Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 49
Bob Toth | On 06, Feb 2020
Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 49 days
The number 49 is back open for business in the city of Cleveland after reliever Tyler Olson signed a minor league deal with a non-roster spring invitation with the Chicago Cubs on January 17.
Olson had overcome numerous professional hurdles, including bouncing around five different organizations in a 19-month span when he joined the Indians via a waiver claim off of the roster of the Kansas City Royals on July 9, 2016, but he was unable to turn better luck in Cleveland into prolonged success.
Olson began the year as one of three southpaws in the Tribe bullpen for the 2019 season, joining veteran Oliver Perez and All-Star closer Brad Hand. He had a good showing in the spring, striking out nine and walking three in eight innings of one-run baseball over ten appearances, but those results did not carry far into the regular season. After making four scoreless appearances to start his season, he allowed solo runs in back-to-back appearances against the Royals on April 12 and 14. He allowed four of the five base runners that he faced to reach in that second game, then walked the lone batters that he faced on April 15 and April 20 before giving up another run on two hits in two-thirds of an inning against Atlanta on April 21.
The 29-year-old settled down for a few good outings before giving up two runs on four hits in an inning and two-thirds in a blowout 10-0 loss to Seattle on May 5. Five scoreless efforts followed before he allowed another run in a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay on May 26. He gave up five runs in a rough June, allowing seven hits (three homers) and three walks with eleven strikeouts in seven and one-third innings over nine games, but he started to trend back in the right direction in July while working a bit less frequently.
A sloppy performance against Houston on August 1, when he allowed three runs on two hits, three walks, and a hit batter, was the turning point in Olson’s season after making a season-high 39 pitches. The following day, he was placed on the 10-day injured list with a non-baseball medical condition. It was announced at the time that Olson had been fighting shingles for a period of six to eight weeks and that the team wanted him to focus on addressing the illness without having baseball “hanging over his head”, according to manager Terry Francona on August 2.
It turned out to be his final appearance with the Indians. He made a rehab appearance on August 13 for Double-A Akron (facing four batters while giving up a hit and a walk and striking out two) and he followed it with a three-batter outing for Triple-A Columbus on August 16 (hitting one and giving up a hit while striking out a third), but he was shut back down on reports that his body was not responding well enough between games. He was transferred to the 60-day injured list on September 1, officially ending his season.
Olson was outrighted from the Indians’ 40-man roster on November 4, but he declined the assignment and became a free agent. In 39 appearances for Cleveland in 2019, he went 1-1 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in 30 2/3 innings of work.
Olson will look to continue his pro career with the Cubs, his sixth big league organization. He was originally drafted in the 17th round in 2012 by the Oakland Athletics while pitching for Gonzaga, but he returned to school and jumped to the seventh round the following year when he was selected by the Seattle Mariners. He debuted in the Majors for the M’s but was later traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December of 2015 and moved a month later to the New York Yankees. After six months (and one MLB appearance) with the club, he was a waiver claim by the Royals before moving across the division to the Indians’ organization. He finished his 2016 season in the minors, but saw 30 scoreless games of action for the Indians in 2017 and 43 more relief appearances in an injury-shortened 2018 campaign before his illness ended his 2019 season prematurely.
If you were a fan of the Cleveland Indians in the 1980s, chances are you were well aware of right-hander and #49 Tom Candiotti and his mastery of the elusive knuckleball. Candiotti’s name is forever tied to the pitch, just like his predecessors Phil Niekro, Joe Niekro, and Charlie Hough, and more recent successes like R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield.
The “Candy Man” broke into the professional game in 1980, joining the Kansas City Royals after spending time at St. Mary’s College of California and in independent ball in Canada. After a year in the Royals farm system, he was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Rule 5 draft and progressed through their minor league system, but he missed the 1982 season while undergoing the still new Tommy John surgery, performed by Dr. Frank Jobe, after dealing with a right elbow injury.
Unlike some of the others before him (with the exception of John himself), Candiotti recovered from the experimental procedure and would make his Major League debut with ten appearances after his early August call-up in 1983. He made eight more appearances in 1984, but after playing at Double-A and Triple-A for the Brewers in 1985, he signed with the Indians.
Some of the best years of his career came in Cleveland, despite being surrounded by unimpressive teams who failed to perform to their expected levels. He won what would be a career-high 16 games in his first year with the Indians in 1986 while throwing nearly three times as many innings (252 1/3) as he had pitched in his first two seasons in the Majors combined. He was also the top pitcher in the American League in complete games with 17.
