Posts By Vince Guerrieri
Next year’s Baseball Hall of Fame inductions could have a Cleveland flavor to them.
What’s even more likely is that they’ll have more than a touch of controversy.
It’s easy to forget just how well-run the Indians organization is.
I mean, I think everyone in Cleveland knows they’re the best run sports organization in the city, if only by default. When the Browns’ executive vice president has to call a news conference to announce that he didn’t sabotage a potential trade, you have problems, particularly since the alternative to malice in this instance is incompetence. And the Cavs suddenly look inept as well, although you can never count out any team with LeBron James on it.
But the Indians’ tentacles reach far and wide, as evidenced by where former Indians players and coaches end up. Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway is the new Mets manager. Charlie Nagy is the pitching coach in Anaheim, and although Omar Vizquel interviewed for the vacant Tigers managerial job after four years as a coach, he didn’t get it, and wasn’t retained by new skipper Ron Gardenhire. But I have no doubt he’ll end up somewhere.
Because of the Indians’ quick – dare I say premature – playoff exit, we were deprived of a potential rematch of the 1920 World Series.
That was the first appearance in the Fall Classic for both teams, with the Indians prevailing in seven games (in the penultimate best-of-nine World Series). That World Series is also notable for being the first pitting two brothers against each other. Doc Johnston played for the Indians; his brother Jimmy played for the Dodgers.
The teams remained apart for most of the 20th century – with the distance increased after the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, their home since 1958.
But for a few small changes in fortune, the Indians and Dodgers could have been rivals in the 1950s and 1960s.
When the Astros dispatched the Yankees on Saturday night to close out the American League Championship Series, not only did they become the first team to represent each league in the World Series, they put an end to a strange coincidence in baseball history.
Six times the Indians have to the World Series, the most recent time last year. And until this year, the Yankees had always advanced to the Fall Classic in the following year.
Now admittedly, part of that is percentages. No team has gone to (or won) the World Series more than the Yankees. But it also represents the fortunes of the Indians that their times of great success coincided with similar success by New York – and indeed, in several occasions, the Tribe thwarted New York from even loftier heights.
The abrupt end to a season – especially one with expectations as high as the Indians had – is always met with a certain amount of navel contemplation.
What did the players do wrong? What did we as fans do wrong? What can we do better? Who stays? Who goes?
Unfortunately, it’s also met with a certain amount of irrationality (standard disclaimer: “Fan” is short for “fanatic”), and this year promises to be no better.
Last week, before the American League Division Series began, I told a co-worker that I was worried. I know, we should be past these neuroses. The Cavs’ championship was supposed to have eased the misery of being a Cleveland fan, and the Indians had won 22 games in a row to take the American League’s top seed. The team had ended the season playing the kind of ball we all knew it was capable of.
“I’m kind of getting a 1996 vibe from this team,” I said.
When the Tigers and Indians met at Briggs Stadium in Detroit for the 1937 season finale on October 3, the American League standings were pretty much locked in.
The Tigers were a distant second – 13 games behind the pennant (and ultimately World Series) winning Yankees, and the Indians were five games behind the Tigers. Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer had sewn up the batting title with a .373 average, 21 points higher than the second-place finisher, Lou Gehrig.
But there were still a couple records at stake. The Tigers’ slugging first baseman Hank Greenberg – with the benefit of batting cleanup behind Gehringer in the Tigers’ lineup – had 182 RBI, two away from the American League record set by Gehrig six years earlier (the major league record of 191, set by the Cubs’ Hack Wilson, was likely out of reach). And Indians starter Johnny Allen was looking to tie a record as well. Allen had won his previous 15 starts, and a win that day would tie him for the American League mark with Lefty Grove, who had won 16 in a row in 1931, when he won 31 games, a career best.
“Stick to sports!”
It’s a common refrain for any athletes – or even sports journalists – who have the temerity to express any political thought. And my God, has that phrase gotten a workout in the past week or so.
On a cloudy but pleasant night on the lakefront 41 years ago this week at Municipal Stadium, a Hall of Fame career ended in front of fewer than 8,000 fans.
The nightcap of a doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles marked the last appearance as a player by Frank Robinson, who had been hired as the Indians’ manager to replace Ken Aspromonte, who was fired after the 1974 season.
By any observable metric, Jose Ramirez is on a tear.
After stepping in last year to fill roles in the infield and outfield, Ramirez has blossomed into a legitimate MVP candidate, with 5.3 wins above replacement and a .308 batting average. He’s leading the league in doubles with 47. With the right combination of speed and power, and the way the Indians are playing right now, 60 doubles wouldn’t be out of the question.
It would be a mark unseen in nearly 80 years – and nowhere near the best ever by an Indians player.
This summer, Indians fans were treated (if you want to call it that) to “The Dynasty That Almost Was,” an MLB Network documentary about those teams of the 1990s that did everything but win a World Series.
There’s enough material for another one in about 10 years – and the Tribe got a front-row seat to that dismantling last weekend.
The Indians in 1985 were a team in turmoil.
The on-field product was mediocre, and ownership was going through a strained period. In addition to being gouged for rent from the Cleveland Stadium Corporation run by Art Modell, the ship was rudderless, owned officially by the estate of Steve O’Neill, who had died two years earlier. In his tenure as owner, O’Neill had staved off multiple offers for the team (New York City real estate tycoon Donald Trump had even made a bid for the team) for fear of it leaving town.
New team president Peter Bavasi – son of the legendary executive Buzzie Bavasi – was shaking up management of the team. Among his hires was a baseball lifer named Joe Klein.