Frank DeHaas Robison - Cleveland Spiders Baseball Team Owner
193 Bratenahl Road
Early in the 1870s, Frank Robison envisioned that one day the business of transporting people would become the most crucial concern for every American city.
Frank De Haas Robison was born on November 16, 1852, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent most of his boyhood in Dubuque, Iowa, where he and his younger brother, Martin Stanford (Stan), developed their appreciation for the sport of baseball. He briefly attended Delaware University but left to start a business at age eighteen.
Robison married Sarah Carver (Sallie) Hathaway in 1875, the daughter of Charles Hathaway, who built street railroads. Charles found a worthy partner in his youthful son-in-law.
Frank and Sarah had three daughters: Marie Allison, born in 1878, who died of heart failure at age 21; Helene Hathaway (Britton), born on January 30, 1879; and Hortense Hathaway, born in 1882, who died at age 8.
Frank joined his father-in-law in 1877 and organized Hathaway & Robison to build a horse-drawn trolley system. The firm’s activity extended rapidly over the United States. In Canada, the firm’s interests extended into all the principal cities, except for Quebec.
Robison personally organized the Cleveland City Cable Railway Company in 1889 and built twenty-four miles of cable lines, considered the most perfect in detail in Payne and Superior Avenues operating from a single powerhouse. Eventually, Frank’s brother, Stan, joined him in the enterprise.
In 1897, Frank Robison merged with Marcus A. Hanna’s Woodland Avenue and West Side Street Railway to form the Cleveland City Railway Company. Robison acquired a substantial interest in the new company.
By 1908, Robison had flourishing street railway lines in more than 100 cities in the United States and Canada.
Next to street railways, baseball was Mr. Robison’s chief passion, and by a curious twist of fate, the one led to the other. In 1886, James Williams, who managed the Columbus baseball club, persuaded Mr. Robison that it would be a good investment to build a ballpark on the Cleveland Payne Avenue line. The Robison brothers acquired the Columbus club, and Frank became president of the company.
The American Association then considered a major league, chose the Robison brothers as an expansion team to begin to play in 1887. Initially, the team was known as the Forest Citys, the nickname used on the city's two previous professional baseball teams.
In 1889, the team moved to the National League and became known as the Spiders, reportedly after a team executive, assessing the players, noted the combination of the team's new black-and-gray uniforms together with the sight of several skinny, long-limbed players. He joked the team should be called "Spiders," and the name stuck.
Frank chose Lexington Avenue and Dunham Street (East 66th Street) as the site for the Cleveland Spiders because it was along the streetcar line he owned. League Park opened on May 1, 1891, with the Cleveland Spiders playing against the Cincinnati Reds. Cy Young made the first pitch of the Spiders, who won 12 to 3. During their tenure, the Spiders finished as high as 2nd place in the National League in 1892, 1895, and 1896 and won the Temple Cup, an early version of the modern National League Championship Series, in 1895.
The heady feeling didn’t last long. The team had slipped to fifth place, and fan interest waned. Frank Robison was infuriated by the drop in attendance. In 1899, Frank and Stan Robison purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns franchise and changed the name to the Perfectos. They also kept the Cleveland Spiders, a blatant conflict of interest.
Believing the Perfectos would draw a greater attendance, the Robisons transferred most of the Cleveland stars, including Cy Young, to St. Louis. Any player that couldn’t make it in St. Louis was sent to Cleveland. With a decimated roster, the Spiders made a wretched showing. They finished with a dismal 20 wins and 134 losses, the worst in major league baseball history,
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 National League 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.
Cleveland fans promptly dubbed the team “The Misfits” and stayed away in droves. Only 6,088 fans paid to attend Spiders home games in 1899, for a pitiful average of 145 spectators per game in 9,000-seat League Park.
The 12th-place Spiders were one of four teams contracted out of the National League at the end of the 1899 season to become a minor league team as part of the American League. The 1899 fiasco played a role in the major leagues passing a rule which barred one person from owning a controlling interest in two clubs. The Robison brothers sold the assets of the Spiders team in 1900.
On September 25, 1908, Frank Robison was not in his accustomed place in the grandstand at League Park. He had hardly missed a game all summer. A slight attack of indigestion troubled him in the morning. Just as the sun had set, Frank DeHaas Robison clapped a hand to his head, sank to the floor, and died from a stroke. His brother, Stan, became the sole stockholder. Stan, a bachelor, died on March 24, 1911, and willed seventy-five percent of the Cardinals ball club's ownership and ballpark to Frank’s daughter, Helene Britton, and twenty-five percent to Frank’s wife, Sarah.
Sarah Robison sold the cherished family home in 1915 to Sophia Taylor, who demolished the house to build a new home for herself. Sarah died four years later, on May 28, 1919. Both Frank and Sarah were buried at Lake View Cemetery.