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Countdown to Opening Day – 67 days
His stay was short, both in Cleveland and in Major League Baseball, but former pitcher Chris Nichting does have a claim to some fame. He is the first and only wearer of the number 67 in franchise history.
His time in Cleveland was so short, finding a picture of him in an Indians uniform became a task so frustrating that it was ultimately given up on, so we must suffer through him in pinstripes instead.
When Nichting appeared for the Indians on the mound in September of 2000, he was the first to do so for the Indians in the number, but he was not the first with strong ties to Cleveland to wear it on the biggest stage. It had been worn by more than a dozen different players before the 2000 season began, including former Indians two-time All-Star pitcher Jim Kern while with the Chicago White Sox for parts of two seasons and former New York Yankees pitcher Dale Mohorcic (a Cleveland native). St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Gene Stechschulte (a Lima, Ohio, native drafted out of Ashland University) put the number on prior to Nichting during that 2000 campaign.
Nichting was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third round of the 1987 draft out of Northwestern after growing up in Cincinnati. After many seasons on their farm, including two missed seasons in 1990 and 1991 due to injury, the right-handed starter became a free agent following the 1994 season and signed with the Texas Rangers while considered for a role as a reliever. He would make his MLB debut in May of 1995 and played in 13 games, posting a 7.03 ERA and 2.01 WHIP to go with no decisions.
He signed with Oakland after the 1996 season and moved along to the Indians in February of 1998, but after an 8-6 record and a 4.39 ERA in 43 games at Triple-A Buffalo, he joined the New York Yankees. He spent a year in their farm system, mainly back as a starter, before returning to the Indians, where he made his return to the Majors in seven games for the club in 2000 with results similar to those in Texas – no decisions, a 7.00 ERA, and a 2.00 WHIP. He was 2-3 with a 4.23 ERA in 47 games for the Bisons, working extensively as a closer. He established a record for the franchise by converting 26 of 27 save chances while at Buffalo that season.
When he was used by the Tribe in the 2000 season, he was the 31st different pitcher to be used during the season, which extended their then-Major League record. Indians manager Charlie Manuel, always known for his way with words, noted in an Associated Press story on September 3rd, 2000, “My bullpen needs to relax and have some fun. Some of them might be getting a little tight. I don’t think they’re tired.”
A free agent again after the season, he joined the Cincinnati Reds, where he had his most success and longest stay at the MLB level. He earned his first MLB save in 2001 while going 0-3 with a 4.46 ERA for the Reds while splitting time at Triple-A Louisville. He was let go towards the tail end of the 2001 season and signed with the Colorado Rockies, pitching in seven games in 2001 and another 29 in 2002 for the parent club while spending half of the latter season in the minors at Triple-A Colorado Springs. They were the last of his professional appearances.
In addition to his time in the professional game and his claim as the only 67 in Indians history to date, Nichting can also boast about his hardware from his time in Triple-A.
“I’ve got five Triple-A championship rings,” he was quoted in the book The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds by Joe and Jack Heffron, “but nobody dreams of being Crash Davis.”
Photo: Getty Images