Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 50
Bob Toth | On 14, Feb 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 50 days
Like many numbers chronicled over the last nine days, the number 50 has long appeared on the backs of pitchers for the Cleveland Indians organization.
It made its debut in 1945, worn by catcher Gene Desautels in ten uneventful games in 1945. The light-hitting backstop, a career .233 hitter in 13 seasons in the Majors, was 1-for-9 that season with a single, a walk, and a strikeout. He spent four seasons with the club at the big league level.
The number got some light use in the 1960s and again in the early 1970s, but fell into regular rotation when Bud Anderson was assigned the number in the 1982 season (he would also wear 51 during that year). The number has gone unworn in just four seasons since (1983, 1986, 1987, 1998).
Julian Tavarez became the first to usher the number into the postseason when he wore it in parts of four straight seasons for the Tribe beginning in 1993.
Tavarez signed with the Indians out of the Dominican Republic in 1990. He made 14 starts in rookie ball in 1992 and split 1993 between Kinston (A+) and Canton-Akron (AA) before completing his rapid ascent to the Majors by making a start on August 7, 1993, in a loss to the Baltimore Orioles. At the time, he was less than three months removed from his 20th birthday and the Indians were looking to find similar success with him as they had earlier in the year with a quick promotion of Albie Lopez.
Tavarez earned a win his next time out and would finish the year with a 2-2 record in eight games, including seven starts and a lofty 6.57 ERA. He got his first taste of Triple-A pitching in 1994, going 15-6 with a 3.48 ERA in 26 starts with two complete games for the Knights and did make one start for the Tribe, but was tagged for eight runs in an inning and two-thirds, although just four of the runs were earned.
Still just 22 years old, Tavarez broke camp with the Indians in 1995 in a new role, one in which he would pitch for the majority of his professional career. Cleveland looked to him as a reliever and he did not disappoint, posting a 10-2 record for the club with a 2.44 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 57 appearances. He pitched in a dozen games in the playoffs for the Tribe that postseason, including five scoreless outings in the World Series. He was 4-7 the following season and was traded to the San Francisco Giants with Jeff Kent, Joe Roa, and Jose Vizcaino for Matt Williams and Trent Hubbard.
He would lead baseball with 89 appearances for the Giants in his first season out of Cleveland in 1997. He was well traveled over the course of the rest of his career, spending 1997-1999 in San Francisco, 2000 in Colorado, 2001 with the Chicago Cubs, 2002 with the Florida Marlins, 2003 with Pittsburgh, 2004 and 2005 in St. Louis, 2006 into 2008 with Boston, while also spending time that year in Milwaukee and Atlanta, before a final season in 2009 with Washington.
Jason Davis and Nick Hagadone have each worn the number for the most years in Indians history, spending parts of five seasons with it. While Hagadone’s run ended with his dismissal this offseason, Davis wore it from 2003 to 2007, working early on as a starter before converting to relief work later in his Cleveland career. He appeared in eight games for the club in 2007, but control problems and a plethora of base runners ended his six seasons in an Indians uniform and he was dealt in May to the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later.
When Jensen Lewis took the number upon his call to the Majors in June that same season, it marked a somewhat similar situation to that of Tavarez. He was a former starter who fast-tracked through the farm system, reaching Double-A Akron in his second season with the club and spending parts of 2007 at Akron (AA), Buffalo (AAA), and Cleveland. He slotted into the Indians bullpen, making 26 appearances and posting a 1-1 record and 2.15 ERA. At just 23, he was on Cleveland’s postseason roster as a reliever, working two scoreless innings in the ALDS against New York, but giving up two homers over five games in the ALCS loss to Boston.
Lewis worked entirely in relief for the Indians over parts of four seasons, saving 13 games in 2008. He was released in June of 2011 and later spent time in the Diamondbacks and Cubs minor league systems, but never returned to the Majors and now does pregame and postgame Indians coverage for Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio.
Left-handed reliever Tom Gorzelanny, signed to a minor league deal by the Indians in the offseason with an invitation to spring training, will hope to keep the number in rotation in Cleveland in 2016, as he is the current roster member assigned to the digits.
Main Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images