Posts By Vince Guerrieri
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.
In 1929, the season belonged to the Philadelphia Athletics. After two years of second-place finishes, the “Mackmen” – so called because of their manager, Connie Mack – won 104 games, breezing to the pennant and a five-game World Series win over the Chicago Cubs.
But the batting title – and the MVP award – belonged to a player the Indians had claimed off the discard pile just a couple years earlier.
Lew Fonseca batted .369 for an Indians team that finished a distant third, 24 games behind the Athletics and six games behind the second-place Yankees. It was a triumph for a player who had been sent to the minor leagues just three years earlier.
This Thursday, the Alabama Secretary of State is expected to certify the results of the Dec. 12 special election, paving the way next week for Doug Jones to be sworn into the U.S. Senate.
No, not that Doug Jones. But I certainly can’t blame you for thinking that. I did – and I was hardly alone.
OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one: An Indians slugger settles in at first base after changing positions, becomes a mainstay of some quality Tribe teams, and ends up signing a fat contract in Philadelphia.
Thome was drafted in the 13th round by the Indians in 1989, breaking in with the team as a third baseman as a September callup two years later. That team lost 105 games – the most losses in Indians history – but good times were just around the corner.
But eight months later, apparently Lane had grown tired of steak.
The Indians suddenly found themselves in the market for a manager after the 1941 season.
Although Cy Slapnicka was celebrated as a scout, unearthing pitching talent like Mel Harder, Herb Score, Bob Lemon, and, most famously, Bob Feller, he had a rough go as the team’s general manager. After missing out on the pennant in 1940, the Indians ended up four games below .500 in a tie for fourth place – 26 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. Slapnicka, who had had a heart attack in 1938, wanted to return to scouting, which he said was his first love. After one year as manager, Roger Peckinpaugh was promoted to the front office, but that opened a vacancy in the Indians’ dugout.
And as it turned out, the new manager was found in the Tribe dugout as well.
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.