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Indians Indians Archive Cleveland Sports Vault: Pondering a Ripley’s Indians Believe-It-Or-Not® Museum, Part I
Written by Greg Popelka

Greg Popelka

cleveland stadium yellow seatWhat visual do you get when you think about a Hall of Fame? In my mind’s eye, I see a static room full of busts of famous sports figures from the past. 

Sorry: booooooring. I never really understood the appeal of that type of thing. Any more, however, a Hall of Fame is likely to tack on the phrase “and Museum” to its title. Now, THAT gets my attention. What kind of ‘stuff’ can be found there? Surprise and amaze me! 

Consider museums that populate tourist areas. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls comes to mind. Some of those places are terrific. You can find artifacts and art from indigenous Native Americans; stuff from the War of 1812; …and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. 

cleveland stadium gate dA fun baseball museum that includes “exhibits, oddities and curiosities”, in the tradition of Ripley’s… now, we’re talking. If we were to create such an attraction that centers on the Cleveland Indians, what would we include? 

If I were curator, the façade of the building would consist of yellow bricks, similar to those of old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I’d proudly paint a large, replica “Gate D” sign on the bricks. It would be easily spotted from afar. (Do we even dare to dream of procuring the giant neon Chief Wahoo sign?)

The entrance to the facility would be partially impaired by several riveted, steel pillars, perhaps under a fixed awning- a nod to those that girded the old barn. If possible, I’d try to contrast the dark metal with a bright green interior- perhaps a huge, digitally enhanced, panoramic color photograph of the green grass of the stadium field. That contrast was striking, back in the day. 

And then once they soak that in, men could march off to another stark contrast: a dim rest room with a galvanized steel urinal trough. 

With what types of items could we stock the museum? This is where it gets fun- assume everything is obtainable. Let’s try to leave out balls and bats. We could display those for each major league milestone that was achieved by the team. That’s fine, but for our purposes, let’s get a bit more imaginative. 

Drew Stubbs blows up popcornI am sure you will have some great ideas to add to these. I’d like to see them! You are invited to click the Boards link on this site, and start a thread. 

Some of the items I am thinking of (oh yeah- I have no urge to celebrate the really bad stuff, so we won’t be displaying any artifacts from, say, Ten Cent Beer Night. Or will we…?): 

The Drew Stubbs popcorn tub.

Here’s what I’m talking about. We loved that explosion of popcorn on that home run in Chicago the other day. I think Katie Witham technically even bought it from the guy. That tub belongs here, forever. Displayed along with a video on a albert belle grimacesmall screen, showing the homer. 

Albert Belle’s corked bat, displayed with the Paul Sorrento model replacement.

Also a tale from Chicago. White Sox manager Gene Lamont (whom the Indians would eventually cause to be fired after a series sweep) had been tipped off to Belle corking his bats. He solemnly summoned the umpire after a Belle groundout, and had the bat stored in the umpire’s dressing room to await scrutiny. The Indians knew Belle was busted. Pitcher Jason Grimsley and a team assistant crawled through the ceiling to retrieve the bat. The biggest dilemma was there were no legal Belle bats! (Presumably, he played the rest of that game Alex Cole Runningwith corked bats, as well.) Grimsley substituted the confiscated bat with a Paul Sorrento model. Grimsley’s identity was not made public for several years.  

Alex Cole’s goggles.

An iconic look, from the leadoff/centerfielder who immediately preceded Kenny Lofton. Cole had speed to burn - he stole four bases in a single game, twice – but he never hit well enough. On season, the Indians moved the outfield fence back to take advantage of his speed. That backfired, however, when the Indians only hit 22 home runs at home that year. It may not be fair to him, but Alex Cole kind of symbolized Cleveland Indians futility, circa 1990 

johnny allen higbees displayJohnny Allen’s torn shirt.

