Posts By Vince Guerrieri
We rely on baseball, Bart Giamatti said, to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive.
Sunday was one of those moments – while also a harsh dose of reality that time marches on.
Jim Thome was among the six inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, probably because he’s a great guy in addition to being a prodigious power hitter. He went in as an Indian, something that hasn’t happened in 20 years (twice that long if you’re talking about a candidate elected by the writers).
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Indians and the Padres make a deal that involves a catcher that might be destined for great things but doesn’t have a shot at breaking into the starting lineup.
That happened last week, when the Indians dealt Francisco Mejia to San Diego for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. But it also happened after the 1989 season – the Indians, seeing that Joe Carter was on the verge of leaving for free agency, dealt him to San Diego.
At first glance, the 1974 Indians season doesn’t look like one for the ages.
Oh, sure, there were historic moments, like the infamous 10-cent beer night, and Dick Bosman threw a no-hitter in front of the home crowd against the defending champion Oakland Athletics, but the team finished 77-85 for fourth place in the American League East Division.
But to Jim Clark, the voice of the Akron Rubberducks since their days as the Canton-Akron Indians, it was a watershed year – and one that he believes ultimately kept the team in Cleveland.
One hundred and four years ago today, the Indians got the first view of one of the greatest players of all time – one who would bedevil them for the better part of the next two decades.
When the Indians (at that point still known as the Naps) met the Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, they did so before a crowd of 11,087 – the largest non-holiday crowd to see the Naps (who lost 102 games that year, giving no one a really good reason to see them). But they were there to see Boston’s newest pitcher, acquired from the minor league Baltimore Orioles, the team in his home town.
The next day’s Plain Dealer only used the pitcher’s last name: Ruth. His given name was George, but he became known worldwide as Babe, a nickname hung on him because of his naivete in his brief time with the Orioles.
By 1938, League Park had already seen an abundance of baseball history.
Cy Young opened the place – first in 1891 when it was home to the Spiders, and then the new concrete-and-steel ballpark in 1910. Addie Joss threw a perfect game at the close of the 1908 season in what might have been the greatest game ever pitched. Legends like Tris Speaker and Napoleon Lajoie patrolled the field, and the Indians won the 1920 World Series there.
And all those moments were on display July 3, 1938 – when League Park hosted an old-timers game between representatives of the 1908 and 1920 teams, at that point the two best teams in Indians history.
Last year, as the Indians’ prepared for what we hoped would be a lengthy playoff run, I said I was getting a 1996 vibe from the team.
That team followed up a World Series appearance with the best record in the major leagues and high expectations – and a quick exit from the postseason, losing in the American League Division Series.
Last year’s team followed up the best record in the American League and high expectations – and a quick exit from the postseason, losing in the American League Division Series.
I promise you, I derived no pleasure from being right.
Nothing ever really dies on the internet. That’s how I ended up talking to the guy who was the infamous Baseball Bug.
Ron Chernek emailed me last week, saying he’d stumbled upon the article I’d written last year about the Baseball Bug, Cleveland’s short-lived mascot in the 1980 and 1981 season (actually, his son stumbled upon it; Chernek by his own admission isn’t particularly active on the internet or social media). He offered to tell his story and I offered to listen.
Ninety years ago this week, League Park was invaded by the over-the-hill gang.
The Athletics came to town, and their roster included talent on the rise like Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove – three key cogs in the teams that would win three straight pennants from 1929-31 (including World Series in the first two of those years) – but it was also home to some players who were great names but had their best days behind them.
It was once said that Moe Berg could speak seven languages – but not hit a curveball in any of them.
Berg, whose itinerant baseball career included two stops in Cleveland, didn’t have to be a good hitter in the days when catchers were more prized for their skill calling games and with the leather than with the bat. But it’s his post-baseball life that’s of interest to moviemakers.
Last Friday, Corey Kluber reached a milestone, with his 1,228th strikeout, putting him alone in third place on the Indians’ all-time list (he added one more before the end of his outing).
It’ll be a while before he catches up to Sudden Sam McDowell with 2,159 strikeouts (Bob Feller stands atop the list with 2,581 Ks), but by reaching third place, he passed two Hall of Famers who were contemporaries, but took vastly different paths to their 1,227 strikeouts with the Indians: Bob Lemon and Early Wynn.
Dave Garcia, a baseball lifer whose eight-decade career included stints coaching and managing the Indians, died Tuesday at the age of 97.
Garcia died in San Diego, where he had been in long-term care, but prior to that he could be spotted at Petco Park. His baseball career started in 1938 when the East St. Louis native was signed to a contract by the St. Louis Browns following a tryout. He got beaned and was promptly cut in spring training. The year after, a knee injury derailed him. He had a decent year in 1942, but World War II intervened, and he served three years in the U.S. Army Air Forces. After that, baseball was his career – and a lengthy one.
Eleven years ago this week, Sports Illustrated put Grady Sizemore on the cover.
The story raved about Sizemore, the Indians center fielder virtually stolen from the Expos in the trade that sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal. His on-base percentage kept improving. He had size. He had speed. He had power. He had legions of female fans – “Grady’s ladies,” they were called. Best of all, he was under team control for another five years. The story likened his numbers at that point to Duke Snider, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers.
“To watch him play day in and day out is a rare treat,” said Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro. “All of us, from the front office to the players to the bat boys, are fortunate to see him every day. He is without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation.”
It wasn’t to be.