Posts By Vince Guerrieri
An honor awaits former Indians pitcher Orel Hershiser in Cleveland this summer.
Hershiser, a Bowling Green State University alumnus, is one of this year’s inductees into the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame along with former Steelers and Lions quarterback Charlie …
“Next to religion,” President Herbert Hoover once said, “baseball has had a greater impact on our way of life than any other institution.”
For generations, the sport was America. It started in the late 1800s, drawing Irish immigrants or first-generation Americans from the Emerald Isle. As the country grew in the 20th century, it drew the immigrants and sons of immigrants who worked in mills and mines. In 1947 – in the days of segregated armed forces and while “separate but equal” remained the law of the land – it integrated. And in the 1950s and 1960s, it started drawing players from Mexico and Central and South America.
And as the country drew Italian immigrants, so too did the game, from the DiMaggio brothers in San Francisco to men like Rocky Colavito, one of the most popular athletes in Cleveland in his day, whose trade is still regarded by some Tribe fans as when it all started to go wrong.
This week 121 years ago, the Cleveland Spiders signed a player who would have a short career with the team but would be remembered long after he and the team had gone the way of all flesh.
The March 5, 1897, edition of the Plain Dealer said outfielder Jesse Burkett – who lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the offseason (and still has a Little League there named for him) – was told the day before to sign a player who had distinguished himself on the baseball field as well as the gridiron at Holy Cross. He was a Penobscot Indian named Louis Sockalexis. But Sockalexis couldn’t be found in Worcester. Finally, he was located in South Bend, Indiana, having followed his coach, Doc Powers, from Holy Cross to Notre Dame. Spiders manager Patsy Tebeau promptly signed him.
Ahh, spring training, when the mixture of hope and baseball withdrawal come together to make unlikely heroes.
And 64 years ago, as the Indians embarked on what turned out to be a history-making season, one rookie became a legend – even if he never equaled that performance again.
Rudolph Valentino Regaldo – he was named after a favorite actor of his mother’s – was signed by legendary Indians scout Cy Slapnicka. He spent the bulk of 1953 with the Class A Reading Indians, but also appeared in 36 games for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. The plan was for him to start 1954 in Circle City, but he asked to make a stop at Indians spring training on the way from his hometown of Los Angeles to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the little Indians trained.
Redemption for Shoeless Joe Jackson was on the agenda this week in 1951. The legislature in his home state of South Carolina asked Major League Baseball to reinstate Jackson, who was one of eight players banned in the wake of allegations that he and some White Sox teammates conspired to throw the 1919 World Series.
On its face, the reinstatement would have been no good to Jackson. He was well past his playing days at that point, and a heart attack three years earlier had forced him to give up playing semi-pro ball. And it wasn’t at his behest, either. He’d asked for reinstatement in 1931, but it was denied by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis – the man who’d banned him in the first place.
The South Carolina effort went for naught, but later that year, his greatness was recognized – by fans – and he got into a hall of fame.
When spring training opens this week, there will be 30 major league teams, but 31 camps.
One camp is dedicated to free agents who still haven’t found a team. It’s estimated more than 80 ballplayers will be there, more than enough to field its own team.
In the early 1900s, Otto Hess was a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, a solid inning-eater prone to wildness (he holds the team record for wild pitches in a season, and once led the league in hit batsmen).
After his major league career ended, Hess – a veteran of the Spanish-American War in the late 1800s – enlisted again to fight in the World War (in John Houseman’s words in “Three Days of the Condor,” before we had the sense to number them). Like Christy Mathewson, Hess contracted tuberculosis while in Europe for the war, and returned home and died in 1926 – four months after the Big Six’s death.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see two inductees in the same year who have played all or part of their careers with the Indians (prior to this year, it last happened in 2011, with Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven). Rarer still is three inductees from the Indians. That only happened once, in 1937, when Cy Young, Napoleon Lajoie and Tris Speaker were inducted in the second class.
But in 1963, three former players were inducted with ties to Cleveland baseball – all of whom played at League Park.
That year, only the veterans committee voted, and the inductees included Elmer Flick, Sam Rice and John Clarkson. Flick and Rice both played for the Indians, but Clarkson, a posthumous inductee, ended his career more than 70 years earlier with the Cleveland Spiders.
Given the high number of searches today, quite likely in light of the news of Chief Wahoo’s removal from Indians’ uniforms beginning with the 2019 season, here is a story originally penned April 15, 2015, by DTTWLN’s own Vince Guerrieri. – BT
Most Indians fans know the story of Louis Sockalexis.
The Penobscot Indian spent a short time in Cleveland playing for the city’s National League entry, the Spiders, but in a major league career that spanned 94 games, he impressed the fans and his teammates so much that fans cried out to name the team in his honor.
It’s a nice story – of dubious veracity.
He was plucked from the Cleveland sandlots, a son of Bohemian immigrants, and became part of the Indians’ million-dollar outfield (when that represented an outrageous sum – and not just in sports).
And although Joe Vosmik played for five major league teams, Cleveland remained his home for all his life.
Vosmik grew up in the city’s South Broadway neighborhood, just a few miles from the Indians’ home at League Park. And indeed, as a youth it seemed like he spent more time at the ballpark than he did in school, much to his parents’ chagrin.
It wasn’t until the offseason that Terry Francona realized how important the Indians’ 22-game winning streak was.
“I honestly didn’t realize it at the time,” Francona said backstage Wednesday at the 18th annual Cleveland Sports Award. “I tell them, ‘We play today and then turn the page and move on.’ I don’t know that I took the time to enjoy it the way I should have.”
The winning streak was recognized at the awards show, as was Corey Kluber, who was named professional athlete of the year.
When Hall of Fame voting started, I thought Jim Thome was a slam-dunk first-ballot hall of famer – largely on the strength of his 612 (relatively untainted) home runs.
I figured Omar Vizquel, also in his first year of eligibility, would get into the Hall of Fame, but this wasn’t his year due to a crowded ballot. Chipper Jones is probably a first-ballot hall of famer too, and it sounds like Vladimir Guerrero – probably the best bad-ball hitter of his era – is finally getting the traction he needs for a plaque in Cooperstown. And of course, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens loom large over the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s voting process.
I had no idea a Vizquel hall of fame candidacy would be as controversial as it seems to have become.