For most Indians fans, Lake View Cemetery on the east side of Cleveland means the final resting place for Ray Chapman.
And initially, Ryan Honomichl thought that, too. But after some research, Honomichl, a psychology professor at Hiram College, is going to be giving a tour Sunday, “Batter Up,” outlining the baseball history in the cemetery. Cost is $35 for the trolley tour — which includes lunch — and can be made at the Lake View Cemetery website.
The tour will include Chapman, but also other people important not just in Cleveland baseball history, but in the history of the sport in general.
“A lot of people already know about Ray Chapman,” Honomichl said. “Chapman’s always going to be the most famous, but I think the most important are Frank Robison and Charles Somers.”
Robison was the owner of the Cleveland baseball team – known variously as the Blues, Forest Citys and Spiders – from 1887 until the Spiders’ demise in 1899. Robison also owned the St. Louis team in the National League – then the Perfectos, now the Cardinals – and poached talent from the Spiders, who went 20-134, still a major league mark for futility, in their final season in 1899.
Robison was also responsible for the construction
of the first League Park in 1891, choosing its site at East 66th and Lexington because it was at the end of a streetcar line operated by Robison and his father-in-law, Charles Hathaway.
When Cleveland became home to an American League team starting in 1901, its owner was Charles Somers, a coal magnate who served as vice president of the team and the new league. By many accounts, Somers helped bankroll the American League during its first unsteady days – including a stint as owner of the Boston team, where he helped put the team on firm footing before its appearance in the first World Series in 1903.
And although Branch Rickey is regarded as the father of the farm system, Somers deserves some credit too, owning stakes in minor league teams from Toledo to New Orleans. Somers replaced the original wood grandstand of League Park with a new steel-and-concrete edifice in time for the 1910 season, and successfully lobbied for Sunday baseball, which seems like a no-brainer now, but at the time, thanks to blue laws, was a crime in some places.
“And he’s not even in the Hall of Fame,” Honomichl said.
Somers had to put the team up for sale in 1915 after a series of financial reversals – but he’d recovered enough to be worth an estimated $3 million when he died in 1934. One of the things Somers had to do was sell players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson. At that point, he assured fans that Chapman wouldn’t leave Cleveland.
Chapman remains known as the only major league player to die from injuries sustained on the playing field – a transformational event in the sport’s history, leading to closer scrutiny of doctored balls and willingness to trade out old balls more quickly to allow players to see better. But his burial at Lake View Cemetery wasn’t without controversy. Chapman, who had married the season before, was converting to Catholicism. He had a funeral Mass, and was supposed to be buried at Calvary Cemetery. Instead, he was buried at Lake View in a decision so quick that people had to rush from Calvary to Lake View for the burial.
Today, Chapman’s grave is a site for pilgrimages, including by Honomichl and his friends, who typically visit around Opening Day.
Another gravesite with personal significance for Honomichl is that of Ollie Welf, a Cleveland native who made one major-league appearance as a pinch runner for the Indians in 1916. He went to Ohio State and graduated with a degree in veterinary medicine prior to World War I, and afterward, went to John Marshall Law School and became a lawyer and state official (his wife was the sister of erstwhile Ohio Gov. and U.S. Sen. Frank Lausche), and lived on East 214th Street in Euclid. “He’s very Moonlight Graham to me,” said Honomichl, referring to the character played by Burt Lancaster in his last film role in “Field of Dreams.”