This year’s Indians squad continues to make history for all the wrong reasons.
In 1991, the Indians tied the club record for losses with 105, and manager John McNamara was given the boot in favor of Mike Hargrove, who was with the Rangers at Cleveland Stadium for the infamous ten-cent beer night, and then played six years for the Tribe, endearing himself to fans as the “Human Rain Delay.”
A year after a late-season fade keeps them out of the postseason, the Indians had high hopes and started out strong. But once again, they faded down the stretch, and October baseball was a rumor in Cleveland.
Sounds like this year, right? Well, it is. But it’s also 1941, a year with some strange parallels – including the sale of the NFL franchise in town.
The Indians were leading the American League as late as August, holding a 5.5-game lead over the Tigers on Aug. 21. But the Tribe went on to lose 10 of their next 14 to fall into a tie, and then fell behind the Motor City Kitties. The 1940 season ended with the Indians playing the Tigers in a three-game series at Cleveland Stadium. The Tribe needed a sweep, and manager Ossie Vitt tabbed Bob Feller to start the first game of the series. Tigers skipper Del Baker went with Floyd Giebell, who scattered six hits but pitched a shutout. Rapid Robert gave up three hits, but one was a two-run homer to Rudy York. The Tigers won 2-0 to clinch the pennant. The Indians won the next two games, so they finished a game behind Detroit in the standings. Giebell had made only two appearances for Detroit that year – he spent most of it in Toledo – and wasn’t eligible for the World Series, a seven-game Reds win over the Tigers.
Cleveland baseball fans are talking about Otto Hess for the first time in more than 100 years.
That’s not a good thing.
Tribe starter Ubaldo Jimenez has already thrown a career-high 16 wild pitches this season. He’s two off the club mark set by Hess in 1905 (and equaled by Sudden Sam McDowell in 1967). But Hess might have been the worst — or unluckiest — pitcher in Cleveland baseball history. And that’s saying something.
Chris Perez said last week that the Indians organization wasn’t committed to spending the big bucks to lure top free agents. And the team’s willingness to stand pat in the offseason and letting a team take the field with glaring flaws in its lineup proves the Tribe closer’s point.
But in baseball, it’s not enough to spend money. It has to be spent wisely – and that doesn’t always mean on free agency. The best times in Indians history occurred when the team was able to cultivate its own talent and secure their services for significant periods of time.
To paraphrase fictional Indians announcer Harry Doyle, you can close the book on August. Thank God.
The Indians went a miserable 5-24 in the month, the first time the team lost 24 games in a month since July 1914.
Then, the team was called the Naps, named in honor of player-manager Napoleon Lajoie. In addition to Lajoie, a hall of fame second baseman, the team had Joe Jackson, an outfielder given up by the Athletics in 1910. In his first three full years with the Naps, Shoeless Joe finished second every year in batting average in the American League – including a .408 average in 1911.
Most Tribe fans wouldn’t be surprised to know that Mel Harder had the longest tenure with the team, playing 20 years for the Indians (he spent another 16 years as a coach).
Second on the list is also no shock: Bob Feller, who spent 18 years throwing for the Tribe.
But Willis Hudlin is third on the list for 15 years with the Indians, from 1926 to 1940. He’s still among the top ten for the Tribe in wins, losses, games, complete games, starts, innings pitched and bases on balls.
Before there were the Cleveland Browns, there were the Youngstown Browns.
And before that, there were the Tubers, the Ohio Works and the Little Giants. Tuesday, Aug. 14 is the New York-Penn League All-Star Game at Eastwood Field in Niles, home for the Indians’ short-season A affiliate, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
The Scrappers started play in 1999, with players like Victor Martinez and C.C. Sabathia on the roster. It was the first minor-league baseball game played in the Mahoning Valley since 1951. But prior to that, the area, like most of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, was a hotbed for minor-league baseball.
Bill Veeck is known for many things.
In Cleveland, he’s remembered as the owner of the last Indians team to win a World Series. He installed the ivy at Wrigley Field and an exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park. And in St. Louis, he sent a midget up as a pinch-hitter and let fans manage a game.
He was also a veteran of World War II and in his own words wasn’t handicapped, but a cripple, losing a leg piece by piece over a period of years.
Paul Dickson presents those facets of Veeck – and more – in a new book, “Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,” published by Walker & Company. Dickson, the author of more than 40 books, has written about baseball before, including compilations like “Baseball’s Greatest Quotes” and “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball,” and has written books on history, on topics such as the Bonus Army and Sputnik. But he had never tackled a project like a biography of Bill Veeck.
“It’s a true American biography,” Dickson said. “A lot of people said, ‘It’s a baseball book.’ It’s a baseball book, but it’s also about America. “
By Jason Kaminski
Now that the trade deadline has come and gone let’s take a look back at some of the best deals the Cleveland Indians have ever made.
5. 1983 – Len Barker to the Atlanta Braves for Rick Behenna, Brook Jacoby and Brett Butler The running theme for most of these deals seems to be Cleveland trading away a star or two for prospects. It has long been the Cleveland strategy and though it may not sit well with the average fan, often times it’s the key to building a successful small market franchise. The deal in 1983 was no different. Len Barker was best known for his powerful fastball and strikeout capability. However, he was also very unpredictable. At the time of the trade Atlanta was fighting for first place and in need of another arm. Cleveland was wallowing at the bottom of their division and were in need of rebuilding tools. The Tribe would make out like bandits in this deal. They sent Barker to Atlanta for pitcher Rick Behenna and two players to be named later. They ended up being centerfielder Brett Butler and third baseman Brook Jacoby. Both ended up being all-stars while Barker struggled in Atlanta and was eventually let go a few years later.
In 2009, the Indians became the first team in Major League history to trade Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back years.
But in 1984, the Indians traded a pitcher in what turned out to be his Cy Young season – and ended up getting the better of the deal.
Rick Sutcliffe came to the Indians from the Dodgers. He won the 1979 Rookie of the Year award, the first of four Dodgers in a row so recognized, and at the end of the 1981 season went on a screaming destructive tirade against manager Tommy Lasorda when he was left off the postseason roster (the Dodgers would go on to win the World Series that year), and was dealt to the Tribe for Jorge Orta.
Sometimes, the saying in baseball goes, the best trade is the one you don’t make.
In 1946, a syndicate headed by Bill Veeck bought the Cleveland Indians. Veeck, the son of a sportswriter-turned-baseball executive, wasn’t the kind of guy to stand pat, leading player-manager Lou Boudreau to say, “We always had three teams — one on the field, one coming and one going.”
Tom Seaver and the Mets seem to go hand-in-hand.
Seaver’s the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame (where he received the highest percentage of votes, 98.84, on his first ballot) wearing a Mets cap. He was the anchor of the starting rotations of the 1969 World Champion Miracle Mets, and the 1973 team that went from last place in the middle of the season to the seventh game of the World Series, succumbing to the Oakland Athletics.
But Seaver almost debuted with the Indians.