An unexpected delight: the Baseball Heritage Museum in Cleveland

After making my first visit to Cleveland’s restored League Park four years ago, I vowed to return. I got the chance this week, traveling to my hometown from New Jersey for the unveiling of the statue of my boyhood hero, Rocky Colavito.

Elmer Flick statue

The Colavito ceremony was scheduled for early in the afternoon Tuesday, Aug. 10, Rocky’s 88th birthday. My friend Tim and I had some time free in the morning, and we decided to swing by League Park for a look-see.

It was our good fortune to arrive on a day when the on-site Baseball Heritage Museum was open during special hours. Tim and I were heading toward the field when a volunteer pointed us to the museum door, so we walked through — and gasped.

We weren’t expecting such a wonderful display of baseball memorabilia in the park’s old ticket office. Inside to greet us was a life-size statue of Elmer Flick, the Hall of Fame outfielder for the Naps, as the Cleveland nine was known in the first decade of the 20th century.

In every direction we turned, there was something that electrified us. A large placard showed a photo of slugging Vic Power, one of the earliest Indians I remember from my childhood, in circa 1960 Indians pinstripes. Another placard showed a photo of Larry Doby and Leroy “Satchel” Paige, major drivers of the 1948 world champions.

Photos of many other Cleveland ballplayers were scattered about, and on display were home and away replica “World Champions” jerseys the team wore in 1921 after they won the World Series the year before. A display case featured Bob Feller memorabilia.

There was also a display on Luis Sockalexis, who played for the 19th century Cleveland Spiders and for whom the Indians may or may not have been named.

Cleveland things, I expected.

What I didn’t expect was the broad range of memorabilia from the Negro Leagues, Latin American leagues and “League of Their Own” era women’s professional baseball. The photos below will give you an idea.

A corner of the museum has old baseball-themed pinball machines, and cases display a number of baseball board games spanning several decades. Baseball books, pins and other souvenirs are available for purchase.

We were fortunate that the museum’s executive director and curator, Ricardo Rodriguez, was on hand to answer our questions and solve one very important mystery.

Tim and I both fondly remember the special mustard you’d get with hot dogs sold at Indians games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The day before, we went to a couple of grocery stores in search of both brands (Berman’s and Stadium Mustard) that claim they produce the true stadium mustard.

We asked Ricardo about the controversy, and he said the research he’s done in old clippings and files shows the correct answer. You’ll need to pay the museum a visit and ask him, as I will not divulge the answer. I will, however, note that the mustard display at the museum features Bertman.

The museum’s regular hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free, with a $10 donation suggested. I gladly gave that in cash and promised Roberto I would become a member when I got home. I did that today, as I am very happy to support such a wonderful tribute to baseball.

The Baseball Heritage Museum is inside the old ticket office on the first floor of the building above at the entrance to League Park.

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