Ex-Indians Populate List of Postseason Dreams Unfulfilled
Bob Toth | On 01, Feb 2015
Last week, the Major League Baseball family lost a trailblazer and an icon of the sports scene, not just in the city of Chicago, but across the entire county, with the death of Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.
Mr. Cub, who would have turned 84 on Saturday, signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1953. The next season, he would become a mainstay on the lineup card, leading the league in games played for the first of six times in his career. He would spend 19 years in the Show, winning consecutive MVP awards in 1958 and 1959 while making eleven All-Star teams. A rare breed of shortstop for any era, he hit 40 homers or more five times in a six year span and drove in 143 runs in during his phenomenal 1959 campaign.
Despite the accomplishments and accolades, the first ballot Hall of Famer in 1977 also sits atop the list of men who played in the most career games without a postseason appearance.
Banks played for perennial losing teams with the Cubs. During his 19 years, the Windy City’s National League squad finished over .500 just six times. It took him eleven years to be on a winning team; the 1963 Cubs finished 82-80, but in seventh place in the division. In each of his final five seasons, they were closer, finishing second in 1969 and 1970 and third in the other three seasons.
With 2,528 games played, Banks had 106 more appearances than the man he overtook on the list when he retired, a fellow Chicago legendary shortstop and Hall of Famer, the White Sox’ Luke Appling. With the retirement of Adam Dunn, who finished with 2,001 games played and no playoff appearances, Alex Rios of the Kansas City Royals is the current high man on the list, but is more than 900 games short of Banks.
Given the need for long stretches of mediocrity and some bad luck to fall into such undesirable company, it is little surprise that several former Indians round out the list of 39 players who played at least 1,700 games without a playoff trip. The lengthy and notable absence of the Indians from the postseason from 1955 to 1994 made this feat much easier for many of the following men to accomplish.
Number three on the list after Banks and Appling is first baseman Mickey Vernon. A two-time AL batting champ, Vernon was the recipient of some bad timing throughout his career. He came up with the Washington Senators in 1939 and the closest his Nats came to first while he was with the team was a second place finish in 1943 when the team was 13.5 games in back of New York.
He spent 1949 and 1950 in Cleveland, just missing their World Series appearance in 1948, before returning to the nation’s capital from 1950 to 1955 with Senators teams who finished no higher than fifth. He spent two seasons in Boston before returning to Cleveland in 1958. He was traded by the Tribe following the season to the reigning NL champions, the Milwaukee Braves, but they finished two games out of first in his age 41 season. He spent nine games in September 1960 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was cut on September 30th with just a few games remaining on the schedule. The Bucs won the NL Pennant and defeated the Yankees in the World Series, but Vernon was not on the roster. He appeared in 2,409 games in 20 seasons without a postseason appearance, despite the close calls.
Buddy Bell is fourth on the list with 2,405 games played over 18 seasons without a trip to the playoffs. The Ohio native (both of Moeller High School in Cincinnati and Miami University in Oxford) was originally drafted by the Indians in the 1969 draft. The son of former Major League outfielder Gus Bell, who reached the World Series with the Reds in 1961, Buddy spent seven years in Cleveland from 1972 to 1978, making an All-Star team in 1973. The Indians during that span, however, finished no higher than fourth in the AL East and had just one season with a winning record.
He was dealt in December of 1978 to the Texas Rangers for the next Indians player on this list. Bell played part of the next seven seasons with the Rangers, becoming a consistent bat and glove for the team, but Texas finished as high as second in the AL West once. Midseason in 1985, he was traded home to Cincinnati and spent three years with the Reds, making his closest trips to the postseason there as they finished second in the NL West from 1985 to 1989. A midyear trade back to Texas with the Houston Astros sent him back to the middle of the division. He signed as a free agent following the season with the Rangers to conclude his career.
Toby Harrah came up with the Washington Senators in 1969 as the team dwelled closer to the bottom of the division than the top. While Harrah became a three-time AL All-Star with the Rangers, they climbed as high as second place in the West in 1974, 1977, and 1978.
Prior to the 1979 season, he was swapped to Cleveland for Bell, but the results in the standings were worse. Harrah’s Indians finished in sixth place out of seven teams in four of his five years with Cleveland; the other year they finished dead last. He was traded by the Indians to the New York Yankees prior to the 1984 season, but, despite the Bombers finishing a dozen games above .500, they trailed the division leaders by 17 games. He was dealt back to Texas following the season and, in his final year, came close to the playoffs, but the Rangers finished five games in back and in second place in the AL West. He played 2,155 games without a playoff game.
Catcher Al Lopez played 19 seasons in the Majors, with all but one season coming in the NL with Brooklyn, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The Robins (Dodgers) steadily were in the middle of the pack in the NL, while his time with the Bees from 1936 to 1940 was spent in the bottom half of the division. His Pirates finished in second in 1944, but they were well out of the race at 14.5 games back.
Lopez was traded following the 1946 season to Cleveland, where he spent just one year with the club in 1947, missing the Indians trip to the World Series by one year. He would eventually make it there as a manager, leading the Tribe to the 1954 World Series, albeit with unfortunate results for the team that established the most wins in franchise history with 111.
