Colavito Rounds Out All-Time Indians Team Bench
By Ronnie Tellalian
While Bob Feller is the most beloved of the Indians, Rocky Colavito is no less famous in Northeast Ohio. He captured the hearts of Indians fans in the 1950’s with powerful home run blasts the like of which Clevelanders wouldn’t see again until Jim Thome. Outrage erupted upon his trade in 1957 and his legacy would be forever linked to that fateful move. The right fielders that fans had taken to calling “The Rock” now left the famous curse. Known as “The curse of The Rock” or “The curse of Colavito” he became the subject of many books by many authors, most notably Plain Dealer writer Terry Pluto. Despite his link to malediction, he was an incredible hitter with fantastic skills. He is the first Indians player to hit 40+ home runs in back-to-back seasons, and if it were not for Luis Aparicio, Colavito would have been the Indians second straight Rookie of the Year winner.
Utility Outfielder: Rocky Colavito
Colavito made his rookie debut with the Indians in 1956. In 101 games he hit 21 home runs, drove in 65, and posted a slash line of .276/.372/.531. Slash line is simply batting average, on-base average, and slugging average separated by a slash so it reads as AVG/OBP/SLG. These stats were enough for Colavito to earn a second place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting.
He hit 25 home runs in his sophomore campaign, but his breakout year came in 1958. That year The Rock hit 41 home runs, drove in 113, smacked out 303 total bases and hit .303/.405/.620. His slugging percentage led the American League and he finished third in the MVP voting.
The infamous trade that started the curse of Rocky Colavito sent The Rock to Detroit in exchange for right fielder Harvey Kuenn. Colavito was coming off an All-Star season, a year in which he finished fourth in the MVP voting and won the AL home run crown. He also led the league in total bases with 301 and drove in 111 runs. Frank Lane was the Indians General Manager at the time. He would end his career with a less than stellar reputation.
Lane received his first GM job with the Chicago White Sox in 1948. He earned nicknames “Trader Lane”, and “Frantic Frank” and “The Wheeler Dealer” during his seven year stint in Chicago. Those monikers were well deserved since Lane made an astounding 241 trades in those seven years. He moved on to St Louis in 1955 and tried to trade Hall of Famer Stan Musial. That deal was nixed by the team’s owner and Lane was fired. In 1957, he got the job as GM of the Cleveland Indians. Lane felt Colavito struck out too much, was a poor base runner, and an indifferent fielder; he shipped Colavito off to Detroit for Kuenn.
On the surface, Lane traded the reigning American League home run champ for the reigning AL batting champ. Kuenn was a better defender and faster runner. When you look beyond the surface, it’s easy to see than Lane was bamboozled by Tigers GM Bill DeWitt, a Branch Rickey disciple.
In a normal career pattern, a player will peak at age 27 and begin to decline rapidly after age 30. At the time of the trade, Colavito was 26 years old, just entering his peak; Kuenn, at age 29, was just exiting his. As further evidence, Colavito went on to his 173 home runs over the next five seasons, an average of 34.6 per season, and appear in three more All-Star games. That included one season of 45 home runs and 140 RBI. Kuenn was traded in 1960 after one year in Cleveland and would not make another All-Star appearance thereafter.
Colavito would return to Cleveland in 1965 as part of a three team trade. He had his fifth All-Star appearance that season, finished fifth in the MVP voting, hit 26 home runs and led the league with 108 RBI. His last full season with the Indians came in 1966. He hit 30 home runs and made his sixth and final All-Star appearance. He would be traded again mid-season in 1967.
Retiring in 1968, Colavito spent a total of eight years in an Indians uniform. During that time he hit 190 home runs, drove in 574 runs, and batted .267/.361/.495. The subject of many books, Rocky Colavito is one of the most recognizable and beloved names in Cleveland Indians history.