Posts By Vince Guerrieri
The Indians of the 1960s and 1970s were notable not just for being mediocre at best, but for seeing players they discovered move on to greener pastures.
The Yankees of the late 1970s included such former Tribe players as Lou Piniella, Chris Chambliss and Graig Nettles – a testament as much to the Indians’ ineptitude as to the front office set up by George Steinbrenner, a Cleveland native who was thwarted in his efforts to buy the Indians. When he was able to buy the Yankees, he brought with him former Tribe player Al Rosen and executive Gabe Paul.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who didn’t know what team Babe Ruth played for.
Ruth broke into the majors for the Red Sox (with his first game against the Indians, no less), had his greatest success with the Yankees, and ended his playing career with a brief stint back in Boston, this time with the Braves.
But could he have been part of the Indians? As a player, no. As a manager? It could have happened.
At the beginning of the month, Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that the Indians would listen to potential trade offers for their starting pitchers, and I don’t know about you, but I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if a million voices cried out in terror remembering dealing successful starting pitchers as the team’s way of running up the white flag.
And who can blame them? Nearly a decade ago, the Tribe became the first team to trade back-to-back Cy Young Award winners, dealing CC Sabathia at the deadline in 2008 to the Brewers, and Cliff Lee to the Phillies the following year – when he still under contract for another season. (Just for good measure, the Indians traded Victor Martinez two days after dealing Lee.)
The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its slate of “Today’s Game” candidates for consideration Monday, and it really seems to have a Cleveland feel to it.
The Today’s Game ballot is one of the eras regularly put to a vote by what used to be called the Veterans Committee.
By 2002, the Indians empire that ruled the American League Central Division for the better part of half a decade was done and dusted.
The Tribe had won the division in 2001, but were dispatched by the Mariners in the American League Division Series. By July, they were 39-47, and manager Charlie Manuel, whose contract expired after the season, wanted assurances he’d still be manager the next year. Manuel, who’d served as Indians hitting coach before succeeding Mike Hargrove as manager in 1999, reached an impasse with General Manager Mark Shapiro and was fired over the All-Star break.
“We’re in an awkward transitional period between having a team that we thought could contend to a club that will be rebuilding next season,” Shapiro said in a quote after the move in the New York Times.
The Indians’ quick playoff exit has led to a lot of 20-20 hindsight, deals that in retrospect could have been made and should have been made.
And watching some of the players who remained in the playoffs has done nothing to make those thoughts abate.
The most glaring example – his statements on his hustle aside – remains Manny Machado, who would have filled in capably in the infield, and his bat would have been a welcome addition in a lineup that was starting to wilt as the regular season ended and then was completely stymied by the Astros in the Division Series. But he probably would have been nothing more than a rental for the remainder of the season.
I hope everyone got their fill of Indians going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, because it might be a while before it happens again.
Slugger Jim Thome entered Cooperstown this year, in his first year of eligibility, and one of the things that amazed me about that is how much ill will it – as well as his statue – has engendered. Sure, you can hold a grudge about the way he left, but the fact is that he’s the single-season and career home run leader for the Indians, and his 612 career home runs represent a mark that should be represented in the Hall, tainted only by the era in which he played and no failed tests or any other suspicion beyond the shadow of his contemporaries.
It’s entirely too early to start handicapping next year’s Hall of Fame ballot, but what else am I going to do? The Indians are all home for the off-season, and you don’t want to get me started on THAT topic.
So this is how it ends, like T.S. Eliot, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
When the Cubs beat the Indians in the wee small hours in November 2016, it felt – at least to me – like a moral victory. Yeah, the Indians lost a 3-1 lead in the World Series, but they were playing with house money just by GETTING to the World Series, with a two-and-a-half man rotation.
The next year hurt. The Indians won 102 games – second-most in team history – and again jumped out to a series lead, this time in the American League Division Series against the Yankees. I was one of the crowd in an epic Game 2 that ended after 13 innings with an Indians win, and I told a friend afterword, “This is the type of loss that doesn’t defeat a team. It demoralizes them.”
Forty years ago this week, Rick Waits pitched the Indians to a win in the season finale – and ensured that their opponents that day would get one more game.
The Red Sox at one point held a 10-game lead in the American League East, with the Yankees a distant third. But Yankees owner George Steinbrenner shook up the team by firing manager Billy Martin and replacing him with former Indians pitcher Bob Lemon. The Yankees got hot and overtook the Red Sox for the division lead in September, and both teams were on a tear going into the final day of the season.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox were at home, hosting miserable teams. The last-place Blue Jays were playing at Fenway Park, and the sixth-place Indians were at Yankee Stadium in front of nearly 40,000 fans who were hoping to see the Yankees clinch the American League East.
When relief pitcher Lee Stange died last Friday at the age of 81, he was most recalled for his role on the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox, who won the 1967 pennant on the last day of the season.
Stange went 8-10 with a team-leading 2.77 ERA for the Red Sox that year, and worked two innings of relief in Game 3 of the World Series – an eventual loss in seven games to the Cardinals. But anyone who contributed to a team remembered that fondly is also remembered fondly, regardless of contributions.
But prior to his time with the Red Sox, Stange was a member of the Indians, both coming and going in trades that involved fan favorites in Cleveland and Boston.
Forty-seven years ago this week, the Indians became a footnote to baseball history in Washington by being the last team the second incarnation of the Senators beat on the road.
The problem is, the game ended up being at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.
Snack food fans shed a tear last month when the Dan Dee warehouse in Valley View closed abruptly, signaling the end of a company that could trace its roots back in Cleveland for more than a century.
Maybe a few baseball fans saw occasion to mourn as well.