Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 37
Bob Toth | On 18, 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 – 37 days
Cody Allen, the Indians’ all-time saves leader, left Cleveland following the 2018 season after spending eight seasons in the organization. No one wore his vacated number 37 in his absence in 2019.
Allen left the Indians after hitting free agency for the first time. He signed across the country with the Angels in January of 2019, agreeing to a one-year deal that was to pay the seven-year big leaguer an $8.5 million base contract with another $2.5 million possible in incentives. It was likely not the deal that Allen hoped to find that winter, but it came directly after the worst season of his career (one that cost him many millions of dollars spread over multiple seasons).
The Florida native spent his first eight pro seasons in the Indians organization after being drafted in consecutive years in 2010 and 2011. Allen was both a reliable and dependable arm for the Indians after his quick ascent through the club’s farm system. He debuted for Cleveland just one month and five days after the ink dried on his first contract and he went on to become one of the more consistent relief arms in the game. By 2012, he was in the Majors for 27 games and the following campaign, he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting after posting a 6-1 mark in a career-high 77 games with two saves, 11 holds, a 2.43 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, and an 11.3 strikeout/nine rate.
He matched his career best with six wins and established his best single-season ERA with a 2.07 mark in 2014, when he moved into the closer’s role during the season and proved himself capable of handling the ninth inning stress. In 2015, he led the American League with 58 games finished and he came just one strikeout short of 100 on the year, a rare accomplishment for a reliever in the current state of the game. His 12.9 strikeouts per nine and 34 saves that year remain his personal bests.
The right-hander was a key driving force in the Indians’ postseason success in 2016. After posting strong marks across the board in his fourth season, he teamed with Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller to take some of the sting away from an injury-decimated starting rotation. Allen was locked in throughout the three rounds of the playoffs, earning six saves and a hold in ten total appearances with a perfect 0.00 ERA (no runs allowed in 13 2/3 innings) and a 0.95 WHIP with 24 strikeouts and five walks.
Allen had a tougher time in 2017, blowing four saves and losing seven games in total, but he posted his fifth straight season with a sub-3.00 ERA while issuing a career-best 2.8 walks per nine rate. He once again flirted with the 100-strikeout mark, falling just eight short of the magic number. He made four appearances that postseason, allowing his first career postseason runs (one earned) while walking three in five and one-third innings.
The 2018 season proved to be his worst to that point. He lost six games and blew a career-high five saves. He hit the 70-games pitched plateau for the fourth time and he remained healthy, but his production suffered. His ERA ballooned to 4.70, his WHIP jumped to 1.36, he allowed a career-worst 11 homers, and his walk and strikeout rates were both the worst marks of his career for a full season of work. The bad numbers followed him into the postseason, where he allowed six runs on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts in one inning of work. The highlight of his season likely came on July 4, when he passed Bob Wickman as the Indians’ all-time saves leader.
Allen’s move across the country did not go as planned. Expected to be the Angels’ closer, he instead went 0-2 in 25 games with a 6.26 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP and was released by mid-June. He signed with the Minnesota Twins a week later and reported to Triple-A for the first time since 2012, but he did not return to the Majors that season.
Earlier this month, he signed a minor league pact with the Texas Rangers with a non-roster invitation to spring training, hoping to find his way back to the big league game. He will have the familiar face of former teammate Corey Kluber there with him at the Rangers’ complex in Surprise, Arizona.
The number 37 has been in heavy rotation for the last three and a half decades in Cleveland, appearing in every year since the Indians moved into their beautiful new home in the Gateway District (with the exception of last season) and for nearly a decade before that. Just one other time – during the final season that Cleveland Municipal Stadium served as the home of the Tribe in 1993 – did the number fail to appear.
Before Allen found success in the number on the mound, another pitcher put together a nice run in it for the Tribe.
Jake Westbrook pitched in Cleveland from 2001 until the trade deadline in 2010, wearing the number 37 before him (as did pitcher Chad Durbin during the 2011 season). Westbrook became a staff leader and the team’s number one starter for a stretch before he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in the three-team trade that brought Kluber to Cleveland from San Diego.
Westbrook was a mid-year trade acquisition himself for the Indians, who got him from the New York Yankees in June of 2000 with pitcher Zach Day and outfielder Ricky Ledee for David Justice. Westbrook debuted with the Indians the following season and spent parts of three seasons bouncing around the pitching staff until he found a permanent home in the rotation during the 2004 season. He would break out that year, going 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 33 games (30 starts) with a league leading five complete games while earning his lone trip to the All-Star Game.
