Jeremy Feador was a pretty popular guy last fall. Anything and anyone connected to the Indians during the World Series run was popular, of course, but it's not often the media is seeking out the team's archivist and historian for interviews. Everyone wanted to rehash the story of the 1948 pennant. You know the one. In September of the following season, with the Indians having been eliminated from postseason contention, owner Bill Veeck ceremoniously buried the pennant in a coffin just past the outfield wall of old Municipal Stadium. It's been missing ever since.
"Yeah, it came up a lot," says Feador. "What I thought was it wasn't dug back up and got lost from there, but someone said, and this is what's nice about doing stories with the media, the guy said he remembered Hal Lebovitz writing that Veeck dug it up the next day because the casket was expensive and he had to return it. And there's a picture of the grounds crew unfurling it in the 1960s, so yeah, part of me hopes it's still around. But maybe in the '70s or '80s someone found it and wondered what was this thing collecting dust, or maybe something was leaking on it and they tossed it."
The pennant is, naturally, one of Feador's holy grails, as is a 1921 Indians World Champions jersey, another indelible part of the Tribe's history that has since vanished into thin air. Things are bound to get lost over the course of a century, but it's vexing to think two of the most important tangible pieces of the franchise could just disappear. It makes a little more sense, though, when you know that the team never had an archivist before Feador, who's now in his fourth season with the organization.
Feador, 30, grew up in North Olmsted and now lives in Rocky River with his wife and daughter. He went to Baldwin Wallace for undergrad, studying history and political science, then Wright State for a masters in public history, specializing in museum and archive work. After graduation, he bounced around various part time jobs at Hale Farm, BW, and the Ohio Turnpike before landing a gig with the Browns.
"I had seen that the Ravens had an archivist so I just wrote the Browns and suggested they should too," he says from what you can charitably call his office at Progressive Field.
It wasn't exactly the perfect fit. "I'm 30, so my formative years were watching the Indians when there were no Browns. I contacted the Indians, who didn't have an archivist, and we talked and the timing was right. But these stories were coming out about teams like the Yankees and Red Sox who have team historians and I'd send those along."
Eventually the Tribe invited Feader to intern — "Yes, I was a 27-year-old intern," he says — and slowly but surely his role grew.
He arrived to find the organization's history not in disarray, per se, but scattered, and definitely unorganized.
"There was this big cage filled with stuff and a lot of it was trying to figure out what the stuff was," he says. He pulls open a small closet and pulls out a bat. "Like this. It has Hal McCray's name on it, but why do we have this? Is there history connected to it? Is it just filler? You find a broken bat and maybe it's the broken bat from the 12-0 run comeback. And then you look at photos and it doesn't match. You get so excited when you find something."
The Indians were actually the first major league team to open a museum, back in 1951 at the old stadium. Feador says newspaper reports show that treasured pieces like a Nap Lajoie bat, the Bill Wambsganss unassisted triple play ball from the 1920 World Series, and the bat Elmer Smith used to clobber a grand slam in that same series were all on display.
But the museum closed in 1972 when the team stunk and the stands emptied. And while some of it made its way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, not everything did. And it drives Feador a little crazy.
"People have saved stuff though. While a lot of stuff might have been eighty-sixed when we moved from Muni, someone had the wherewithal to save some stuff like the last out ball from the last game there. I know a lot of Browns contracts ended up in the dumpster when Muni closed, but we saved a bunch. We have Doby's contract from 1947 — one of the most significant contracts not just in Cleveland but in baseball. Actually, we have two copies."
Nowadays it's up to Feador and some other people to make sure history is saved as it's made.
When Rajai Davis hit for the cycle, the team let him know they'd like something for the archives. Davis kept his helmet, gloves, bat and ball, but offered up his jersey and hat.
"And when Naquin hit the walk-off inside the park homer, the players ripped his jersey in the celebration, which was nice because it couldn't be reused. So we got that. Or when Kluber had 18 strikeouts, the ball from the 18th was flipped into the crowd by Perez. Like Asdrubal Cabrera's triple play ball, that happens. But Kluber gave us the ball from the 14th."
The search to maintain and preserve the team's long history is a bit like Pawn Stars mixed with Antique Road Show — except, of course, the team doesn't pay to buy anything, and the provenance of memorabilia is sometimes hard to prove.
"One guy called and said he had Elmer Smith's grand slam bat," he says. "So I said what's the story behind it. And the guy told me, and I said, well, there's an article that mentions it was in our hall of fame at one point and it doesn't jibe with the timeline of the bat you have, plus the bat had Nap Lajoie's name on it. He could have used it, but it just didn't fit. You always get people calling about stuff connected to 1920 and 1948. It's never 1957 or 1935 or something. But sometimes it checks out. Someone called and said they had Tris Speaker's pocketwatch from 1920. I looked it up and yup, a company gave Tris and a few other guys watches and there were pictures. It's cool when it checks out."
While there are small exhibits throughout the stadium — the Feller exhibit in the Terrace Club, for instance — there's no team museum yet. But Feador has hopes and points to the obvious benefit for fans.
"I love Bob Feller and the '90s Indians as much as the next guy, but so much of our history is lost in the shuffle of those two things," he says. "There's Speaker and Joss and Lajoie, and we're trying to get those names and those stories out there. I know we're a football town and that the '70s and '80s weren't great, but if you measure a team's history by World Series, there'd be like five good teams. And a lot of our Hall of Famers played before there were uniform numbers. We have 100 and some odds years of history here, dating back to 1865 and the birth of amateur baseball in Northeast Ohio. History and baseball go hand in hand. And it's part of our mission statement, you know, connecting generations. What better way than to look at something like Rocky Colavito's bat or something from Sam McDowell?"