asking specific questions?

Mickey Mantle

Those Cleveland teams? Back in the 40s, 50s? I don't remember a damn thing about them. Nothing. I don't remember a damn thing about Cleveland. Are you sure I've been to Cleveland? If you're looking for the player's perspective on Cleveland I'll give it to you-we're not sure we've ever been there. I think Hank Bauer might have been from Cleveland but how can I tell? Do they talk a specific way? Am I allowed to smoke in here?

Roger Angell

This distinctly American idea, invented by the Englishman Lewis Carroll, real name Nap Dodgson, that, to quote the Dodo Bird, "all have won and everyone must have prizes", that's how I think many of us felt about Cleveland winning the pennant at that time. It just seemed wonderfully charitable if ultimately illusory.

Narrator (off-camera)

Were you alive at that time, Mr. Angell?

[Pause]

Roger Angell

I am relatively sure I was. What year was this?

Thomas Boswell

When we encounter a great artist or musician, one who truly ascends to a different sphere, we are taken in a way that, we leave our bodies. We seem to hover above our selves and all we can do is thank that person, that artist, for that moment. They lift us up, as a people, as a nation. This is how we felt about, for instance, Glenn Miller. Arthur Miller. The Beatles. The paintings of Jerry Garcia.  To my knowledge, no one felt that way about Gene Bearden or Bob Feller.

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George Will

It's illuminating to consider the human spirit in the context of Bob Lemon. It clarifies issues of the soul-it makes us more certain about what it means to be a man, what it means to not be a man. What it means to be on a team, a team mind you, with the first African-American player ever in the American League-a man named Doby. That illuminates issues of not just the soul, as we think of it, but something deeper than that-something essential and sub-soul. Lemon and Doby. Together then. Together always.

Narrator (off-camera)

What are the essential and sub-soul things it illuminates, Mr. Will?

George Will

Portugal. Topographic maps. Cocktail, the film.


 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits

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