By Bailey Mazik
Ah, Cleveland! The birthplace of rock ‘n roll and Superman. The first city in the U.S. to elect a Black mayor. The home of the first indoor shopping mall. Among other firsts, inventions, and notable people, Cleveland professional baseball started in 1869 – 152 years ago! Cleveland sports has had its fair share of ups and downs through the decades and baseball is no exception. Let’s dive into highlights from our collection that celebrate some accomplishments of The Land.
Bob Feller - 1937 H&B Contract
Bob Feller played his entire career with Cleveland except for 3 seasons, during which he served in the US military during WWII. Debuting in 1936 at just 17 years old, the eventual triple-crown winner started training for his stellar career during his childhood with his dad. A force to be reckoned with on the field from the beginning of his career, he later proved to be a leader off the field as being the first American professional athlete to enlist in the military during WWII. Here is his bat contract for Louisville Slugger bats, signed less than a year after his MLB debut.
Larry Doby - 1954 Game Used Bat
Jackie Robinson was the first Black player to break MLB's color barrier in April 1947 when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League. But who integrated the American League? If you answered "Larry Doby," you are correct.
Before his MLB career, he played professionally for the Newark Eagles from 1942-47 for co-owner Effa Manley, the only woman currently in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. During this time, he won the Negro World Series against the Kansas City Monarchs in 1946. He also served in WWII with the US Navy and was stationed in the Pacific Theater. He kept up with baseball while serving as he played on teams with his fellow soldiers, and he even met his future teammate Mickey Vernon while stationed in Hawaii!
Doby made his MLB debut with Cleveland on July 5, 1947 and went on to be a 7x All-Star, 2x AL homerun leader, and MLB World Champion in 1948.
This bat from our collection was used by Doby in the 1954 World Series, the same season he was the AL's RBI leader.
Graig Nettles - Game Used Glove
It was Graig Nettles’ time in Cleveland that not only cemented him as a third baseman but set him on the path to being one of the best third baseman Major League Baseball has ever seen. In 1970, his first season in Cleveland, he also picked up the habit of writing “E-5” on his glove as a self-deprecating joke (E-5 = error made by the third baseman). This is one of his gloves that we have in our collection.
Jim Thome - 1996 Game Used Bat
Dynamite slugger and famously nice guy Jim Thome used this bat in 1996, the season after his first World Series appearance. 1996 is also the same season he was honored with his only Silver Slugger Award. You’ll notice his name is in block lettering on the barrel of this bat. Thome didn’t sign his contract with us until 2001, after which his signature appears on the barrel of the bats.
Kenny Lofton - 2000 Game Worn Jersey
Speaking of Jim Thome, he called his Cleveland teammate Kenny Lofton “the most talented player in baseball.” And before he was an exceptional baseball player, he excelled at basketball in college. In fact, he is only one of two people ever to play on a NCAA Final Four team and in the World Series.
Lofton donned this game-worn jersey in 2000, during his second to last season with Cleveland. This is also the season that he tied Red Rolfe’s achievement of scoring in 18 straight games, an American League record set in 1939.
We’re proud to have these important items from Cleveland history and excited to share the stories of players who have given us not only great baseball memories, but who trailblazed off the field as well. 2021 is the 121st anniversary for the Cleveland franchise and I’m looking forward to seeing what “firsts” are in their future!