Youngstown connection to Cleveland baseball

Rayen grad McAleer filled out Cleveland’s first AL opening day lineup


Terry Francona is following the fading footsteps of a Youngstown native as Indians manager.

When Francona fills out the lineup card today in Texas, it will be his fifth opener as Tribe manager and start the 117th season in team history.

The first lineup for the franchise was picked by The Rayen School graduate Jimmy McAleer in Chicago in 1901. It was the very first game played in American League history — the Cleveland Blues against the host White Stockings.

Even the most casual baseball fan knows of Francona’s fabulous winning ways in Boston and Cleveland. Even the most ardent rooter likely knows little to nothing of McAleer, who had some rather remarkable achievements as a player, manager and team owner — ironically in the same two cities.

Born in 1864, one year before the end of the Civil War, McAleer was the very definition of a good-field, no-hit outfielder for the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. He then managed AL teams in Cleveland, St. Louis and Washington and was part owner of the Boston Red Sox.

Not bad for the youngest child of a boilermaker who died before Jimmy’s sixth birthday. His mother, Mary, put an emphasis on education as the kids grew up on the city’s West Side. Older brother Owen, named for their father, became a wealthy industrialist in California and served as mayor of Los Angeles, 1904-09.

Jimmy had the same entrepreneurial skills along a different path. A fine player in local leagues as a teen, he went off to play minor-league ball for a couple years and in his early 20s became part-owner of a traveling vaudeville show. He later developed a long friendship with Broadway legend George M. Cohan.

McAleer always had an eye for promotion and began what has become a great American tradition. As Washington manager, he saw President William Howard Taft in the crowd on opening day, April 14, 1910. Knowing Taft was a big fan he asked if the hefty president would like to toss a ball from the stands to officially proclaim the start of the season. Taft eagerly agreed.

To Vice President James Sherman, the game was a giant headache, however. Philadelphia’s Frank “Home Run” Baker slashed a foul ball off the veep’s head. Sherman was OK, but didn’t fully enjoy the 3-0 one-hitter pitched by the Senators’ great Walter Johnson.

McAleer was often a headache to opponents, umpires and league officials. He took much of his feisty style from Spiders manager Patsy Tebeau, who turned the Cleveland club into a winner with literally plenty of fight.

In 1896, Tebeau was jailed after attacking an umpire, with McAleer and other Spiders fined. Later that season, Cincinnati’s Arlie Latham tripped McAleer on the basepaths. Jimmy ran to the dugout, got a bat, and chased Latham all over the field.

McAleer hit only .253 with 11 homers over 1,021 big-league games, but did have 262 career steals and was regarded as the finest defensive outfielder the game had seen until Hall of Famer Tris Speaker came along.

Newspaper accounts credited him with being the first outfielder with the innate instinct to turn his back on a fly ball, race to a spot, then turn and catch it.

McAleer acquired the nickname “Loafer”, not for his crustiness, but for the way he glided around the bases and outfield. His athleticism made it look as if he wasn’t even trying.

His first lineup card had 30-year-old Bill Hoffer as the starting pitcher. Hoffer had been an ace (31-6 and 25-7 records) on the NL champion Baltimore Orioles in 1895 and 1896.

Cleveland finished second both years after edging the Orioles for the 1894 title. In 1900, he pitched for manager McAleer for the Cleveland Lake Shores, going 16-12 when the AL was regarded as a Class A minor league.

Hoffer issued several early walks in Cleveland’s 8-2 loss in the AL debut game. McAleer soon realized Hoffer didn’t have it anymore and relegated him to the bullpen. That was considered an indignity at the time — but it led to Hoffer becoming the answer to an ersatz trivia question.

After the save became an official stat in 1969, historians went back and scoured every box score of every game, giving a save to a reliever who qualified under the new rule. Turns out, Hoffer earned a whopping three in 1901 — when AL ironmen completed an astounding 937 of 1,096 starts.

Nevertheless, Hoffer is the answer to: What pitcher led his league in saves, but was a starting pitcher on opening day that year?

McAleer is the answer to the query of which team owner was ousted by a league president for firing a manager. It happened in early 1914, a few months before 19-year-old Babe Ruth joined the Red Sox, and 15 months after Boston had gone 105-47, then beat the New York Giants in the World Series.

McAleer, the entrepreneur, interfered with manager Jake Stahl before a road game in that series, insisting that he not start ace Smoky Joe Wood (34-5 that year) to lessen the chance of winning and get the decisive game back to Boston — where sparkling new Fenway Park was ready for a big crowd.

Sure enough Boston lost, 5-2. Wood was so upset that he attacked the losing pitcher the next day, then went out and was blasted, 11-4. Many said Wood lost on purpose. It tied the series at three games apiece.

Wood came back to pitch three innings of relief and get the win in the finale, as the Red Sox pushed across a 10th-inning run to beat Christy Mathewson, 3-2.

New York had taken a 2-1 lead in the top half, but an error and walk began Boston’s rally. Speaker singled home the tying run. Larry Gardner’s sacrifice fly won it.

Both batting heroes were eventually traded to Cleveland, where they helped the Indians to their first World Series title in 1920 — as did Wood, who had hurt his arm, but made a comeback in Ohio as a hard-hitting (.366 in 1921) outfielder.

McAleer’s greed kept him from getting that big crowd. He sold tickets out from under the mayor and the team’s most loyal fans, The Royal Rooters. A near riot ensued, the angry fans preventing others from getting in. A crowd of only 17,034, about half of capacity, saw the exciting clincher.

The entire episode strained McAleer’s once very friendly relationship with Stahl — and with Ban Johnson, the AL president who had relied on both men to help build the league.

McAleer fired Stahl during the 1913 season, further infuriating Johnson, his good friend. While out of the country on a goodwill baseball tour, Johnson replaced McAleer as owner.

A bitter McAleer never spoke to Johnson again and revealed his complete account to only Vindicator sports reporter Frank Ward with the understanding it not be published until after his death.

McAleer’s version conflicts with some other accounts. His basic premise was that as team owner, he had the right to make all decisions about the club without outside interference.

McAleer returned to Youngstown with wife, Anna. They had married in 1913. He came home one day in 1930 to find her dead and he was overcome with grief. He remarried a few months later, but was hospitalized with cancer. The painful disease and memories of his demise proved too much.

On April 29, 1931, reportedly while listening to a ballgame on the radio, McAleer excused himself from friends, went into another room and shot himself in the head at age 66. McAleer is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

The news of his suicide was reported on the first page of The New York Times sports section. It was not the lead story. That was about Cleveland pitcher Wes Ferrell firing a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns.

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