This doesn’t get talked about these days, but in the late 1930s, it was quite the cause celebre. Allen was a starting pitcher who had become available to the Indians due to his being an out-of-control hothead. He was perhaps the finest starter in baseball, however, and adding him to a staff that featured veteran Mel Harder and a young Bob Feller (see photo at bottom) was a coup for the Tribe. (The Indians of the late 1930s were very good.) Against the Red Sox in Fenway on afternoon, Allen dominated the Boston hitters. They began to complain about a tear in Allen’s shirtsleeve, and the umpire ordered him to remove it. Manager Oscar Vitt did not side with his pitcher, who stormed off the field. Allen mike hargrove color copy copyvowed to never pitch for the Indians again. Well, cooler heads prevailed, with a Cleveland Public Square department store purchasing the shirt and displaying it in the window, on a mannequin. 

Mike Hargrove’s batting gloves.

Chances are that like me, you love Joe Tait. While a Tribe announcer in the early 1980s, Tait gave Grover one of the all-time great nicknames: The Human Rain Delay. And Hargrove earned it- with his glove-tweaking, pants-tugging routine that he john adams drummerfollowed prior to every pitch.

John Adams’ drum.

Not to worry, John. We won’t ask you to relinquish the drum you have faithfully pounded on out in left field for forty years – yet. When you’re done with it? Think you could sign it and donate it to the cause?  Perhaps you could be one of the attractions on Opening Day at the museum. You could sign autographs for the attendees. How perfect, for the Cleveland Indians’ #1 fan to open the fans’ museum. We’ll give you things, too, like hot dogs with Stadium Mustard, and stuff.

Len Barker’s perfect game scorecard.

We love Lenny Barker. This is in no small part due to his having pitched a perfect game at the stadium in the early 1980s. But it is also partially owed to his simply loving us (See, athletes of today? It’s not that hard). He’s still local, living in Chardon and coaching an area college baseball team. The perfecto is a great memory, whether you watched on television or are one of the 120,000 fans who say they were among the 7,290 announced paid attendance (of which a fraction actually braved the rain and the cold on that May evening).

len barker jays scorecard



















john smileyJohn Smiley’s sling.

OK, so here’s a ‘bad news’ item. The Cleveland Indians of 1997 were on their way to their second World Series appearance in three seasons. They could hit for power, for average, and had speed on the basepaths and in the outfield. They had some quality pitching, but needed more. John Smiley was picked up in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds at the deadline in late July; the deal sent infielder Damian Jackson and reliever Danny Graves to the Reds. Smiley had known success in the National League as a starter. Six appearances after joining the Tribe, he snapped his humerus while warming up in the bullpen. (Man, that stunk.) 

The stadium seat in right field that absorbed the impact of Duane Kuiper’s home run.

Cleveland sports talk announcer Pete Franklin had been making a big deal of the fact that Kuiper’s career had spanned 1,300 at-bats, yet he had never hit a home run. Against the Chicago White Sox (and native Clevelander Steve Stone) on August 29, 1977, Kuiper hit what was basically a popup down the right field line. The crowd, well aware of the streak, rose to its feet during the ball’s flight. Could it be? It was! The ball barely cleared the fence, ricocheting off the seat back to the field. Kuiper’s teammates mobbed him at home plate. It was great. Gotta get the seat. (Kuiper finished his career cleveland stadium upper deckwith 1,900+ more at-bats without another home run. He said that with one home run, people are happy. Any more than that, then they begin to expect them.) 

Actually, I want a whole bunch of the yellow, wooden seats from the upper deck as well.

A few rows of authentic Stadium seats. You’d be able to sit with your buddies, one in every third seat. That way, you could each grab adjacent seats on both sides and rap out a beat. A lot of sound, there. Oh, baby. And paper cups could be available for stomping. At the end of games at the Stadium, kids walked across sections of seats, in search of cups. Stomping on the cups just right created an echoing ‘POP’ that resonated throughout the entire ballpark. 

Also, maybe there could be a small scale model of several sections of yellow upper deck seats. The seat bottoms could be raised and lowered, just like the real ones. That way, messages could be spelled out like back in the day. (“BIG MON” in support of Rico Carty, or maybe “I LUV SUE”, etc.) 

Well, we are just getting started - let’s get together next time and continue our quest for items for our Indians fans’ museum!

Johnny Allen, Bob Feller and Mel Harder:

johnny allen feller harder

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