Westbrook won 15 games in each of the next two seasons and was locked up to a long-term contract at the start of the 2007 season, forgoing free agency after the year in favor of a new three-year, $33 million extension.
“It was very tempting but it came down to how comfortable I am and what’s best for me and my family,” Westbrook shared with media following news of the deal. “This is where I wanted to be.”
While Westbrook wanted to be in Cleveland, his body failed him. He was limited to 25 starts in 2007 and made just five in 2008. He missed all of the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In the final year of his deal, he started the year 6-7 with a 4.65 ERA in 21 starts, but the Indians were a non-contender and instead dealt him to St. Louis, rather than letting him walk. He would perform well for the Cards over the next three and a half years, winning 36 games in that span, and he would wrap up his career with a scoreless inning of work against the Chicago Cubs in a goodbye start on September 29, 2013.
Chad Ogea spent five well-timed seasons in an Indians uniform from 1994 to 1998. He pitched briefly for the club in his first season, but he saw more regular work as both a starter and reliever over the next several years. He made single appearances in the postseason in 1995 and 1996, but he took on a near hero status during the 1997 run through October. After losing his two starts in the ALCS against Baltimore, he allowed just two runs to the Florida Marlins over 11 2/3 innings in the Fall Classic and earned a pair of wins. He may have very easily taken home World Series MVP honors, had the Game 7 results differed.
Ogea was traded to the Phillies following the 1998 season and he spent a year in Philadelphia before signing with the Detroit Tigers and being drafted three weeks later in the Rule 5 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He never played for the Devil Rays organization, but he did return to the Indians in 2000, pitching in five minor league games. He made four starts for two New York Yankees’ affiliates the following year, but he never made his way back to the Majors.
Just two of the men in Indians history to wear the number 37 found their ways into the Hall of Fame and one spent his brief time in Cleveland solely in the number.
Dennis Eckersley was a third round pick by the Tribe in the 1972 draft out of Washington Union High School in Fremont, California, and would go on to a long, successful, and varied career in the Majors, but little of it would come in Cleveland.
He wasted little time making a name for himself on the mound for the Indians, starting the 1975 season on the pitching staff and winning 13 games while making 24 starts and ten relief appearances and registering a 2.60 ERA. He won another 13 in 1976 and reached 14 in 1977, when he was an All-Star for the first time and threw a no-hitter on May 30 against the California Angels (walking one batter while striking out 12). But Eck’s time in Cleveland would be short-lived as some … ugliness … occurred in the friendship between the right-hander and Indians outfielder Rick Manning. With concerns about how the situation might play out in the locker room long term, the 23-year-old Eckersley was dealt to the Boston Red Sox near the end of spring training with Fred Kendall for Ted Cox, Bo Diaz, Mike Paxton, and Rick Wise.
The Red Sox would win the trade. Eckersley won 20 games in his first season with the club and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting. He would remain a big part of the Boston rotation through the early ‘80s, returning to the Midsummer Classic in 1982. But after a down season in 1983 and a rough start to the 1984 campaign, he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Buckner in a move that likely still haunts Red Sox fans to this day.
He remained in Chicago through the 1986 season before being traded in April of 1987 to the Oakland Athletics for the start of what would be a nine-year run of dominance in his new role as a closer. He made the AL All-Star team in 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992 and led baseball in saves with 45 in 1988 and 51 in 1992. He was a runner-up for the Cy in 1988 and earned MVP votes from 1988 to 1990. His 1992 campaign was the best of his run, when he went 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 69 games with his 51 saves, winning both the league’s Cy Young and MVP Awards.
The A’s traded the 41-year-old to St. Louis in 1996 and he gave the Cardinals two years of quality closer work before he signed for his 24th and final big league season in 1998 with a return to Fenway with the Sox. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2004, earning 83.2% of the vote.
Other notable players to wear #37 in Tribe history (34 in total): Bruce Connatser (the first in 1931-32); Ed Klieman (1946); Larry Doby (1949); Jim Piersall (1959-61); Tommy John (1963-64); Dan Spillner (1978-84); Don Schulze (1984-86); Bobby Witt (2000); Jaime Navarro (2000)
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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