The Spiders began their history in the old American Association (then a major league) in 1887. They were a weak team in their early years, but started to improve in 1891, two years after moving to the National League thanks in large part to their signing future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young.
The Spiders had their best season in 1892, when they finished 93-56, good for second in the league. 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-place 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 then 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.
The Cleveland Spiders finished fifth in each of the next two seasons, albeit with a winning record both times. Young threw the first of his three no-hitters for the Spiders on September 18, 1897. Then came 1899.
Due to lackluster attendance, other NL teams refused to travel to Cleveland's park. The Spiders were thus forced to play the final 36 games of the season on the road, of which they lost 35. In so doing, they set a number of negative records, including one that is truly unbreakable due to baseball's schedule: 109 road losses.
The 1899 Spiders were 11-109 (.092) on the road, and 9-25 (.265) at home. The team's longest winning streak of the season was two games, which they accomplished once: on May 20 and May 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. 6,088 fans paid for Spider home games in 1899, an average attendance of 179 per game.