The Cleveland Spiders were a Major League Baseball team which played between 1887 and 1899 in Cleveland, Ohio. The team played at National League Park from 1889 to 1890 and at League Park from 1891 to 1899.
The Spiders first fielded a team in the American Association (then a major league) in 1887. At the time, they were known as the Cleveland Forest Citys or Cleveland Blues. The team was organized by Frank Robison, who eventually brought his brother Stanley aboard to help run the club.
The Forest Citys were a weak team in their early years. In 1889, they moved to the National League and became known as the Spiders. They started to improve in 1891, largely due to the signing of future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young.
The Spiders had their first taste of success in 1892 when they finished 93–56 overall; winning the second half by three games over Boston with a 53–23 record. Other than standout second baseman Cupid Childs, the Spiders had an unremarkable offense. Their success in 1892 was built on pitching strength; Young was the NL's most dominant hurler, and 22-year-old Nig Cuppy had an outstanding rookie year. Following the season, a "World's Championship Series" exhibition was played between Cleveland and the first-half winner Boston Beaneaters, but the Spiders could only muster one tie in six games.
In 1895, the Spiders again finished second, this time to the equally rough-and-tumble Baltimore Orioles. Young again led the league in wins, and speedy left fielder Jesse Burkett won the batting title with a .409 average. The Spiders won the Temple Cup, an 1890s postseason series between the first- and second-place teams in the NL. Amid fan rowdyism and garbage-throwing, the Spiders won four of five games against Baltimore, including two wins for Cy Young.
The 1895 championship was the high water mark for the franchise. The following season, Baltimore and Cleveland again finished first and second in the NL, but in the battle for the 1896 Temple Cup, the second-place Spiders were swept in four games. In 1897, despite a winning record, the franchise finished fifth, a season highlighted by Young throwing the first of three career no-hitters on September 18. The Spiders again finished fifth in 1898.
1899: the debacle
In 1899, the Spiders' owners, the Robison brothers, bought the St. Louis Browns out of bankruptcy and changed their name to the Perfectos. However, they kept the Spiders as well--a blatant conflict of interest. Believing the Perfectos would draw greater attendance in more densely populated St. Louis, the Robisons transferred most of the Cleveland stars, including future Baseball Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, and Bobby Wallace to St. Louis. They also shifted a large number of Cleveland home games to the road (for instance, the original Opening Day game was shifted to St. Louis).
With a decimated roster, the Spiders made a wretched showing. They finished with a dismal won-lost record of 20–134 (.130), the worst in baseball history, 84 games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Superbas and 35 games behind the next-to-last (11th) place Washington Senators.
The Robisons announced after buying the Perfectos that they intended to run the Spiders as a "sideshow," and Cleveland fans apparently took them at their word. The Spiders' first 16 home games drew a total of 3,179 fans, or an average of 199 fans per game. Due to these meager attendance figures, the other 11 NL teams refused to come to League Park, as their cut of the revenue from ticket sales did not even begin to cover their hotel and travel expenses. The Spiders were thus forced to play 85 of their remaining 93 games on the road. Counting the large number of home games that had been shifted to the road earlier in the season, they only played 42 home games during the season, including only eight after July 1, and finished 9–33 (.214) at home and 11–101 (.098) on the road. Only 6,088 fans paid to attend Spiders home games in 1899, for a pitiful average of a mere 145 spectators per game in 9,000-seat League Park.
The 101 road losses is a major-league record that will never be threatened, as under current scheduling practices have teams only play a maximum of 81 away games (excluding one- or three-game playoffs). The team's longest winning streak of the season was two games, which they accomplished once: on May 20–21. Spiders opponents scored ten or more runs 49 times in 154 games. Pitchers Jim Hughey (4–30) and Charlie Knepper (4–22) tied for the team lead in wins.
The 1962 New York Mets, 40–120 (.250), and 2003 Detroit Tigers, 43–119 (.265), own the modern records in their respective leagues for the most losses, and thus draw frequent comparisons to the 1899 Spiders for futility.
The Robisons' decision to effectively reduce the Spiders to minor league status, along with other intra-league raiding such as that conducted by the Dodgers and to a lesser extent the Pittsburg Pirates, unwittingly helped pave the way to the National League's loss of its major league monopoly. The 12th-place Spiders were one of four teams contracted out of the National League at the end of the 1899 season (the others were the 11th-place Senators, the ninth-place Louisville Colonels and the fourth-place Baltimore Orioles, who were bankrupt). The 1899 fiasco played a role in the major leagues passing a rule which barred one person from owning controlling interest in two clubs.
The Robisons sold the assets of the Spiders team to Charles Somers and John Kilfoyle in 1900. In 1900, the then-minor American League (previously the Western League) fielded a team called the Cleveland Lake Shores. In 1901, after the American League declared major league status, the team became the Cleveland Blues, and eventually the Cleveland Indians.
- Cleveland Spiders all-time roster
- List of Cleveland Spiders managers
- List of Cleveland Spiders Opening Day starting pitchers
- J. Thomas Hetrick. Misfits! The Cleveland Spiders in 1899. Jefferson, N.C..: McFarland and Co., 1991. ISBN 0-89950-608-9
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