The Greatest Summer Ever: Bud Black
Steve Eby | On 14, Apr 2015
Throughout the 2015 season, Did the Tribe Win Last Night will take a look back at the 1995 Cleveland Indians for the 20th anniversary of their fourth pennant winning season. Included will be historic game recaps, headlining stories and a ranking of the team’s most influential players that truly made 1995 The Greatest Summer Ever. Today looks back at player #28: Buddy Black.
For 14 seasons before resigning with the Cleveland Indians in 1995, lefthanded pitcher Bud Black had been a very solid Major League starter for five teams. By the time the Tribe officially signed him, however, both Cleveland and Black were just hoping that his 37-year old arm still had some juice left in it after over 2,000 Major League innings.
The start of the ’95 campaign looked extremely bright for the Indians and Black was doing his share as well by putting up a solid spring training. With about a week to go before the season opened, Black had won the job of the fifth starter as the rotation’s only lefty over a campaigning Jason Grimsley and an upstart Julian Tavarez, both of whom would make the Opening Day roster in the Tribe’s bullpen. In hindsight, the aging Black’s biggest contribution to the ’95 Indians may have been pushing the eventually-dominating setup man Tavarez to the back end of the ‘pen.
Black’s spring success didn’t follow him north from Florida, as the lefty struggled from the start by keeping an ERA that hovered around 6.00 for the majority of May and June. Black wouldn’t even be around after the All-Star break, as the Tribe eventually released him in order to insert rookie Chad Ogea into the starting five. Manager Mike Hargrove knew the call to get Black out was the right one, but it was a difficult one, nevertheless.
“He’s pitched well for us in certain instances and not so well in certain circumstances,” Hargrove said in a July 1995 Paul Hoynes article. “The thing that’s different about Buddy now is that before he could make the pitch. He could make that pitch three out of four times. Now, he can do it one out of four. It was a real tough decision because of what he’s done in his career before and what type of person he is.”
What Black had done in his career was win a World Series in 1985 plus 121 Major League games in 296 starts. He had a solid career ERA of 3.84 and had thrown over 200 innings in a season five times. One of those five years came in 1989 during his first tenure with the Indians–a 2+ year stretch that saw Black become one of the best pitchers on the team as the Indians struggled from 1988-90. As history also will remember, Black was also the starting pitcher for the Royals during teammate George Brett‘s pine tar incident and was the pitcher who gave up Reggie Jackson‘s 500th and Mike Piazza‘s first career homeruns.
By the time Black had made his first start in May of 1995, however, the wheels had all but fallen off. Black gave up five runs in 2.2 innings in his first start, then six runs in two innings in his second. Heading into his last start in the month of June, Black had a decent 3-2 record but an ugly 6.31 ERA. He was the obvious weak link in the Indians first place rotation on June 29 in the Minneapolis Metrodome, but it didn’t stop him from pitching his best game of the ’95 season and earning the final victory of his long career.
As the Tribe entered play that Thursday evening, they were winners of three in a row after having a season-worst four game losing streak the weekend prior. After sweeping the Royals in Kansas City, the last place Twins seemed were the perfect remedy to keep things rolling for the Indians, as the Twins already sat 22.5 games out of first place at 17-40, while the Indians record was an astounding 39-17.
Black was on the mound for Cleveland and was facing former All-Star and 20-game winner Scott Erickson, who was struggling through the worst season of his young career with a 3-5 record and a 5.87 ERA. The Twins had won Erickson’s previous three starts, but Erickson only earned one victory over that stretch.
Stealing the headlines that evening were two other Indians, as the two starting pitchers were both struggling mightily. First, catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. was recalled from the disabled list that afternoon and was set to make his 1995 debut after having left knee surgery on April 26. Next, Tribe DH Eddie Murray was sitting on 2,997 career hits–just three shy of becoming the 20th player in baseball history to reach the 3,000 mark.
Murray didn’t take very long to notch number 2,998 as he was just the fifth batter of the game. After a Wayne Kirby leadoff walk and an Omar Vizquel single, Carlos Baerga struck out as Kirby was caught stealing third. With two outs, Albert Belle grounded a single up the middle to score Vizquel and then Murray sent hit number 2,998 opposite field and just over the left field wall for his 11th blast of the season.
Black kept the 3-0 lead in tact, despite giving up back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the first. A flyout by future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett moved both runners into scoring position, but Black was able to strike out both Pedro Munoz and future Indian Marty Cordova to end the rally. The Tribe offense was then able to double up the lead in the top of the second.
Erickson’s struggles continued by allowing another leadoff walk–this time to Paul Sorrento–in the second. Alomar followed by grounding a single into the SS-3B hole in his first at bat of the season, moving Sorrento to third. A fielder’s choice by Kirby plated Sorrento and pushed the Indians lead to 4-0, but a homerun two batters later off of the bat of Baerga made the score 6-0. The homerun was Baerga’s 10th of the year.
Belle followed Baerga’s big fly with a single which allowed Murray to bat again off of Erickson. Murray followed Belle’s single with one of his own, moving just one hit away from the 3,000 mark. A walk to Jim Thome loaded the bases, but Erickson was able to strike out Manny Ramirez to stop the bleeding.
The Twins and the Tribe traded runs in the bottom of the second and the top of the third, as Black again allowed the first two men to reach before Jeff Reboulet pushed a run across on a fielder’s choice. The Indians answered when Vizquel was able to single home Sorrento, who had singled to start the inning. The Indians took a 7-1 lead into the bottom of the third, as Black continued to work in and out of trouble.
Black worked around a one out double in the third and then allowed just a single run after a single and double opened up the fourth. He shut the Twins down 1-2-3 in the fifth and then the Indians tacked on another run on a Sorrento RBI single in the sixth. With an 8-1 lead, Black allowed one more Twins run in the bottom of the sixth before retiring the side and being replaced for the night. Black struck out Reboulet to end his evening with an even six innings of work and a 6-3 lead.
The Tribe and Twins each put up runs off of the other respective bullpens over the next three half-innings. The Tribe got their ninth run of the game when Belle doubled home Baerga in the top of the seventh and the Twins got two back off of Tavarez in the bottom half. A sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth by Kirby ended the scoring for the day and the Tribe took their fourth straight contest with a 10-5 victory.
For Black, the game was not overly dominant but was enough to keep the mighty Tribe in it. With several games of “being-slightly-better” than his opponent, Black finished his ’95 season with a winning 4-2 record. Shortly after he was released in July, Black was back with the Indians as a special assistant who carried out a wide range of assignments in both the Big Leagues and the minors. Black had offers from other teams to pitch for the remainder of the season, but focused on moving toward the next chapter of his life–coaching.
Black never pitched another game after being released by the Indians, but did make it back to the Majors as a coach in 2000. For seven seasons, Black served as Mike Scioscia‘s pitching coach with the Angels and he won his second World Series ring in 2002. In 2007, Black got his first managerial job as the skipper for the San Diego Padres and won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 2010.
Next: Ruben Amaro