When LeBron James informed ESPN’s Jim Gray at 9: 27 pm ET Thursday that he was taking his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat, the NBA’s most coveted free agent, also joined a long list of Cleveland products who will be remembered for their acts of treachery and betrayal.
Here, then, are some other sordid characters in Cleveland’s past, who LeBron joins in the city’s Hall of Shame.
• A loathsome figure plastered on Cleveland’s ``Wall of Shame’’ is Leon Cszolgosz, an anarchist, also a Clevelander, best remembered for his despicable act of assassinating President William McKinley at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901, plugging two shots into McKinley’s chest and abdomen using a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson revolver. McKinley died on September 14;th; 45 days later, Cszolgosz was electrocuted and later buried in an unmarked grave in Auburn, New York.
• John Leonard Whitfield was inducted into the Hall of Shame on the first ballot, having shot and killed Cleveland Policeman Dennis Griffin in cold blood in 1923, burning his uniform and hiding his corpse under a tree. Rewards up to $2, 500 were offered for his capture. It took one of the largest police manhunts in U.S. history before Detective Charles O. Nevel and his five-man police squad caught up with Whitfield working at the Ternes Coal & Lumber Company in Detroit under the alias, ``Sam De Carlo.’’ To avoid an angry mob waiting for his return to Cleveland, authorities made arrangements to have Whtifield get off the train in Elyria (23 miles east of Cleveland); but a crowd estimated to be 1,000 were nonetheless on hand when he was ushered inside the Cleveland Police Station on June 28th.
Before getting on the train in Cleveland to the Ohio Penitentiary after being convicted of murder, Whitefield’s parting words to Northeast Ohio were: ``To hell with the people of Cleveland-they don’t mean a thing to me!’’
NOTE: Whitfield managed to escape from the Ohio Pen on March 10, 1928, but was eventually gunned down by Detective William J. Bonzo.
• Joseph Cole, a millionaire industrialist, who bought Cleveland’s afternoon daily, the Cleveland Press in 1980, promising to boost its sagging circulation, ended up losing a million a month and opted to close the newspaper in 1982 after 103 years in existence.
What Press employees and Cleveland readers didn’t know soon after Cole bought the newspaper was he had already cooked up a private deal with Si Newhouse, owner of their cross town rivals, The Plain Dealer to merge the operations of the two papers. Newhouse later testified that Cole had approached him about the deal almost as soon as he bought the Cleveland Press. After some extra prodding from Cole, Newhouse eventually relented and agreed to pay $22.5 million for a subscription list in return for Cole shutting down the Cleveland Press, enough to cover Cole’s losses and make a handsome profit for himself, giving The Plain Dealer and its owners a monopoly of the Cleveland newspaper market and millions more in advertising revenue.
NOTE: Newhouse and Cole’s secret deal was exposed by the Akron Beacon Journal, while the federal government launched a criminal anti-trust investigation. The Justice Department, however, later dropped the charges, and gave Newhouse immunity in exchange for his testimony.
• Clevelanders might have forgiven Art Modell for firing legendary head coach Paul Brown in 1963, but inhabitants of this football crazed town weren’t so forgiving when the Cleveland Browns principal owner ripped out their hearts, by moving their beloved Browns to Baltimore in 1995, a flagrant act of duplicity that Clevelanders still haven’t gotten over despite landing a new team in 1999, while maintaining its team colors and heritage under new owner Al Lerner.
• On November 19, 1996, the Cleveland Indians mighty clean-up hitter Albert Belle left a loyal battalion of fans behind in the dust , when he signed with the Chicago White Sox, the Tribe’s hated division rivals for a staggering five-year $55 million contract, becoming the first $10 million a year player in baseball history. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s coup in snagging the Tribe’s slugger and putting him on the same team with Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura would arguably make this trio the best 3-4-5 lineup in baseball. The Sox ended up finishing six games behind the division leading Indians in 1997; Ventura broke his ankle during spring training; and wasn’t able to rejoin the Sox until the end of July. The Indians advanced to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Belle bolting for the ``Windy City’’ was a clear slap in the face. Cleveland fans, after all, stuck with this troubled outfielder through thick and thin, through his drug rehabs, through his profanity-laced tirades, despite having been suspended for playing with a corked bat, and putting up with his multiple instances of charging the pitcher’s mound.
• October 27, 1997, the Cleveland Indians were two outs away from winning its first World Series in 49 years, when their prized closer, Jose Mesa, aka ``Senor Smoke’’ stepped to the mound, only to cough up the lead in a critical game 7 against the Florida Marlins in Miami. The Marlins ended up edging the Tribe, 3-2 in 11 innings to win their first World Series and send yet another fatal dagger through the hearts of Cleveland fans. Mesa quickly became a marked man in Cleveland; fans never forgave him for letting a World Series slip away and he ended up being traded to the San Francisco Giants the following year for pitcher Steve Reed in a five-player deal.
• Cleveland Indians General Manager Frank Lane might as well have written his own death certificate when he traded away one of baseball’s premier sluggers, Rocky Colavito (who belted 129 home runs in four seasons) to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn on April 17, 1960. ``The Rock’’ went on to smash 173 home runs over the next five seasons. Lane was so hated for his dunderhead deals, (he also traded away Norm Cash) it’s no wonder he earned the moniker, ``Trader Lane.’’ Cleveland fans long since believed Lane’s Colavito-for- Kuenn blunder placed a curse on the Tribe and prevented them from advancing to the World Series. It would take until 1995 before the Indians made it to the World Series; but the Tribe still hasn’t won a World Series since 1948.
Source: ``The Cleveland 200: The Most Noted, Notable and Notorious in the First 200 Years of a Great American City’’` By Thomas Kelly; ``They Died Crawling: And Other Tales of Cleveland Woe’’ by John Stark Bellamy II; ``Newhouse: All the Glitter, Power & Glory of America’s Richest Media Empire’’ By Thomas Maier; The New York Times Historical Archives