As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 26 days
Ever wonder what a Major League hitting coach does in his free time? According to Toronto Blue Jays hitting instructor and former Cleveland Indian #26 Brook Jacoby, there isn’t a lot of it to go around.
“Coaching takes up a lot of time,” Jacoby said, “a lot of time away from home.”
Such is the life for a baseball lifer like Jacoby, also known simply as ‘Jake’, who broke into professional ball when he was a seventh round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1979. Prior to that, Jacoby – the son of Brook Jacoby, Sr., who played in the Indians and Philadelphia Phillies organizations – was a Hall of Fame talent at his alma mater of Ventura College in Ventura, California. He is the only two-time VC team MVP and, according to the college website, the not-so-fleet-footed Jacoby hit a whopping 26 triples in just 28 games during his sophomore year.
“That must have been a misprint,” Jacoby said with a laugh. “I will say this, my speed did diminish as I got older. I was a center fielder in college. That was in a shortened season. They play a lot more games nowadays. I just loved playing the game. I didn’t worry about the numbers or the stats, but it’s nice to look back on those now.”
His amazing two-year college career was good enough to get the third baseman drafted by Atlanta, who traded him to Cleveland prior to the 1984 season. The trade brought the Indians future starting outfielder Brett Butler as well, in exchange for starting pitcher Len Barker. Jacoby had played in only a handful of games in the seasons prior with the Braves and got his first legitimate starting shot with the Tribe in ’84.
“Toby Harrah got traded the year before and Pat Tabler was the incumbent,” Jacoby remembers. “Pat got hurt during spring training – I think he pulled a hamstring – and I got some time to play then. It was exciting that I got a chance to play in the big leagues and stay, so I’m very thankful for that.”
The rookie Jacoby found out quickly that playing April baseball in Cleveland comes with its own unique set of challenges.
“I remember from my rookie year when we came from Tucson where it was 90° and we came to The Stadium for a workout and the lake was frozen,” Jacoby exclaimed. “It certainly wasn’t 90° anymore. I couldn’t believe that the lake was frozen and I never did see that again any other time that we broke camp. My goodness it was cold.”
Despite the cold start, Jacoby showed enough heat during his rookie year to cement his name as the starting third baseman for the 1985 season and beyond. After walloping 20 home runs in his first full season as a regular in ’85, Jacoby became a big name the following year by making his first American League All-Star team.
“I remember the first one…that was played in Houston. It was really neat,” Jacoby said. “It was nice to meet all the guys that you play against all year and to be a part of that game. I was fortunate that someone had gotten hurt and I replaced them.”
Jacoby made another All-Star team in 1990, but missed out on the Midsummer Classic during the 1987 season, which was statistically the best year of his career. Jacoby hit career highs in ’87 with a .300 batting average, 32 home runs and 75 walks. He kept his name as one of the more consistent hitters in the Indians lineup until he was traded to the Oakland Athletics midway through the 1991 season.
It was during his half season with the defending AL Champion A’s that Jacoby had his best chance to play in the elusive postseason, but the team melted in the August heat and finished in a disappointing fourth place in the AL West.
After his pit stop in Oakland, Jacoby signed back on with the Indians to serve as a stop-gap third baseman as ’91 third sacker Carlos Baerga had moved to second base and future third baseman Jim Thome was nursing a broken wrist. When the Indians featured the talent of those two young stars, as well as 1990 Rookie of the Year Sandy Alomar at catcher, young slugger Albert Belle hitting in the fourth slot of the lineup, and then when the team traded for future star center fielder Kenny Lofton, Jacoby could tell that a new era was coming in Cleveland baseball.
“Collectively, that was a very good group of young players,” Jacoby said of the eventual 1995 AL Champs. “It was just a matter of time for them to put it all together and learn how to win. They eventually added some other pieces to build a championship ball club. The quality of those young kids was tremendous.”
After the 1992 season, Jacoby was granted free agency and signed on to play baseball in Japan for the ’93 season. After that, he hung up his spikes and focused on the next stage of his career…coaching. When his playing career had ended, he looked back on his days in Cleveland fondly and a few names stick out more than others.
“I can remember quite a few of the coaches, Johnny Goryl being one,” Jacoby remembers. “Johnny was a tireless worker, an infield coach and our third base coach at the time. Jose Morales was our hitting coach and Charlie Manuel – I spent a lot of time with those guys. Bobby Bonds was my first hitting coach here and they’re all good. They all bring something different to help you with your game.”
It was those coaches that Jacoby pulls some of his present day coaching knowledge from. “We relied on them a lot because we were all so young. Coming over here, we had to pull from our coaches because there weren’t many veteran players to go to. We had Andre Thornton, who was not only a leader but was a coach, too. I pulled something from all those guys.”
Jacoby worked in the Reds minor league system from 2000-02 and then worked a similar role for the Texas Rangers from 2003-06. Upon completion of the 2006 season, Jacoby was back in the Big Leagues when he was hired to become the Reds hitting coach for 2007 through 2014. During his seven seasons in the Cincinnati dugout, the Reds improved from a 90-loss team to a two-time NL Central Division Champion and a 2013 Wild Card winner. During his time in Cincy, he coached one of baseball’s most feared lineups, boasting one of the top hitters in today’s game.
“Joey Votto might be the best hitter that I’ve seen, and I’ve been around a long time,” Jacoby said of the slugging MVP first baseman. “Of course, I wasn’t with Ken Griffey Jr. when he was young – he was older when he was over here – but Joey Votto is a pretty special hitter. I always think of him and Miguel Cabrera as being two of the premier players in the game today and – it remains to be seen over the amount of time as they do what they do – of all-time. I think they can be put in there also.”
It’s high praise for Votto and it means a lot coming from a former Major League All-Star who has seen the game of baseball from numerous angles.
After leaving Cincinnati after the 2014 season, Jacoby was hired by the Blue Jays as the hitting coach and helped them to a division championship and an ALCS berth for the 2015 season. Having spent so much time in the dugout and on the diamond, Jacoby cherishes the little free time that he does get and he spends some time working on a different swing.
“When I am home, I have kids at home that I spend a lot of time with,” Jacoby said. “And I try to get some golf in there.”