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The Story of How the Cleveland Spiders Got Squashed

by Tamar Chalker

November 23, 2021


Through means that still kind of perplex me, I ended up spending 7 years living in Ohio. The first four were in Amish Country at Kenyon College and the last three were in Cleveland for grad school. Cleveland gets a lot of flack, but it’s a great city with diehard sports fans and I really enjoyed my time there.

One of the great things about living in Cleveland is it’s affordability (especially compared to those of us used to northeast cost of living) for just about everything except football games – and I’ve never been a big football fan. I was routinely able to go to games at Jacobs Field, one of my favorite stadiums, often for five to ten dollars – and there truly is not a bad seat at the Jake. Cleveland quickly became my backup team, especially as it seemed like just about every game I went to had a young CC Sabathia firing strikes and I swear Victor Martinez hit a homer each time, too.

Having left Cleveland long ago, I still have maintained my fanship of the team, but I never liked the team’s mascot or name, so I was happy when they made the official shift to Cleveland Guardians this week. Personally, I had been hoping for the Cleveland Spiders, just because I knew it was a name associated with Cleveland baseball history and I thought it would be a fun and different mascot. In looking at the Spiders history, however, perhaps they were right to go in another direction.

The Spiders do not directly relate to today’s Cleveland Guardians. In fact they started off as and American Association team as the Cleveland Blues in 1887. In 1889, they moved to the National League and renamed the Cleveland Spiders. Like many young teams, the Spiders struggled in their early seasons, although they performed better than they had as the Blues.

The Blues went 39-92 and then 50-82 in 1887 and 1888 respectively, so the Spiders’ first NL season record of 61-72 seemed like a big step up. For the first few seasons, the Spiders continued to limp through the seasons, but in 1892 they put together what would be their best season in their existence.

Led by Cy Young, Cupid Childs, Jesse Burkett, and Manager/3rd Baseman Patsy Tebeau, the 1892 Spiders went 92-53, coming in second in the National League, losing to the Boston Beaneaters in the World Series. While the Spiders would never pull off any World Series Championships, they put together winning seasons for the seven straight years. They would end up second in the NL two more times and would win the Temple Cup, a short-lived Championship series between the top two NL teams from 1894-1897, in 1895. They beat the Baltimore Orioles (no relation) four games to one that season, but would be swept by them in 1896’s Temple Cup.

During this time, the Spiders were owned by brothers Frank and Stanley Robison, but in 1899, another team caught the brothers’ attention. The St. Louis Browns had gone bankrupt and the Robisons swooped in and picked up a second baseball team. Despite the obvious conflict of interest, the brothers were allowed to operate both teams and immediately showed why that shouldn’t be allowed.

Having picked up the Browns, the first thing the Robisons did was change the team’s name to the Perfectos, in my opinion one of the most annoying team names I’ve ever heard. The brothers felt that their new team was likely to draw bigger crowds, given St. Louis was more densely populated. So, in a move that perhaps foreshadowed a lot of what would happen in Cleveland over the next hundred years, the brothers shipped all of the Spiders’ best players to St. Louis. Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, Bobby Wallace, Patsy Tebeau, and others all made the move.

Not only were the Spiders’ best players sent away, but so were the Spiders themselves, in a manner of speaking. The Robisons had announced their intention to run the Spiders as a sideshow and Clevelanders responded by not showing up to the park. With less than 200 people in attendance in the first 16 home games, no other club wanted to travel to Cleveland to play a terrible team in a virtually empty stadium, which wouldn’t net them enough money to cover travel and hotel expenses.

As such, the Spiders ended up playing an absurd 112 away games in 1899. They won 11 of those games, but lost 101 of them, on their way to a record low 20-134 season. Of course, no one will match those 101 road losses, as no team will play 112 true road games in a season. It’s likely no team will manage to win less than 20 games in a season, but then again, you never know.

After an attendance of around 150,000 in 1896, the 1899 Spiders had only a little over 6,000 fans show up for games. Even in their lackluster, but still above .500, 1898 season they had over 70,000 ticket paying attendees, but the Robisons had succeeded in doing something that would become familiar to Clevelanders in various ways over the coming decades. They stripped everything they saw of value and sent it to where they could make more money. Unsurprisingly, that woeful 1899 season was the Spiders last, and that is how the Cleveland Spiders were squashed out of existence.


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