His time in the Cleveland rotation also gave him a great opportunity to learn from one of the best at his craft.
“Being able to work with Phil Niekro full-time was kind of an ‘Are you kidding me?’ scenario,” Candiotti said in a 2014 interview with Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “He’s one of the greatest knuckleballers of all-time and I had him as like my own pitching coach. I worked a lot with Knucksie and he taught me so much…not only about becoming an accomplished knuckleball pitcher, but about how to handle yourself, how to give credit where credit is due and how to carry yourself as a Major Leaguer. I’ll never forget all of the time that he spent with me and the lessons that I learned from him.”
As the Indians struggled during the Sports Illustrated cover jinx season of 1987, Candiotti’s numbers did too as he went 7-18 with a 4.78 ERA in 32 starts. The team did show signs of improvement over the next several years and Candiotti was a reliable and durable innings eater in the rotation, averaging 14 wins and 208 innings pitched over the next three years.
The Indians were in a different place in 1991, despite having some pieces worth building around. After failing to find success with a core roster of players entering some of the prime years of their careers as the 1980s closed, the team traded star Joe Carter ahead of the 77-85 1990 season and would falter badly in 1991 in what would become a 57-105 embarrassment.
Candiotti started 7-6 with a 2.24 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and three complete games through his first 15 starts, but the club shipped him to Toronto on June 27 with outfielder Turner Ward. The Blue Jays, who had been actively looking for pitching and outfield help and had been linked to the Indians back in spring training as a potential trade partner, got both from the Tribe while Cleveland brought back pitcher Denis Boucher, outfielders Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten, and cash considerations.
Candiotti was not a fan of his relocation.
“If I was a fan, a real loyal Cleveland Indians fan, I’d be upset,” Candiotti was quoted in The Plain Dealer on June 28, 1991. “The players change year in and year out here. It’s hard for Cleveland fans to relate to the players.
“I’m more frustrated than anything. I really legitimately wanted to stay here. I don’t know how many times I let the front office know. This trade was done purely because of economics.”
Candiotti shared a different perspective years later in his 2014 interview with Did The Tribe Win Last Night.
“It was a tough one,” Candiotti said of the trade. “I kind of knew that it was going to happen just from some conversations with John Hart, who was very, very honest with what he was trying to do here. They had to get young and get some youthful players. I was just one of those pieces that he was looking to trade. I didn’t want to get traded because my mom grew up in Youngstown and I had friends and family that would always come to every single game that I pitched here. I really didn’t want to leave. I loved Cleveland and felt comfortable here. So I was very disappointed when I did get traded even though I knew it was going to happen.”
In his new home north of the border, Candiotti continued a career year on the mound while helping the Blue Jays replace Dave Stieb. He went 6-7 with a 2.98 ERA over his final 19 starts and led the Toronto staff with three complete games. The club won the American League East and Candiotti made a pair of starts in the American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins, but was hit hard in his first two career postseason appearances as the Blue Jays came up short in their World Series pursuits.
Unfortunately for Candiotti, his time in Toronto ended a year or two too early. The Blue Jays would return to the playoffs in each of the next two seasons and would win the Fall Classic each time. A free agent after the 1991 season, Candiotti instead headed west to Los Angeles, signing a four-year contract with the Dodgers. He would stay in Dodger blue for six years in total, putting together a 3.57 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP over those half dozen seasons. He returned to the postseason in 1996, working two scoreless innings in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, and split his final season in Los Angeles between the rotation and bullpen before becoming a free agent and moving up the coast to Oakland.
He played parts of two seasons with the A’s, leading the league in losses with 16 in 1998. After a rough start to his 1999 season, he was released in the middle of June and would return to Cleveland at the end of the month, playing his final seven Major League games with the Indians while going 1-1 with an 11.05 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP before his release just over a month later.
He ended his 16-year Major League career with a 151-164 record with a 3.73 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 2,725 innings of work.
Following his playing days, Candiotti spent time in the Indians front office as a special assistant to the general manager and was named one of the 100 greatest Indians players ever. He moved on to work for ESPN and also the Toronto Blue Jays as a television analyst. He logged some screen time in the baseball movie “61*” and became a member of the International Bowling Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2007. He has worked as a radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2006.
Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
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