Posts By Vince Guerrieri
In spring training 1934, the Indians got the Babe in the lineup – and even on the pitching mound.
No, not that one.
Babe Didrikson, the Texas native two years removed from a pair of Olympic track gold medals, was looking for her next world to conquer. She was going to tour that summer with the House of David barnstorming team, and was trying to round into playing shape.
After getting some pointers from Burleigh Grimes, holding on for what turned out to be his last season in the majors, she was ready to make the rounds of major league spring training camps. And were it not for the weather, her first appearance would have been for the Indians.
When I heard they were making a movie about Game 7 of last year’s World Series, I said … well, I said lots of things, most unfit for public consumption.
Of course, this comes the day after David Ross – whose forthcoming book “Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series For the Ages” will serve as the basis for the book – made his appearance on the “Dancing With the Stars” season opener. (As a child of the 80s, I feel obligated to root for Mr. T.)
I can’t even bring myself to hate-watch this movie, and you’d be surprised at the movies I’ve hate-watched. (Hellooooo, “Spice World!”)
There’s nothing like being somewhere other than Cleveland for spring training, and the Indians have definitely visited a multitude of places. In the 1920s, they visited New Orleans – enough that they saw fit to make political boss Huey Long a stockholder in the team. Currently, they’re in Arizona, a return to a location they’ve visited on and off since the 1940s. And thanks to “Major League,” Hi Corbett Field lives on in silver screen immortality as an Indians’ spring training home.
But during World War II, the Indians stayed closer to home – because they had to.
On this date 117 years ago, Major League Baseball died in Cleveland. It wasn’t dead for long.
At the National League owners meeting, the owners voted to reduce from 12 teams to eight. Gone were Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington, and Louisville. The Cleveland team, the Spiders, was a ripe candidate for contraction. Frank and Stanley Robison owned the St. Louis team in addition to the Spiders, and systematically looted the Spiders, taking all the talent to St. Louis. The Spiders were so bad, nobody in the league wanted to come to Cleveland to play them, because attendance was so lackluster that visiting teams couldn’t recoup travel expenses. So the Spiders played 112 of their 154 games on the road – and lost 101, a record that will probably never be matched, let alone surpassed.
But all was not lost in Cleveland. Ban Johnson, a former sportswriter, was determined to start a new major league from the remnants of the Western League, a minor league. And there would be a team in Cleveland, owned by Charles Somers and John Kilfoyl. The team would bring in a familiar name to manage: James McAleer, a Youngstown native who had played for the Spiders (and Cleveland’s brief entry into the Players League in 1890).
A hundred years ago, Dunn, with Speaker’s advice, bought another contract from Boston. That player wasn’t as productive, but it turned out to be an important deal for the Indians.
The Tribe took a flyer on Smoky Joe Wood. He was far removed from his dominant 1912 season, where he went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA, winning three games in that year’s World Series. In fact, he hadn’t pitched at all during the 1916 season, yet the Indians and their fans believed he still had enough in the tank to be of some service.
“If you want to know how I feel about the news that we have bought Joe Wood, you can put it down that I am tickled to death,” said manager Lee Fohl.
When the Indians signed Nick Swisher after a disastrous 2012 season, optimism was running high. His bubbly personality couldn’t help but rub off on his teammates. The Dolans were willing to open the checkbook (the four-year deal was $56 million, with a club option for a fifth year bringing the deal to a staggering $70 million, more than the Indians had ever paid for a free agent) and made the pitch for the Ohio native to return home.
Now that Swisher’s riding off into the sunset, announcing his retirement about a year and a half after the Indians decided they’d rather eat Chris Johnson’s salary than keep him around, we can close the book on him. (Insert Harry Doyle saying, “Thank God.”) Swisher’s signing was a bad marriage that actually might have held back the team’s success.
Swisher was 32 when the Indians signed him – an age typically regarded as being on the down slope of a player’s career. But there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t play – and wouldn’t produce. In each of the previous eight years, he’d played at least 130 games (and at least 150 in six of those years). His average wasn’t great, but he was good for at least 20 home runs.
This story was first published on April 10, 2012. – BT
The throwing out of the ceremonial first pitch is a tradition that started in 1910 with President William Howard Taft. And it’s all because of a Youngstown native and former Cleveland baseball player and manager named Jimmy McAleer.
McAleer knocked around the minor leagues in the 1880s before breaking into the National League with the Cleveland Spiders in 1889. He was regarded as speedy on the basepaths and in center field. His batting was a little less solid. The Robisons, owners of the Spiders, also bought the St. Louis Browns of the National League (later the Cardinals) and essentially cherry-picked all the talent from Cleveland to St. Louis. McAleer opted to stay in Northern Ohio. The Spiders folded after the 1899 season, but McAleer latched on as player/manager for the Lake Shores, a team in the American League in 1900.
But Rice, a Hall of Famer that was part of three pennant-winning Senators teams, including the 1924 World Champions, ended his career with the Indians – largely due to the intercession of the Big Train himself.
Rice had come late to the game, sidetracked by unspeakable tragedy. In 1912, while he was trying to latch on as a pitcher with a minor-league team in nearby Galesburg, a tornado struck his family home in Morocco, Indiana, killing his wife, children, mother, and two sisters. Rice returned to Morocco in time for all the funerals, and his father died shortly thereafter as well.
For two brief years, the Federal League tried to make a go as a major league.
It challenged for supremacy in cities like Brooklyn and Chicago that already had major league teams, but also tried to grow in cities like Baltimore and Indianapolis, cities without major league representation.
But it could never get a foothold in Cleveland – because it could never find a place to play.
Nolan Ryan turned 70 yesterday.
In a career that included some ridiculous numbers – 5,714 (strikeouts – an average of more than one an inning), 7 (no-hitters – he took another five into the ninth inning before losing them), 1 (ass-kicking of Robin Ventura, young enough to be his son) – that might be the most ridiculous one. His KIDS are old enough to have gotten into that stage that they’ve gone from baseball players to executives (his son Reid is president of the Houston Astros).
Former Indian Satchel Paige’s autobiography was titled “Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever,” but for a while, it looked like Ryan might actually do it. He broke in with the Mets as a wild 19-year-old in 1966 and played 27 years in the Major Leagues (second across all major league sports only to Gordie Howe, whose hockey career spanned 32 years).
This story was originally posted on January 2, 2016. We must have been on to something… – BT
No Major League city with just one team has hosted an All-Star Game as many times as Cleveland has.
The Indians are one of four teams to have hosted five Midsummer Classics: four at Municipal Stadium and one at Jacobs Field, in 1997. (St. Louis has hosted five All-Star Games, but one of them was by the Browns, even though they shared Sportsman’s Park with the Cardinals.)
And of course, the question looms: Is it time for a sixth in Cleveland?
It’s entirely possible that every January for the next decade or so, we get reminded just how good those Indians teams of the 1990s really were.
As my friend and colleague Craig Gifford pointed out earlier this week, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel will be among those on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for the first time in the next election. Both have legitimate if not strong cases for induction.
Thome, inducted into the team’s hall of fame last year, hit 612 home runs and is the team leader for home runs in a season and a career. Vizquel’s strength was his defense, winning a total of 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop. Nine of those came in a row – including eight with the Indians.