Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #6 Rocky Colavito
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Rocky Colavito.
By Matthew Van Wormer
The next name on our list is most prominent due to the “curse” that supposedly haunted the Indians for years when they traded away the ever popular, Rocky Colavito. Colavito made his debut with the Indians on September 10, 1955, joining the club with the rest of the September call-ups. He played in just five games down the stretch, getting four hits in his nine at bats. The Indians were excited about what this youngster could do.
The next season, Cleveland got a taste of the power that would come off the bat of Colavito as he clubbed 21 home runs and hit .276 while the Indians finished nine games back of the Yankees in the American League standings.
In 1957, Colavito saw his playing time increase more and more. While the Indians floundered as a team, he flourished, increasing his home run total to 25 but striking out almost twice as many times as in 1956. The Indians were not contenders but the Tribe fans came in droves to see Colavito play the game. He was quickly a fan favorite.
Then 1958 may have been Colavito’s best statistical year. While hitting over .300 for the only time in his career (.303), he belted 41 home runs, good for the second most in baseball behind Mickey Mantle, with a league best .620 slugging percentage. But even Colavito’s big bat couldn’t get the Indians any closer to the pennant. They finished the season in 4th place in the American League, 14 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
In 1959, Colavito raised his home run total for the third year in a row, besting his total from 1958 by one, good enough to tie him with Harmon Killebrew for the league lead. The Indians stayed in contention deep into the season, finishing five games behind the Chicago White Sox that year.
It was just before the start of the 1960 season when the Indians’ general manager, Frank “Trader” Lane made one of the worst trades in Indians’ history, sending Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. Kuenn ended up being traded away before the end of the season and the Indians never fully recovered from losing one of their best, and by far the most popular players on the team.
Colavito was brought back to the Indians for the 1965 season but the trade that brought him back has been seen as worse than the one that sent him to Detroit. The Indians gave up a pitcher by the name of Tommy John as well as future Rookie of the Year, Tommie Agee. Even bringing Colavito back was part of the curse, according to Terry Pluto who has written books about the Indians and other Cleveland sports over the years.
A six-time All Star, Rocky Colavito was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame on July 29th, 2006.
Photo: MLB Photo File