As the decade of the 70’s began, I was a college student in Northeast Ohio. I had some time on my hands, a friend or two with cars, and an on-campus job that yielded a couple of dollars. That was the perfect scenario for becoming a Cleveland Indians fan.
The Indians played in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a New Deal era structure which also went by the name of “Mistake by the Lake.” It was old, massive, dirty and windy.
The early 70’s era Tribe squads were about as appealing as their ballpark. Between 1969 and 1972, the four years when I was in Ohio, the Indians finished last twice and next-to-last twice. I tried to think of who the best players were at the time, but I couldn’t think of any. I looked online to jog my memory and it did just that. Ray Fosse was the Indians catcher. He was an excellent player but was beset by injuries including a broken shoulder from a violent collision at home plate with Pete Rose in the 1970 all-star game.
I stole the title for this chapter from the movie Major League in which Bob Uecker uttered the phrase “on the banks of the Cuyahoga” in setting the stage for another Indians game. The Cuyahoga is the river that famously caught fire in 1969. So aside from the deteriorating stadium and crappy team, the Indians played alongside a river that stunk and looked putrid.
And yet what I learned in college was to love the Indians. While I considered myself a politically conscious and progressive college student I somehow managed to overlook the name of the team, the logo which featured a caricature of an Indian with a shit-eating grin on his face and the fact that there were usually some shirtless folks at the game banging drums and wearing dime store headdresses.
Going back to the idea that we had more time than money, we tried to maximize both by going to doubleheaders. Here’s what I remember about those glorious and long Sundays watching the Indians at Municipal Stadium.
First of all these games didn’t fill the stadium, nor were there a lot of people heading into downtown Cleveland for a Sunday stroll at the time. So we ignored the parking lots and easily found spots on the street. This was free…almost. After you parked your car you were likely to be approached by a young fellow who would offer to guard it for you for $5. We were up for that. Not much of a parking fee and my friend’s car was always there when the game was over.
It seems as though every one of these doubleheaders were against Detroit. And my memory is that the Tribe usually got ambushed in the first game and scalped in the second. I checked baseball-reference.com and it turns out that the Indians really didn’t play Detroit every weekend. But I did find a Sunday in June of 1970 in which the Tigers won the first game 7-2 and the second game 9-8 and the whole event took more than 7 hours. That sounds fairly typical of my experience going to Indians games.
As you can imagine, college students sitting in the hot sun for that length of time tended to put away some beer. In fact we would consume quite a bit of beer, so much that I remember having to change our seats because there were so many discarded beer cups there was no room for our feet. That of course was not a problem because as you slowly waded into the back end of the second game there were seats aplenty.
What was a problem was that if you were going to drink that much beer, you were going to have to pee, and just about every other guy who was still at the stadium had the same problem so there was a good sized line for the men’s room. The toilet facilities in a stadium as old as the Cleveland Muni were not what you would expect to find in a 21st century ballpark. So while I was not totally surprised to see a group urinal type of arrangement I was bewildered to see that the urinals here were like bathtubs and guys lined up around the tub trying to avoid eye contact while they peed. At the tail end of one of these games, my friend Jay and I stood in line for a good 20 minutes, bouncing up and down trying to hold it, and then when we got to this cluster flush, neither of us could make ourselves go.
I haven’t been to a game in Cleveland for many years although I very much hope to get there in near future. I have never quite been able to bring myself to wear a cap or shirt with a stupid-looking Lone Ranger era grinning “Indian” on it. But I will always be a Cleveland fan.
(In next week’s post I wander off into the midwest and find new teams to root for.)