Number 24 on the list is a long-time fan favorite in Cleveland, Rocky Colavito, with 1,841 games played.
Colavito debuted with the Indians in September of 1955, missing out on the World Series trip led by Lopez the season before. The Indians missed a return trip to the World Series by three games that season, and again finished in second in 1956 but were nine games in back of the Yankees. After a third second-place finish in a five year span, Frank Lane shocked the Cleveland fan base by dealing the promising slugger, fresh off of back-to-back 40+ homer, 110+ RBI seasons, to Detroit.
The Tigers struggled with the Rock in the lineup in 1960, but they won 101 games in 1961. Still, it was not enough to catch the Yankees’ 109 wins and the Tigers went home without a late October. In the middle of the pack the next two years, he was dealt to Kansas City, where he spent a lonely season at the bottom of the AL with the last place Athletics.
He was dealt back to the Tribe for the 1965 season, but it was not the same team he had left six years prior. A pair of fifth place finishes and on their way to an eighth place finish in 1967, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He spent his 14th and final MLB season split between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, but both teams were middle of the road in that 1968 season.
Minnie Minoso finished his career with six fewer appearances than Colavito, but with the same postseason results – none. Like the above mentioned future teammate, he missed out on a trip to the World Series by one year. Minoso debuted with nine games in 1949 and stuck in the Majors in 1951 when, after eight games with Cleveland, he was dealt to the White Sox. The Sox were good throughout his seven years with the club, but they could not push past second place.
He was traded back to Cleveland for the 1958 season while his ex-teammates in Chicago again finished in second. In what would be his final season with the Indians in 1959, the Pale Hose won the division and went to the World Series for the first time since 1919.
The Indians returned him to the AL champs, but in his two years back with the club they had fallen back to middle of the division. Years in St. Louis and Washington amounted to no playoff baseball and he returned to the Sox again in 1964, but was released midseason as the team finished just one game behind the Yankees in the AL.
Elmer Valo had a cup of coffee with the Tribe in 1959. The outfielder spent his first 15 seasons with the Athletics, who just twice would finish as high as fourth place in the AL. Two trips with the NL’s Philadelphia Phillies were just as unproductive. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957 and stayed with the team through their move to Los Angeles in 1958, but luck was not on his side, as the team appeared in the World Series both the year before and the year after his time with the club, including 1959 while with the Indians.
He was with the Yankees at the start of the 1960 season, one in which they lost the World Series to the Pirates, but Valo played just eight games for the Big Apple and was released by late May. He spent the end of that season and the next with the Senators/Twins franchise, further from the postseason. He played 20 seasons and 1,806 games.
The animated Jim Piersall debuted in Boston with the Red Sox in 1950 and by 1953 was a regular in their outfield. But in an AL division dominated by the Yankees and, to some degree, the Indians, the Red Sox were regularly a third or fourth place team.
He joined the Indians in 1959 and the team had a close call, finishing five games in back of the White Sox, who ended the Yankees’ four year run. The Indians were going the opposite direction and so too would go Piersall, who was traded to Washington following the 1961 season. The Senators were last in the AL in 1962 and he was heading to the same results with the team in 1963 before he was dealt to the New York Mets. The Mets fared no better that season, finishing in last in the NL, but Piersall was gone before then, released in July to join the Los Angeles Angels, who finished in ninth place in the AL behind the Senators. He remained with the Angels into the 1967 season, but the team would do no better than fifth in the standings during his stay.
Tito Francona played 15 seasons with nine different clubs from 1956 to 1970. He was on fifth and sixth place teams in Baltimore and Detroit in his first three seasons, and a quick stop in Chicago with the White Sox in 1958 was a year premature of their postseason berth. He made his longest stop of his career in Cleveland, playing with the Indians from 1959 to 1964, but after the 89-65 record the club posted his first season in town, they could not climb back into the top third of the division.
He moved on to the NL at the end of 1964 when he was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals from the Indians, but the NL was no more kind as stops with the Cardinals, Phillies, and Atlanta Braves yielded nothing. His closest trip was in 1969 when he started the season with the Braves, but he was dealt to the Oakland Athletics during the year. Atlanta would win the NL West but was swept in the NL Championship Series, while the A’s finished second in the AL West. They would finish in the same spot in the standings in his final season, which was split between the A’s and Brewers. With 1,719 games played, none were in the postseason for Francona.
A total of 63 players have logged at least 1,500 games without a trip to the postseason. In addition to the above players, former Indians outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, third baseman Willie Kamm, first baseman Mike Hargrove, infielder Vic Power, first baseman Pete O’Brien, designated hitter Andre Thornton, outfielder Rick Manning, and first baseman/outfielder Bruce Bochte all played a dozen seasons or more without knowing the joys of playing meaningful October baseball.
The majority of the men on this list played in a time lacking both wild card and divisional series to add additional playoff opportunities to the mix. With an incredible run through the mid- and late-1990s and two more trips in the last eight years and even more chances to play in October now, Cleveland fans can hope that no player wearing an Indians uniform challenges Banks’ undeserved record anytime soon.
Photo: Herb Scharfman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images