Friday, December 18, 2009

Cleveland: Home to the most attended baseball game

I was browsing through the American Memory collection at the Library of Congress when I came across this series of five panoramic photographs of baseball games in Cleveland. Three are from a 1915 championship game between the White Autos and the Omaha Luxus. Another shows a 1915 game between the White Autos and Johnstown, PA. Still another shows a 1914 game between Telling's Strollers and Hanna's Cleaners.

The October 10, 1915 game between the White Autos and the Omaha Luxus is especially notable due to the high attendance. Click through to the higher resolution version to fully appreciate the size of the crowd. For this amateur championship game, the attendance was claimed to be 115,000, which, if correct, would make it the most attended baseball game ever. The White Autos won, 11-6.

These other two images provide something of the size of the crowd. I can believe, based on these images, attendance of more than 100,000.

I had never heard of this stadium, so I started looking for clues as to its location. This photo, from the 1914 amateur championship game between Telling's Strollers and Hanna's Cleaners on September 20, 1914 provides more visual clues as to the shape of the ballpark and perhaps its location. The game against Johnstown, PA, however, doesn't show us much that we haven't seen already.

It seemed likely that Brookside Stadium was somewhere near the current Brookside Metropark, but where exactly was unclear. Perhaps the ballpark was in the area now used by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Finally, I found the answer, in the 1922 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland. In the upper right, it shows Brookside Stadium.

The stadium shown on the map didn't seem to correspond to what I could see in the photographs. I looked at Bing maps aerial photographs of the site, and much to my surprise, I saw that there was still a baseball diamond there! The topography of the space is relatively unchanged - it still has the nice "bowl" shape that makes it a perfect stadium. There are now trees growing on the hills, but other than that, the shape of the land remains much as it was in 1915.

The stadium is located just south of Denison Avenue, between Fulton Road and West 46th Street. The diagonal line of people in the outfield in the first and fourth photographs is Fulton Road, from the time before it had a high-level bridge over the valley.

The Omaha Luxus were an amateur team sponsored by Krug Brewery. Luxus was one of their beers.

I haven't been able to learn much about the White Autos. They were presumably an amateur team sponsored by White Motor Corp.

The Cleveland Blues, who became the Cleveland Naps in 1903, also used Brookside Park Stadium. Their name change came about as a result of the skill of second baseman Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie, probably the greatest player of his time, who was with the team from 1902 to 1914.

I'm so happy to see that this piece of Cleveland history hasn't been lost. I knew we had one important site in baseball history in Cleveland, League Park. I didn't know we had two. Amazingly, both ballparks are places where a group of neighborhood kids can play a game of ball, on the same ground that so many great players walked.


  1. Councilman Kelley tried to get the Baseball Hall of Fame to recognize the 1915 game as having the largest crowd in history, but didn't have too much luck.

  2. Thank you for sharing that, Kevin.

    There are two issues here: whether this is a baseball game and the number of people in attendance. Curiously, they seem to be disputing the former. The latter, I think, is easy enough to argue - it sure looks like a baseball game to me.

    What do you think?

  3. If I understand the stories correctly, the Hall of Fame's lack of interest was because it was an amateur event and not a professional game.

  4. White Autos became White Trucks which was bought out by Volvo and became Volvo-White Trucks. Volvo dropped the White part sometime in 2000 and now is just Volvo Trucks. They're headquartered here in Greensboro, NC.

    So, I kind of paralleled White Trucks - grew up in Hudson outside of Cleveland and ended up here in Greensboro where Volvo is.

  5. I found this same photo in my grandfathers attic and it hangs on my wall! I just thought about it today and have been looking up info on it. All this time I just thought it was a cool photo, but never looked up it's backgound.

  6. A correction, the Cleveland Blues played at League Park which was built as a wooden ballpark in 1890. They may have played an exhibition or two at Brookside Park, but it was never their home field. It technically is not a "Stadium" as there never was any structure there except a Backstop and small platform. The seating was all on the natural "bowl" formed by the land going around behind home base. It is plainly visible, even today when you drive by on I-71 and look south into Brookside Park. Now the seating area is grown over with trees.

  7. The Baseball Hall of Fame would not recognize the attendance record because it was on an " open grounds" with no means to accurately count the attendees. Anyone could have viewed the game from inside the park, without being officially admitted with a ticket.

  8. Is it me or are the photos inverted? Like looking in a mirror? On the map it appears the left field corner is open and flat but its the right field corner that is flat in the photos. There's nothing in the pictures that would appear backwards. I thought maybe the infield had been moved since then but then the bowl shape doesn't fit. I tried to match the existing houses to the ones in the photos but I can't get a good enough look.

  9. Andy, I think that the orientation of the field has changed. To my eyes, it looks to have been rotated clockwise a bit.

  10. The Baseball Hall of Fame should consider this attendance even though it is not a pro game, because when I visited the hall of fame they had an exhibit recognizing the world's largest attendance of 125,000 for a demonstration game at the 1936 olympics in Berlin, Germany with a picture of the huge stadium crowd at that game.By the way it was played by two amateur teams!!!!

  11. It took me awhile to figure out where this field is located. At first I thought it was located where there are currently 3 fields at Brookside park. The actual location is just northeast of the three fields, right at the corner of Fulton and Denison. It appears the current field is not at the same location of the field in the picture. In the picture the diamond is in the southwest corner of the bowl. First baseline is where railroad tracks are located. The house in picture #1 is still there (along the third baseline) and is nice for reference.