Cole’s Flash was a Dash Through Municipal Stadium
By Christian Petrila
You would expect a guy who hit .284 in 226 games with the Indians to have more than 39 RBI, right?
Alex Cole was an exception to the rule.
Cole was drafted in the second round of the 1985 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He played in the minors for St. Louis, but never got the opportunity to play there due in part to the firm hold Willie McGee had on centerfield. Finally, in 1990, the Cardinals decided to do Cole a favor and send him and Steve Peters to San Diego in exchange for Omar Olivares. Cole spent the first few months in the minors, but in July, he was shipped to Cleveland for Tom Lampkin.
A few weeks after he was acquired, Cole made his first career starts in a day-night doubleheader against the New York Yankees. The Indians lost both games, and although Cole went 0-4 in the first game, he responded by going 3-4 in the second. Cole would play another 61 games that year, finishing with a .300 batting average and a ninth place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (teammate Sandy Alomar Jr. won). However, he only had 13 RBI and didn’t hit a single home run. He set a team record by stealing five bases in a game. The Indians were so excited with their newfound tool, they moved back the fences and tailored Municipal Stadium to his strengths; his speed. For a summer, wearing rec-spec’s in Cleveland looked cool.
The next season had more consistent hitting from Cole. He hit .295 with 21 RBI in 122 games. Once again, he didn’t hit a home run. However, the biggest improvement for Cole that season was his approach at the plate. In his rookie season, he walked 10 fewer times than he struck out. In 1991, he walked 58 times while only striking out 47 times. Despite finishing with 105 losses, Indians fans had to be optimistic with a lineup that included young players like Cole, Alomar, Albert Belle, Mark Whiten and Carlos Baerga.
Any optimism the Indians and their fans had toward Cole ended pretty quickly in 1992. He made a complete 180 degree turn. His batting average didn’t just drop; it plummeted. His discipline at the plate vanished. Pretty much every stat declined (except strikeouts. Those went up). After 41 games of .206 hitting, the Indians sent Cole to Pittsburgh for Tony Mitchell.
Cole’s tenure in Pittsburgh was an improvement, as he hit .278 with 10 RBI in 64 games. However, after 290 games over three seasons with two teams, he was still without a home run.
That offseason, Cole would become part of history. He was the 17th pick of the 1992 expansion draft taken by the Colorado Rockies. In 126 games with the expansionRockies, Cole hit .256 with a career-high 24 RBI. However, Cole may have been the only one who didn’t benefit from the thin air inDenver, as he was still without a home run.
Cole signed with the Minnesota Twins before spring training started in 1994. That season was arguably the best of his career. He hit .296 with 23 RBI. He also found some mystical power source. The very man who didn’t hit a single home run in 416 games from 1990-93 hit four in 1994 alone. Basically, Alex Cole was Jamey Carroll before Jamey Carroll.
The next year, Cole only played in 28 games for the Twins. He signed with the Red Sox in 1996, but he only played 24 games forBoston. Cole would spend time in the Marlins organization in 1997, but never made it back to the majors. He would play independent ball and in the Mexican League until 2001. His final career line was a .280 batting average with five homers (four in one season alone) and 117 RBI.
Although his numbers may not represent it, Cole was a consistent hitter throughout his career.
Photo: Sports Illustrated photo vault