Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 44
Bob Toth | On 13, Feb 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 44 days
There is a strange correlation between quite a few members of the #44 family in Tribe history – many were (and still are) well known for having some pretty glorious facial hair, for those who are a fan of such a thing.
It’s a strange correlation, no doubt about it. Forty players have worn the number (most recently Nick Goody last season) and the most memorable of the bunch can be remembered for the beards and mustaches that they sported on the field.
In 2015, Brandon Moss wore the number and wore a beard for stretches of his stay. While his time in the city was short, it did lead to a trade for a young left-handed arm in Rob Kaminsky, who remains in the club’s farm system at the Double-A level while dealing with injuries for the past two seasons.
John Axford came to town to close in 2014 and he did it with some of the flashiest facial hair arrangements known to man. While his looks were memorable, his stay sadly was not, as the Ontario, Canada, native headed out of town towards the end of the season after falling out of favor in the bullpen, passing the torch to Cody Allen, who has also been known to rock the bearded look during his time with the Indians.
Axford, who is a fantastic follow on various social media platforms for those who are in to such a thing, was released mid-year last season by the Oakland Athletics, but the 34-year-old remains in the game after signing a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last week.
Carl Pavano’s stay was short in 2009, just like the above-mentioned players, but he managed to rock the facial hair, sometimes going with the chin stubble while at other points going with a goatee or the solo mustached look. His Tribe career lasted 21 starts before he was traded to Minnesota.
When Sal Fasano joined the Indians for the final 15 games of his big league career the previous year, he may have been best known for his longer hair and a thick Fu Manchu that started above his upper lip, or even the horseshoe mustache, looking like a baseball equivalent of Hulk Hogan behind the plate.
Fasano is still involved in baseball and has kept his facial hair intact, spending four seasons as a minor league manager, including this past season with the Southern League’s Mobile BayBears, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. He is back in the Majors now, serving as a catching coordinator for the Atlanta Braves.
Even young Richie Sexson took pride in his hair, both that on his chin and on the top of his head. In addition to a partial goatee look, the soul patch, and sideburns, he had a bleached-blonde top hidden under his hat and helmet throughout his Major League career. His four seasons in Cleveland from 1997 to 2000 were arguably the best stretch for a #44 in Indians history, but he took his looks and his power bat with him when he was dealt to Milwaukee.
Sexson remained a big time slugger in the game for nearly a dozen seasons, with additional time spent outside out of Cleveland and Milwaukee in Arizona, Seattle, and New York with the Yankees. Now, he is the head baseball coach at Summit High School in Bend, Oregon, a job he took over after several years as the assistant coach on the staff there under his former teammate with the Indians, Alan Embree (the two were teammates briefly in spring training in 1996 before Embree was dealt to Atlanta). Non-league action for Sexson’s squad begins March 16.
Kevin Mitchell wore the number before Sexson claimed it and he sported a mustache, soul patch, and the circle beard during his career. A former National League MVP in 1989, his best years were behind him by the time that he came to town as he hit just .153 in 20 games for the club and, after two months, he was released after hitting four homers in 59 at bats.
Mitchell landed in Oakland the following year, but played in just 51 games before his August release.
Hill pitched for the staff after being acquired in late July from the St. Louis Cardinals and was 2-1 in four postseason appearances, while the trade of Jefferson brought in Omar Vizquel, who was obviously a significant piece of the Indians’ success in the 1990’s.
The 1980’s and even the 1990 season were dominated by mustaches on 44’s. Ken Phelps, Ed Vande Berg, Neal Heaton, and Ed Glynn championed the look during their playing days, as did Rick Sutcliffe in his first of three seasons with the club in 1982 (before he was dealt to Chicago in 1984 on the way to a Cy Young second half with the Cubs that year).
The 1970’s weren’t exempt from the look at all. Jim Strickland had a notably thick mustache, as did Don Hood to follow, and catcher Cliff Johnson combined the look with the soul patch in 1979 and 1980.
Vince Colbert may have been the first to usher in the look for the number for the Tribe with his sideburns in the early ‘70’s. He was the fifth to wear the number, which had come back into use beginning in the mid-1960’s following a lengthy layoff. Ben Chapman is believed to have donned it first in 1940 and Les Webber had it during the 1946 season.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images