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Cleveland Fans Could Root-Root-Root for Three Indians Teams 90 Years Ago

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Gord McFarlane played right wing for the Cleveland Indians of the IHL in the early 1930s. Photo: hockeygods.com

By Terry Gallagher |

The Cleveland baseball club is about to rechristen itself after playing 107 seasons as the Indians, a name that has fallen out of favor. But in 1931, the Indians name was so popular it was used by all three of the city’s sports franchises — baseball, football and hockey. It was the only year there was a trio of Tribes in Cleveland.

The 1931 baseball Indians are the best known of the same-named teams. They played their home games at League Park and were still a year away from moving to newly built Municipal Stadium. Future Hall-of-Famer Earl Averill played the outfield and led the club in nearly every hitting category.

The ’31 team set the record for the longest losing streak in franchise history. Sitting in first place in the American League on May 8, the Indians lost 12 straight games, all of them at home. However, the never-say-die Tribe also began a 10-game winning streak before the month was over. The club finished in fourth place with a 78-76 record under manager Roger Peckinpaugh.

The 1931 National Football League Indians were a league-sponsored club that played most of its games on the road. It was the first professional sports team to play at the massive Municipal Stadium, making its debut 10 months before the baseball Indians played there.

The football Indians held their inaugural home game on September 26, grinding out a rain-soaked, 6 to 0 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers before a crowd of 8,000. The game’s only score occurred in the third quarter when fullback Doc Elliott made a one-yard plunge for the first NFL touchdown at the old stadium. Led by player/coach Al Cornsweet, the NFL Cleveland Indians went 2-8 and finished in eighth place during their one season in the 10-team league.

The 1930-31 Cleveland hockey club was the only one of the three Indians teams to make it to the playoffs that year. The Tribe icers were the defending champs of the International Hockey League, a title they won in their inaugural season a year earlier. The team played its home games at the Elysium Arena.

The Cleveland Indians’ 24-18-6 record was good enough for third place in the seven-team IHL and qualified them for the postseason. The largest crowd in the Elysium’s history packed the arena on April 4 to see the locals take on the Buffalo Bisons in the decisive game. Despite the big turnout, the Tribe lost 6-4 and was eliminated.

Coached by Harry “Hap” Holmes, the Indians scored 131 goals that season (second best in the league). Standout players were Ken Doraty (25 goals, 24 assists) and Alex Gray (29 goals, 8 assists).

The football and hockey Cleveland Indians are both long gone, making the baseball club “the last of the Mohicans,” so to speak. Although it will soon lose the Indians name, the baseball franchise and its rich history live on as another new chapter in Cleveland sports begins.

Terry Gallagher is a freelance sportswriter based in Cleveland, Ohio. He writes about professional and high school sports. His published works include articles on baseball, football, basketball, soccer and volleyball.

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