At first glance, the 1974 Indians season doesn’t look like one for the ages.
Oh, sure, there were historic moments, like the infamous 10-cent beer night, and Dick Bosman threw a no-hitter in front of the home crowd against the defending champion Oakland Athletics, but the team finished 77-85 for fourth place in the American League East Division.
But to Jim Clark, the voice of the Akron Rubberducks since their days as the Canton-Akron Indians, it was a watershed year – and one that he believes ultimately kept the team in Cleveland.
Clark’s book, “Rally ‘Round Cleveland: The Story of the 1974 Franchise-Saving Cleveland Indians,” now available on eBay, provides a day-to-day recap of a season where he Indians were in the pennant race into the final month.
The season also has personal significance for Clark, who was 19 at the time. “I love the year,” he said. “I have great vivid memories of it. It was my first pennant race, and it was fun to write about those days again.”
The Indians drew more than 1.1 million fans to Cleveland Stadium that year, the only time attendance broke 1 million between 1959 – another year that saw the Indians in a pennant race – and 1979. Clark notes that there were three legitimate times in the 20 years leading up to 1974 when the Indians could legitimately have left. Hank Greenberg talked about relocating the team in the late 1950s. The Indians almost moved to Seattle in 1964 (Clark also believes that the Indians’ trade to bring Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland – giving up Tommie Agee and Tommy John – while damaging in the long term, probably kept the Indians in Cleveland). And there were plans to play a certain amount of home games in New Orleans before Nick Mileti bought the Indians in 1972.
“The year is just so lost on everybody,” said Clark, who estimated it took him about two and a half years to assemble the book. “If they fell flat on their face in 1974, after three years of drawing less than 2 million combined, maybe there’s a downward spiral. Baseball expansion’s about to happen, Washington’s still looking for a team. Maybe the Indians are gone.”
Gaylord Perry, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, rattled off 15 straight wins for the Indians, and while the Indians traded away Chris Chambliss, three of the players they got in return – Fred Beene, Tom Buskey and Fritz Peterson – provided a boost that season.
“Steve Kline was the key in the Chambliss deal, but he could never get healthy,” Clark said. “If he’d worked out, that could have been a great trade.”
Ultimately, the Indians faded down the stretch – which coincided with the arrival of Frank Robinson from Anaheim. Clark credits manager Ken Aspromonte with keeping the team in the hunt in 1974, and Robinson’s arrival kind of upset the apple cart. Robinson harbored managerial ambitions – he’d managed in the winter – which was one of the reasons the Angels dealt him. The team fractured, and after the season, Aspromonte was let go and Robinson was named manager, the first black manager in the major leagues.
“Ken Aspromonte gets no credit, because he never managed in the majors again, but he did a pretty good job patching it all together,” Clark said.
It would be quite some time before October baseball was seriously considered in Cleveland, but the 1974 season kept the flames burning, however faintly.
“I think fans fell in love with the team all over again,” Clark said.