The countdown has finally reached its target and Major League Baseball will begin the 2018 regular season schedule around the country with games all day long on Thursday (except in waterlogged locales…). The Cleveland Indians will start the year far away from home in Seattle, Washington, where they will be hosted by the Mariners in the final game of the day.
Countdown to Opening Day – 0 days
With their unexpectedly quick ouster from the 2017 postseason, the Cleveland Indians and their fans had to deal with a longer offseason than just a year before, when the club made an incredible run to extra innings in the seventh game of the World Series. It led to a winter that felt like it might not ever end.
But alas, baseball fans around the world have made it to the finish line, or more appropriately, the starting line of the 2018 MLB regular season. One-hundred and sixty-two games will be played over the next six months, with the goal to reduce 30 teams down to a ten-team pile for postseason considerations.
The final number in our nearly three-month long series brings about one candidate who has worn the number zero and two more who wore double-zeroes during the long, storied history of the Cleveland Indians organization.
Junior Ortiz had already spent ten years at the Major League level when he signed on with Cleveland in December of 1991 to be a backup catcher with the Indians. With two separate trips through Pittsburgh and stops in New York with the Mets and with the Minnesota Twins, Ortiz brought with him a World Series ring won in ’91 when the Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves for the title.
In his first season on the lake shore, he saw 86 games of action, including 69 starts, working as the veteran backup to young Sandy Alomar, who had missed a good portion of the 1991 season. Alomar would appear in just 89 games in 1992, despite making his third consecutive All-Star team. Ortiz hit .250 while knocking in 24 runs.
He saw the field more than Alomar in 1993, appearing in a career-high 95 games and making 84 starts. Alomar, meanwhile, played in 64 games while making 55 starts. Ortiz batted .221 on the year with a career-high 13 doubles and added 20 RBI. The two backstops also shared the catching load with second-year man Jesse Levis and former eight-time All-Star and 37-year-old Lance Parrish.
Ortiz re-signed with the Tribe following the 1993 season, but was traded late in spring training to Texas for a pair of minor leaguers, neither of whom would make it to the Majors. He played sparingly with the Rangers, appearing in 29 games while hitting .276. He signed with the Chicago White Sox for the 1995 season and worked for their Triple-A affiliate before calling it a career.
Two men have claimed zero-zero during the Indians portions of their careers, but neither would be the best remembered for doing so. Fictional Tribe center fielder and speedster Willie Mays Hayes, played by actor Wesley Snipes in the classic movie Major League, donned the double zero when he made the Indians roster as a walk-on in camp at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona, and throughout his breakout rookie season. The role, of course, was played less memorably the following season in Major League 2 by Omar Epps.
More than a decade before Snipes brought the 00 to the big screen, Paul Dade became the first and only player on record to wear the number for the Indians at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
A former first round draft pick by the California Angels in the 1970 draft, he came to Cleveland in time for the 1977 season after two cups of coffee with the Halos in 1975 and 1976. Dade was sought out by Indians’ general manager Phil Seghi after leading the Pacific Coast League with a .363 batting average and stealing 26 bases in 28 attempts for the California Angels’ Salt Lake City affiliate as a 24-year-old in 1976. The Indians drafted the negotiating rights to the outfielder/third baseman, who was claimed by Cleveland and the Oakland Athletics in the first “re-entry draft” for players who completed their options during the 1976 season. Seghi added him on February 7, 1977, on a two-year, $100,000 contract (per the next day’s edition of The Plain Dealer).
“I consider him to be a fine addition to our club. He gives us added versatility and speed,” said Seghi in The Plain Dealer story on February 8, 1977. “He has outstanding credentials. If we’d had Dade in our organization, we would have been very high on him, and we would have given him this same opportunity to make our big league club.”
Dade was the second offseason free agent signed by Seghi and the Indians, after the much more publicized ten-year, $2.3 million record contract awarded to pitcher Wayne Garland, who made the move to Cleveland from Baltimore.
“I didn’t get a fair shake with the Angels,” Dade shared in the February story. “They never gave me a real chance to prove what I could do in the big leagues. That’s the main thing I wanted – an opportunity in the big leagues, and the Indians are giving it to me.”
From 1977 to 1979, Dade plugged into the field wherever managers Frank Robinson and Jeff Torborg needed. He worked primarily out of right field, appearing in 143 games there over parts of three seasons in Cleveland. He also manned center field 35 times and left field 29. During the 1977 season he played 26 games at third base, including 20 starts, and logged a few innings at second base in one game that season.
Dade’s Major League career was short, lasting just six seasons. His years in Cleveland were the most productive of his time in the Bigs, as he posted a career-best .277 batting average while playing for the Indians. Nine of his ten home runs came while playing for the city. He played in a career-high 134 games in 1977, accumulating bests for plate appearances (508), at bats (461), runs scored (65), hits (134), and RBI (45). His defense left something to be desired, as he totaled the third-most errors in right field in the American League in 1978, despite playing significantly fewer games than those with larger error totals.
Dade was traded midway through the 1979 season to the San Diego Padres for a first baseman who would make a name for himself in Cleveland for his antics at the plate and later as the manager of the club’s successful run through the 1990’s, Mike Hargrove.
Dade played the rest of the season and 1980 in San Diego. He spent the 1981 season in Japan with Hanshin before returning “home” to the Pacific Northwest for a season with Portland, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Incidentally, on the Beavers’ roster that season was a young 22-year-old catcher named Junior Ortiz.
Only one other Indians player has worn the number 00 – reliever Rick White (2004).
White, a native of Springfield, Ohio, spent one season in Cleveland on his tour around the country after being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late April. He appeared in 59 games in relief for the Tribe, compiling a 5-5 record with a 5.29 ERA in 78 1/3 innings of work. He allowed a career-high 15 home runs on the year.
During his 12-year Major League career, he spent time with 13 different organizations, including eleven of them at the MLB level and with two different stints with the Pirates and Houston Astros along the way. He made his second trip to Pittsburgh following his season with the Tribe.
That’s all! Thanks for following along with our winter Opening Day countdown. Welcome back, baseball!
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project