Bad To The Bone

The Cleveland Spiders

     The team that was to become known as the Cleveland Spiders was originally a member of the American Association, joining the National League in 1889, where it remained until it's ouster at the end of the 1899 season.

    Frank DeHaas Robison, a streetcar tycoon who made his money in the horse-drawn trolley business was the prominent owner of the team along with his brother Stanley . Known as the "Forest Citys," originally, after 1889 the team came to be known as the "Spiders," allegedly because of the "skinny and spidery" build of most of the players.

A park was built by Robison at E. 39th and Payne Avenue, along side the trolley lines he owned.

    Oliver "Patsy" Tebeau was hired as manager in 1891. Tebeau was an advocate of "rowdy baseball." The same style that would be incorporated by the Baltimore Orioles. Tebeau, of "French extraction" harassed umpires and opposing players, implored his team to use "bully tactics" such as blocking and holding runners, and ordering his pitchers to "flip" batters. He was quoted as saying that "'a milk and water,' goody-goody player, can't ever wear a Cleveland uniform."

     In 1891, Robison replaced the original ball park with a new one at Lexington and East 66th. Known as League Park, it became home for Cleveland baseball teams until what was to become known as Municipal Stadium opened on the Lakefront in the 1930s. By 1892 the Spiders, now a contender, were, along with the Baltimore Orioles, the only two teams to make money in the NL that year.

    The Spiders were loaded with talented players like "Cy" Young, Jesse "The Crab" Burkett", Nig" Cuppy, John Clarkson and Charles "Chief" Zimmer, and in 1892, the last year of the '50 foot pitching distance, Cleveland finished a strong second behind the Boston Beaneaters. In 1895 and 1896 the Spiders again finished second behind the Baltimore Orioles. Each time they wound up playing the Orioles for the Temple Cup, a trophy symbolic of the NL Championship.

     In '95 the Spiders won the whole 'shbang'. This series would go down as one of the dirtiest in baseball history. As the Spiders went a perfect 3-0 at home during the series, the Oriole were subjected to a mortar barrage of vegetables and other unsavory missiles by the Cleveland fans. After the three wins in Cleveland the Spiders headed to Baltimore where they lost under a hail of eggs and rocks, a retaliation for the way Oriole players were treated in Cleveland. The series came to an end when the Spiders won a fourth and final game, ending with the Cleveland players being chased from the field by a angry mob of fans.

    The next year the Spiders lost the Temple Cup to the same Orioles in four games. Over the next two years, fan attendance, although still good by standards of that times, was still not up to snuff in the eyes of the Robison brothers. Rumors circulated that the team would be moved to another town. In 1898, Robison purchased another NL team, St. Louis. It was the era of Syndicate Baseball where an owner could own more than one team. As so-called punishment for the Cleveland fans' failure to keep up attendance figures, he moved his best Spiders players, including Cy Young, to the St. Louis team for the start of the 1899 season.

    The team was horrible!Attendancee was so bad that games were played in other cities and the team was called "the Wanderers" by the Cleveland press. Inept play by Spider players caused fans to refer to them as the "Misfits." They finished the season with a 20-134 record and a .129 winning percentage, the worst inbaseballl history, dwarfing even the '62 Mets!

    National League ball in Cleveland ended when the team was dropped from the National League in 1900. Though the 1899 team comes to mind nowadays when the Cleveland Spiders name is evoked, the Cleveland Spiders should be remembered as a talented, no nonsense team, who played the game as tough and hard as the Baltimore Orioles, the team that always comes to mind when tough, rowdy baseball in the 1890's is thought of.