Former Indians Pitcher Waddell Dead at 60
Bob Toth | On 03, Oct 2019
Tom Waddell, a pitcher during some tough years for the Cleveland Indians in the mid-1980s, passed away on September 14 after suffering a heart attack. He was just days short of his 61st birthday.
Born in Scotland, Waddell is one of a small number of players in Major League history to come across the pond (49 have represented the United Kingdom professionally, but just 26 have debuted since 1901 according to Baseball-Reference.com). His family moved to New Jersey when he was a child, but after pitching for Manhattan College and with semipro teams in the area, he went undrafted (kidney issues and a right elbow injury hindered his stock). He worked as a clothing salesman for a period of time but eventually had confidence that his arm felt good enough to give baseball a second chance. He impressed Atlanta Braves scouts, including Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, at a tryout and got a minor league contract, starting his professional baseball career.
Waddell pitched in the Braves’ farm system from 1981 to 1983, climbing the ranks to the Triple-A level. A 13-2 record with a 2.48 ERA in 42 relief appearances that last season put him on the radar for the Indians, who selected him in the Rule 5 draft that winter.
Debuting at the age of 25 in 1984, he set an Indians rookie record in his first season with the club, appearing in 58 games. He went 7-4 with six saves while working exclusively out of the bullpen, posting a 3.06 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and a .202 batting average against (one of the better marks in the league).
The next season, he made 49 appearances, including the only nine big league starts of his career. He defeated New York’s Ron Guidry in his first start on July 31, worked a quality seven innings against Detroit’s Jack Morris in his second on August 9, and fired a complete game against Toronto’s Dave Stieb in his third start on August 19. Over the course of the season, he compiled an 8-6 record with a 1.27 WHIP, one complete game, and nine saves. He served the club as a starter, reliever, set-up man, and closer, but working in that mixed role and especially with the frequency he was needed as a closer may have led to the rapid decline of his career.
At the end of that season, he had surgery on his right elbow to remove bone spurs, but a recurrence of right elbow discomfort the following spring led to him missing the entire season, with exception for a handful of minor league rehab appearances. He opened the 1987 season with the Indians and made his final six big league appearances that April, going 0-1 with a 14.29 ERA and a 2.47 WHIP, giving up ten hits and seven walks to the 32 batters that he faced. He spent the remainder of the year at Triple-A Buffalo, going 5-3 with a 5.15 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in five starts and 23 relief outings.
He was released and signed with the Montreal Expos, spending the 1988 season with their Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. He played sparingly in the minors for the Expos and Milwaukee Brewers and in the Mexican League with the Monterrey Industriales in 1989 before hanging up the cleats for good.
Waddell made his home in Tucson, the spring training home of the Indians during his time with the organization. His career was short, but he remained active in baseball activities throughout his life. In the years following his 1989 retirement from professional baseball, he opened the Yard East Baseball School in Tucson, Arizona. While working a variety of other jobs over the years, he provided coaching opportunities as well as a training facility for aspiring players to get in work in batting cages or pitching tunnels. He even put out a “baseball essentials” instructional DVD in 2012 that taught techniques and drills to become better in all aspects of the game.
Waddell is survived by his wife (Sande) and their two children (Kady and Kyle), as well as a granddaughter, his father Tom Sr., and sister Marilyn, among others.
Photo: 1987 Topps Baseball Card