Posts By Vince Guerrieri
Fifty-four years ago today, an experiment came to an end in Major League Baseball.
Starting in 1959, Major League Baseball had played two All-Star Games annually, to fund the players’ pension plan. It had started in 1947, but the league had fallen behind on some payments and concocted the two games to fund the pension plan. (It was also a sop to players who were complaining that an extended season – in negotiations at the same time and ultimately starting in 1961 – did not result in increased pay.)
Bill Veeck left Cleveland 67 years ago this week.
A year after the Indians reached the pinnacle of baseball with their World Series triumph over the Boston Braves, Veeck had to sell the team to pay for his divorce and establish trust funds for his children.
The $2.2 million sale was finalized November 21, 1949, to a group headed by 45-year-old Ellis Ryan, scion of a prominent Cleveland family. He was described as a polar opposite of Veeck, and although his time at the helm of the Tribe was short, he maintained a deep involvement in Cleveland pro sports throughout his lifetime.
While I was out – and while Terry Francona was working his magic – at some point in October, I was asked by someone who is neither a Cleveland native nor an Indians fan, “How did Francona end up in Cleveland?”
It’s a fair question. When Francona was hired in 2012, he was held in high esteem after two World Series wins with the Red Sox, but the Indians weren’t a plum job, far removed from their 2007 season when they were one win away from a trip to the World Series.
Manny Acta had been fired with six games left in an abysmal 2012 season (when he returned to Cleveland this year as a coach with the Mariners, he said, “Hey, if you’re going to get Tito, I’ll fire myself too). The only good part of the 2012 season was that the Indians hadn’t lost 100 games (just 94). They’d put together losing streaks of nine and eleven games, and their 5-24 record in August that year tied for the worst in team history.
Editor’s note: this story originally posted March 9, 2016.
Donald Trump and New York City go hand in hand.
From his roots in Queens to his real estate deals in Manhattan to his pronounced accent (“yuge!”), Trump is inextricably linked to the Big Apple.
But in 1983, before his bid for president, before his television show, before his marriages and divorces had become tabloid fodder, even before “The Art of the Deal,” his bestseller that made him nationally famous, Trump looked to Cleveland to expand into professional sports — like George Steinbrenner in reverse.
In what might be the funniest thing Tony Grossi’s ever written, he said, “Trump’s sudden and inexplicable interest in purchasing the Cleveland Indians evokes the image of a man who awakes in a cold sweat with the frightening realization that a billion Chinese never heard of him.”
I felt the ghosts of 1997 come out Wednesday.
The Indians now have the dubious distinction of playing in the two most recent World Series Game 7s to go into extra innings – and losing them both. The Indians succumbed last week in the 10th, giving the Cubs their first World Series win since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. In 1997, they lost in the 11th to the Marlins, who were all of four years old – and the first wild card team to win a World Series.
The 1997 World Series remains a blur to me. It was a weird time in my life (which has always been fairly weird, so that should tell you something). I actually had a date the night of the first game. Such scheduling might seem like apostasy now, but it had only been two years since the Indians previously appeared in the World Series. My dating dry spell had been a little longer – and a little more fruitless.
The 1945 World Series was, until this year, the last appearance in the Fall Classic for the Chicago Cubs.
It also pitted managers against each other that represented the Indians’ past – and possibly its future.
The Tigers manager was Steve O’Neill, who was originally signed by the Athletics but played the bulk of his career for the Indians. He was a part of the 1920 championship team, and ended his career with stints in Boston, the Bronx, and St. Louis.
It’s become an annual tradition that I write a note to my daughter on her birthday. This year, I told her about the adventures of being a Cleveland sports fan. Here’s the text of it:
The Browns won the weekend you were born, making it an even more momentous occasion. A Browns victory doesn’t happen often.
Last night, your mother reminisced that five years ago at that very moment, they were trying to induce labor on her. I thought about it for a minute, and realized that I was doing the same thing then that I was doing five years ago at that very moment: watching baseball while your mother drifted in and out of consciousness.
***editor’s note: this story was originally published on 9/23/15.
The 1908 season – like so many since – ended in disappointment for Cleveland baseball fans.
But it was a wild ride for the last two weeks of the season.
Going into the series with the Boston Red Sox on September 17, the Naps were in second place in the American League, tied with the Detroit Tigers in the win column with 78, but with four more losses, putting them two back with 16 to play.
The Naps – still named for player-manager Napolean Lajoie – took the first game, a 1-0 shutout, but gained no ground. The following day, pitcher Bob Rhoads was in less than top form, loading the bases on a couple occasions and letting in an unearned run in the second inning. He walked Doc Gessler, who advanced to second on a sacrifice by Jack Thoney. Heinie Wagner’s grounder was fumbled by Lajoie, putting Gessler on third, and a wild pitch scored him for the Red Sox to take the lead.
***editor’s note: This story was originally posted 11/4/2015.
Since 2003, Major League Baseball has used the All-Star Game to determine home field advantage for the World Series.
It’s a dumb idea, implemented as a knee-jerk reaction to the 2002 All-Star Game, which ended as a tie as both managers, who treated the game as a glorified exhibition, blew through their rosters as the game went into extra innings.
But it’s really not much dumber than the way home field advantage was determined before that: It simply alternated between leagues, with no consideration for which team assembled the better regular season record.
One of my unofficial duties with this website is as its book reviewer.
I’ve read plenty of books about baseball history and talked to a lot of authors. The most recent was “No Money, No Beer, No Pennants,” a book by Scott Longert about the Indians during the Depression.
Also on my list of books to read is James Sulecki’s book, “The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon.” It’s about the football team that called Cleveland home and in fact won the NFL championship in 1945 before decamping for the West Coast (the people of Cleveland weren’t too disappointed by their depature; a new team in a new league was coming into existence with a deeper connection to the city: the Browns).
Obviously, the books cover similar time periods, so there is a certain amount of overlap, but there’s one person who figures into the history of both the Rams and the Indians – and Cleveland sports in general: Billy Evans.
Last Thursday, for the first time this century, I went to an Indians postseason game.
Admittedly, there haven’t been as many in the past 15 years as there had been in the late 1990s, when October baseball was a matter of course, filling the days during the time the Browns were on hiatus (or, as I like to call it, the three years they were undefeated).
And it certainly didn’t feel like October. Shortly before midnight, the scoreboard thermometer read 70 degrees. But it did feel like October. I went with Chuck (my father, to the uninitiated).
The 1920s and 1930s are not remembered as halcyon days in Cleveland baseball history.
Six years after the Indians won the World Series in 1920, owner Jim Dunn was dead, ownership was in disarray and player-manager Tris Speaker had left the team under a cloud of suspicion after allegations of gambling on fixed games.
But that’s the era encapsulated in “No Money, No Beer, No Pennants,” the newest book from Cleveland sports historian Scott Longert.