Little Surprise as Tribe Held Without a Rookie of the Year Again

Shane Bieber did not place in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, nor did Greg Allen, Adam Plutko, or Adam Cimber, as the Cleveland Indians’ long drought without a winner extends back to 1990, despite several high quality candidates over the last three decades. Former Tribe prospect Joey Wendle, traded to Oakland in the Brandon Moss trade in December of 2014, did earn a fourth-place share of this year’s award with 17 vote points.

It was no surprise that the Indians’ 23-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Bieber did not fit into the mix in a season that saw winner Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels wow with 22 homers and a .285 batting average while also going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in ten starts before being shut down from his rotation work with right elbow issues. New York Yankees wunderkinder Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres finished second and third, respectively.

Bieber had a solid and surprise season while filling in for the Indians in the back end of the starting rotation. The fourth round pick out of the 2016 draft (University of California, Santa Barbara) posted an 11-5 record in his 19 starts and one relief appearance, showing a 4.55 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP among his results. He struck out 118 batters (9.3 per nine innings) and walked 23 (1.8/9) in his 114 2/3 innings of work while allowing an average of 10.2 hits and 1.0 homer per nine innings.

The Indians’ last top three finish in the Rookie of the Year voting came in 2016, when Tyler Naquin finished third with 20 points, trailing winner Michael Fulmer of Detroit and Gary Sanchez of New York. Francisco Lindor landed a second place spot the season before, earning 13 first place votes but trailing the 17 of Houston’s Carlos Correa in the Tribe’s best chance to win it in quite some time.

Given the current farm depth, it is tough to imagine that winless streak in the ROY voting coming to an end in 2019, as few of the kids in the farm system are expected to get a good look with the parent club. Catcher Eric Haase will see time in the event of an offseason trade or an injury, while other top prospects like Triston McKenzie or Bobby Bradley may not even get a look over the course of the season.

Cleveland has taken home just four Rookie of the Year honors since the award came into play into 1947. The first two seasons, the award was selected among all Major Leaguers, with Gene Bearden finishing second in the voting in 1948 behind future Indians manager Al Dark.

The last to take home the honor was Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1990. Playing in his third big league season and his first after being acquired by the Indians as the primary piece from the San Diego Padres in the Joe Carter trade, Alomar logged what would be a career-high 132 games of action as the team’s number one backstop (joined on the roster by Joel Skinner, who started the 44 games that Alomar did not behind the plate).

Freed of his position blocked behind All-Star Benito Santiago, Alomar flourished in his first season in Cleveland. The son of 15-year big leaguer Sandy Alomar, the younger was beginning what would become a 20-year career in the Majors. Cut from a different mold than his 5’9” switch-hitting infielder father, Sandy Jr. was a 6’5” giant behind the plate who was known for his strong offensive game with the stick and defensive game with both his glove and arm, despite his hulking size for the position.

Alomar raced out to a positive start to his regular duties in the Tribe lineup, posting a .294/.333/.390 slash in the first half of the season with nine doubles, two triples, three homers, and 31 RBI in 70 games. That showing earned him the starting nod on the American League All-Star team, becoming the first rookie catcher to ever start the yearly exhibition. He picked right back up in the second half, compiling a .286/.319/.447 line in his final 62 games with 17 doubles, six homers, and 35 more RBI to wrap up his rookie campaign.

Following the season, Alomar was selected as the league’s Gold Glove winner among all catchers, taking home the hardware for the only time in his career. Baseball America, The Sporting News, and Sports Illustrated selected him as their AL Rookie of the Year. The biggest nod came on November 7, when he was selected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as its Rookie of the Year in a landslide. Alomar took home all 28 first place votes and earned 140 points in total, nearly 100 more than the second place finisher Kevin Maas, a first baseman/DH from the Yankees. Future Indians outfielder/first baseman David Justice won the award in the senior circuit for the Atlanta Braves.

