The Cleveland Indians franchise began its incarnation in Cleveland, near the hometown of Ohioan Cy Young. In the team’s first five years of existence they were known as the Grand Rapids Rustlers. The Rustlers closed after a disastrous season in 1899. Not long after, the Western League changed their names to the American League. Team owners moved the Rustlers to Cleveland and renamed the team the Cleveland Indians. In 1901, the new American League broke from the National League and declared themselves a competing Major League .They became one of the original 8 in the new American League. The time between 1900 and 1914, the team changed names four times (The Lake Shores, Bluebirds, Bronchos and Naps).
In 1915, the franchise asked the newspapers to query their readers for a new name for the team. After signing and playing the only Native American, Louis Sockalexis, in the league (1897-98) who happened to be the grandson of the Bear Clan of the Penobscot Indians. During this time, the Boston Braves (commonly referred to as the “Miracle Braves” were the hottest team and had just won the 1914 World Series after having been in last place on July 4th.
By 1920, the infamous “Black Sox Scandal” came to a head with eight suspensions handed down to the Chicago White Sox. The Indians and the Sox were vying for first place when this occurred and the suspensions caused the Sox to stumble, losing two of their final three games while won four of their last six games to win its first ever AL Pennant. In the World Series, the Indians faced the Brooklyn Dodgers and won their first ever World Series in six games. It would take another 28 seasons before the Indians would again find themselves in the Fall Classic.
After having played at League Park for 46 years, the franchise moved the team into Cleveland Stadium in 1932(Cleveland Municipal Stadium between 1932-1974) which was also home to the NFL Cleveland Browns franchise. In baseball configuration the stadium would hold 81,000 fans. In the opening game of the 1940 season, SP Bob Feller pitched a no-hitter which was the first of three he pitched for the franchise.
Bill Veek purchased the franchise in 1946 for $1.6 million and in 1948, Veek made history by signing Negro League Superstar Satchel Paige who at age 42 still had plenty left in the tank, finishing the year with a 6-1 record and a 2.48 ERA with 45 strikes and two shutouts. After a one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox (who ended up tied with the Indians at the end of the season). Led by veterans Ken Keltner, Joe Gordon and Lou Boudreau and augmented by rookie standouts Larry Doby and Gene Beardson the Indians faced the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. This was the first World Series to be televised nationally. Lou Boudreau would win the American League MVP Award. The following year, the defending champions appeared in the sports drama motion picture “The Kid From Cleveland.” Many of the players and staff on the team participated as team owner Bill Veek had a vested interest in the production. After failing to make the playoffs in 1949, the franchise buried the 1948 pennant in center field. Later that year, Veek was forced to sell the team due in part to the divorce of his wife who held a half stake in the franchise. Throughout the 1950’s, the Indians would compete but always fall short to the New York Yankees with the exception of the 1954 season when they finished the year out at 111-43 which still stands as the franchises best season. The 111 wins would stand for 44 seasons until the Yankees won 114 in the 1998 season although the Indians 1954 winning percentage of .721 is still the American League record. In the World Series, the Indians faced the New York Giants and were swept from the competition.
Over the next 30 seasons, the franchise managed only one 3rd place finish in 1968 and only six 4th place finishes and spent the majority of that period on are near the cellar of the league.
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