John is a Chicago lawyer with an insatiable interest in baseball-related litigation. When not rooting for his beloved Cubs (or working), he is probably reading a baseball book or blog, planning his next baseball trip, or enjoying downtime with his wife and family. He is probably the world’s foremost photographer of triple peanuts found at ballgames and likes to think he has one of the most complete collections of vintage handheld electronic baseball games known to exist. John is a member of the Emil Rothe (Chicago) SABR Chapter and Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Landmarks Research Committee.
There is a famous quote attributed to Rogers Hornsby, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” As a Chicagoan, this sentiment seems a bit disingenuous considering Hornsby lived in Texas. Nonetheless, I really hate winter, too. Snow is a hassle and messy and annoying.
It was somewhat quaint this morning to wake up to a surprise snowstorm in the smartphone age, (especially in mid-November before someone had put the patio furniture away for the winter). Regardless, snow has at least one redeeming quality—it often creates magical, though fleeting, moments of serenity.
Cemeteries are typically tranquil places, but they take on a whole new level of quiet peacefulness under a fresh blanket of snow.
This winter, don’t let a little snow prevent you from paying your respects at the graves of departed ball players.
Ichiro Suzuki famously slandered Cleveland when having to return there to make up a snowed-out game, “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”
Frankly, I was ambivalent about the city having visited twice before my youngest put a school there at the top of his college list. In the intervening trips for campus tours and moving him in and out of dorms, there has been some opportunity to explore the city, dine at some amazing restaurants, and better formulate my thoughts on what Cleveland has to offer.
Moreover, there is an awful lot of baseball history in the Cleveland area to experience. Most of my landmark hunting to date has been in the early morning hours while everyone else sleeps in, often by way of a roundabout bagel run. Spanning several trips I have lingered at League Park, admired the statues of Elmer Flick and Rocky Colavito erected in town parks, paid my respects at the (purported) grave of Ed Delahanty, and attended games played by the Guardians and Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League.
Our most recent visit was for parent’s weekend, a delightful departure from past visits free of the “is this the right place for him?” quandary or the stress of packing and moving and making sure we brought enough ramen. We enjoyed an afternoon of hiking at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, had an amazing dinner downtown, and toured the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) after a late breakfast the following morning.
But of course I had some time to see a few baseball things. I headed first to the marker at Brookside Stadium and found the park quite easily with turn-by-turn directions from the SABR Baseball Map on my phone. It was a bit of a walk down a paved path the marker, but it was worth it.
Built in a natural amphitheater, a baseball diamond still occupies the former site of Brookside Stadium, which was razed in the 1980s. According to the marker, Brookside hosted the largest crowd ever recorded for an amateur baseball game, some 115,000 people in 1915. What a contrast to the park I found, serene and lovely on a crisp fall morning.
Part of exploring baseball history is finding new landmarks, so I was thrilled to look over and see another marker detailing the history of Brookside Stadium that we did not yet have on our list. I learned that the ballpark was built in 1909 in an effort to have the 1912 Olympics awarded to Cleveland.
I then headed over to Highland Park Cemetery to pay my respects at the grave of Luke Easter, a fascinating player who seemingly came out of nowhere and met a tragic end. [Do not miss the chapter on Easter in Outsider Baseball by Scott Simkus.]
And perhaps most surprisingly, I happened upon some baseball-related art at the CMA. The oversized Standing Mitt and Ball by Claes Oldenburg was a fitting companion piece to his Batcolumn erected in Chicago, just blocks from my office.
I also happened upon this centuries-old headgear displayed in the armor gallery, which most certainly qualifies as the earliest known baseball helmet, right?
There are several more trips to Cleveland in my future and I cannot wait to continue exploring the area. That I might get to see some baseball-related sites along the way is just a bonus.
Ichiro was wrong.
Larry Stone, “Ichiro unlike any player we’ve seen or will see again,” Longview (Washington) Daily News, March 23, 2019: B7.
Several years ago I was in Rockford, Illinois for work so (of course) I planned a slight detour on the way home to check out the Carl Lundgren historical marker in Marengo. After a bit of detective work (the SABR Baseball Map did not exist yet!) I was able to locate the marker, placed on the west side of North East Street.
Carl Lundgren was a terrific twirler for the Chicago Cubs from 1902-09. During the three consecutive seasons in which the Cubs appeared in the World Series (1906-08), Lundgren posted a regular season record of 41-22, with an ERA of 2.33 and 13 shutouts. Yet he was the odd man out and tossed not a single World Series pitch in any of those three years.
After a pair of ineffective outings for Chicago in 1909, Lundgren bounced around the minors for a few seasons before retiring from the game as a player. He went on to an amazing career as manager for Princeton, the University of Michigan and (alma mater) University of Illinois baseball teams, piloting his Wolverine and Illini squads to eight total Big Ten championships.
As I took a moment to read the inscription and snap a couple of photographs on an overcast morning, a man approached on a bicycle and let me know the sign had been purposely placed near the field where Lundgren played ball as a child. Wonderfully, a youth-sized diamond still existed at the site.
Lundgren died suddenly of a heart attack at his childhood home in 1934 and, as the gentleman on the bike advised, was buried right across the street from where his baseball career began. The man rode off after directing me to Lundgren’s grave, certainly unaware he had just sent me down a path that would lead to innumerable future ballplayer gravesite visits. Somewhat reluctantly at the time, however, I drove slowly through the cemetery and found Lundgren’s marker, lovingly adorned with Cubs mementos.
Unsure what to do, I silently paid my respects and snapped a quick photo. As I drove away, I was struck by the weighty realization that although Lundgren threw his final pitch for the Cubs in 1909, he was not forgotten. Although baseball is not the most important thing in the world, these individuals were the most important people in the world to the people who loved them.