“I was supposed to be Rookie of the Year, and that made it hard,” shared Alomar in quotes from the November 8, 1990, edition of The Plain Dealer. “I was ready to win it or lose it, but I was more positive that I was going to win.”

Alomar spent 17 more years in the Majors, including ten more in Cleveland, while earning five more trips to the Midsummer Classic. After time with the Chicago White Sox (three trips), the Colorado Rockies, the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the New York Mets, Alomar hung up the cleats for good, but did not stay away for long, eventually returning to his longtime home in Cleveland where he has served the club as both its bench coach and first base coach.

Alomar’s victory in the award competition marked the third consecutive decade that the Indians had a Rookie of the Year winner on the club. The previous was Joe Charboneau, whose career took an entirely different path than the most recent winner of the award.

Charboneau came to town with far less fanfare than Alomar, acquired in a much less publicized trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for Cardell Camper following the 1978 season. After winning a pair of minor league batting titles, he came to camp with the Indians in 1980. His chances of making the roster were threatened by an incident in Mexico City prior to an exhibition game when he was stabbed by a pen, but improved all the more when Andre Thornton required surgery on his knee. Charboneau remained with the club, taking over in the outfield so that Mike Hargrove could slide into Thornton’s spot at first base.

The 24-year-old Charboneau quickly become a cult icon of sorts. He homered in his big league debut, earned the nicknames “Super Joe”, “Joltin’ Joe”, and “Bazooka Joe” as his power-packed season carried on, and later was featured on the Section 36 song “Go Joe Charboneau”. There was no All-Star trip in the whirlwind season for Charboneau, but his end-of-the-year numbers proved deserving as he hit .289 with a .358 on-base percentage and a .488 slugging mark with 17 doubles, two triples, 23 homers, and 87 RBI. He earned 15 of the 28 first place votes and had 102 points total in the Rookie of the Year balloting, easily winning the award over Boston’s Dave Stapleton (40 points).

“The award is something I have thought about and wanted for a long time,” said Charboneau in The Plain Dealer on December 3, 1980. “I tried to put it out of my mind, but I kept running into fans who asked me about it.

“I was pretty pleased with my season. But I see where I could have done a lot better. I felt I should have batted .300. That’s one of my goals for next year. Next year, I would also like to drive in 100 runs and score 100 runs. I don’t worry about homers. They’ll come.”

It was downhill from there for the promising outfielder, as a back injury in the spring of the following season limited him to just 48 games with the parent club. He scuffled through another 22 games with the Indians in 1982 in what would prove to be his final big league games, marking a quick end for a player once selected the best up and comer in his league.

Unlike Alomar, who climbed the ladder from amateur free agent to top prospect, and Charboneau, a mid-20s second rounder with his second team, Chris Chambliss had lofty expectations upon him from the moment he entered the pro game.

Chambliss was the Indians’ second Rookie of the Year winner, bringing home the hardware in 1971. Selected with the first overall pick in the regular January phase of the 1970 draft, Chambliss hit the cover off of the ball on the farm in Wichita and would have had a September call-up if not for a commitment to the Army reserve. The next season, he was in camp with the club, but was blocked by Ken Harrelson at first base and an attitude from manager Dark that his strong play in the American Association in his professional debut season was in part a product of lesser minor league competition due to Major League expansion in 1969.

The 22-year-old returned to Wichita with the Aeros to add the outfield to his repertoire, but his stay lasted just 13 productive games before he was called up to Cleveland in May, never again to return to the minor league circuit in his 18 seasons of Major League service.

He made his MLB debut on May 28 with a pinch-hit appearance against the Chicago White Sox. The following day, he recorded his first hit and his first two RBI in the Tribe’s 2-1 win over the Sox. He began a steady course of action at first base for the Indians from there, appearing in 111 games in total for the Indians in just his second pro season. He hit .275 with a .341 on-base percentage with 20 doubles, four triples, nine homers, and 48 RBI. Those numbers led to an easy award win over Milwaukee’s Bill Parsons, who went 13-17 on the mound with a 3.20 ERA in 36 games. Chambliss earned eleven of the 24 votes possible.

“Chris was supposed to play for Reno [Class A California League] because of his lack of experience,” said manager Ken Aspromonte (Chambliss’ manager in the minors in 1970 and 1971 and the new Tribe skipper for the 1972 season) in the November 23, 1971, edition of The Plain Dealer. “But I took one look at him and knew I didn’t have anybody on the Wichita roster who was better.”

Chambliss was a mainstay at first base for Cleveland over the next couple of years, but early in the 1974 season, he was dealt to the Yankees with Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw for Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson. The trade did not work out well for the Indians, but the new scenery proved just as nice for Chambliss, who thrived in pinstripes for seven seasons. He was an All-Star for the only time in his career in 1976 and won a Gold Glove in 1978, in addition to adding the second of back-to-back World Series rings to his collection with the Bronx Bombers. He spent the majority of his 30s in the jersey of the Atlanta Braves, where he hit a career-high 20 homers in 1982 and matched the feat the following season.

The Tribe’s first Rookie of the Year had easily the most tragic end of the bunch. While Chambliss was a regular name on lineup cards for more than a decade and a half, injuries tapped into Alomar’s career numbers and ended Charboneau’s career after just three seasons. As for Herb Score, it was one fluke and unlucky injury that derailed a most promising trajectory for the young southpaw.

Still just 21 years of age, Score broke camp with the Indians in 1955, less than three years after signing with the club as an amateur free agent after time at Holy Name High School in Lake Worth, Florida. He took the mound for the first time in the third game of the season for the reigning American League champions, coming off of a heartbreaking four-game sweep in the World Series the previous year against the New York Giants. Score was wild, but he dodged the damage of seven hits and nine walks in a complete game effort, earning his first big league win in a 7-3 victory.

After a pair of rough starts to close out the month, the hard-throwing left-hander put together an impressive May. He struck out 16 Boston Red Sox batters on May 1 in a 2-1 complete game effort. He struck out ten in his next outing and added an eleven-K game on May 24 in a loss. In his six starts in the month, he went 4-2 with a tiny 1.65 ERA. He won two more games in June and was named an American League All-Star to close out the first half, going 8-7 with a 3.05 ERA in 18 games. He lost four outings in July despite a 2.63 ERA, but bounced back with a 4-1 mark in August.

The Indians hung around in the pennant race until the final weeks of September, when the Yankees slipped back in front of Cleveland during a four-game losing streak. Score did his best to help the Tribe down the stretch, winning two of his four starts with a 1.78 ERA for the month while setting the big league record for strikeouts in a season by a rookie with 245 at season’s end. That mark was also tops in the Majors, highlighting a 16-10 season with a 2.85 ERA.

In the voting, Score claimed 75% of the vote, easily breezing to a win past Boston rookies Billy Klaus and Norm Zauchin.

Score lived up to the hype of his top rookie status the following season, as he went 20-9 for the second-place Tribe. He was an All-Star again and led the league with five shutouts and all of baseball with 263 Ks. But fortunes changes dramatically for Score five games into the 1957 season, when two batters into his start against the Yankees, Gil McDougald sent a liner back at him. It struck him in the head, breaking his nose and causing damage to his right eye and eyelid. Score missed the rest of the season and, probably unsurprisingly, the Indians struggled in the win column to a 76-77 record, their first losing mark since 1946. Score eventually returned to the mound for Cleveland for 12 games in 1958 and 30 games in 1959, but he could not generate the same level of success as his first two years. He was dealt to the Chicago White Sox at the beginning of the 1960 season and pitched in 35 games over three years with the Pale Hose before beginning a long career in the broadcast booth as the radio voice of the Tribe.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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