By Glen Sparks
Well, why not Lou Boudreau?
The Cleveland Indians needed a manager. Team owner Alva Bradley fired skipper Oscar Vitt following the 1940 season, hired Roger Peckinpaugh to replace him and then moved Peckinpaugh to a front-office job after the ’41 campaign.
Boudreau, born July 17, 1917, was 24 years old in the winter of 1941-42 and Cleveland’s star shortstop. He had already made two All-Star teams. Boudreau batted .295 (.370 on-base percentage) in 1940 and drove in 101 runs. His batting average dropped to .257 (.355 on-base) in 1941, but he still led the league in doubles with 45.
The Harvey, Ill., native thought about it. So what if he would be the youngest manager in major-league history. “Why not me?” he said to himself, according to Baseball’s Most Valuable Players by George Vescey.
Boudreau was a leader, a natural. At age 13 he helped coach his grammar school basketball team. A few years later, the guard led Thornton High School in suburban Chicago to the Illinois state championship. Boudreau played baseball and basketball at the University of Illinois.
Boudreau called Bradley. “Why not me?” Bradley, shocked, mulled it over. On the one hand, Boudreau had never managed in the majors. Would the players respect a 24-year-old skipper? And how would the pressure of managing a team affect Boudreau’s play in the field? No, this might not be a good idea.
A golf game with 83-year-old George Martin, a member of the Indians’ board of directors, went a long way in changing Bradley’s mind. Heck, Martin said, Lou is the team leader right now. Why not just give him the job. He can do it, Martin insisted.
Bradley called Boudreau. Get on the next train, the owner said. The Indians hired the man who was quickly tabbed by reporters as “The Boy Wonder.”
And, it nearly didn’t work out. Cleveland stumbled to a 75-79 mark in 1942, the same record as in 1941. In both years, the Indians ended the campaign in fourth place. Boudreau led the team to a third-place finish in 1943 (82-71), but saw his squad fall to sixth place in 1944 (72-82), followed by a fifth-place showing the next year (73-72). Cleveland bottomed out at 68-86 in 1946, tumbling to sixth place, 36 games out of first.
The team rebounded in 1947 with an 80-74 won-loss record. Even so, owner Bill Veeck, who bought the Indians from Bradley in ’46, thought about making a change in the dugout.
Veeck loved Boudreau the shortstop. What was not to love? Lou made the All-Star team from 1942-44. He led the league in batting with a .327 mark in ’44 and followed that with .307, .293 and .307 marks from 1945-47. He made the All-Star team again in ’47 and topped the A.L. in doubles for a third time. From 1940-47, Boudreau finished in the top 10 in MVP voting every year but ’41.
Veeck just wasn’t sure about Boudreau the manager. He told Boudreau exactly that. The player-skipper went into 1948 on the hot seat.
Fortunately, the Indians responded. Both Bob Lemon and Gene Beardon won 20 games, while Bob Feller won 19. Satchell Paige, the Negro League legend and a major-league rookie at the age of 42, debuted with Cleveland on July 9 and helped out with a 6-1 won-loss record and 2.48 ERA in 72.2 innings. Joe Gordon (32 HR, 124 RBI), Ken Keltner (31 HR, 119 RBI) and Larry Doby (.301 BA, 14 HR, 66 RBI) battered A.L. pitching. Boudreau enjoyed the biggest year of all. He hit .355 (.453 on-base, .534 slugging, .987 OPS) with 18 HR and 106 RBI. Writers voted him the A.L. MVP. Cleveland won its first pennant since 1920, finishing at 97-58, one game better than the runner-up Boston Red Sox.
”It was quite a year,” Boudreau recalled, according to The New York Times. ”The pressure kept building and building, until I thought we’d all burst.”
The Indians went on to beat the Boston Braves in six games in the World Series. It was the high point of Boudreau’s managerial career. The skipper led Cleveland for two more seasons and managed the Boston Red Sox (1952-54), Kansas City Athletics (1955-57) and Chicago Cubs (1960) after that. None of his other teams advanced to the playoffs.
He gained some fame, of course, for implementing the Boudreau shift against Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Boudreau placed all four infielders between first base and second base and moved his center fielder into right field against the left-handed hitter. Williams, always stubborn, kept pulling the ball. “The shift hurt me,” Williams said, according to The New York Times.
Handsome Lou, as some called him, retired as a player in 1952. He was just 34 years old. Boudreau batted .295 lifetime with a .380 on-base percentage. He hit 68 home runs and drove in 789 with a career OPS+ of 120.
The former Wonder Boy spent many years as a broadcaster with the Chicago Cubs. One of his daughters married pitcher and bad boy Denny McLain, baseball’s last 30-game winner. The baseball writers voted Boudreau into the Hall of Fame in 1970. He died in 2001 at the age of 84.
By Glen Sparks
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time, Dec. 7, 1941. Bob Feller, 22 years old and already a superstar flame-thrower for the Cleveland Indians, heard the shocking news while driving his shiny Buick Century from little Van Meter, Iowa, to Chicago.
More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the surprise strike. One bomb hit a powder magazine in the U.S.S. Arizona, sending that battleship to the bottom of the harbor, along with more than 1,100 officers and sailors.
Forget baseball. Feller wanted to fight the Japanese and the Germans. He signed up with the Navy on Tuesday, Dec. 9. He gave up the chance to make $100,000 as a baseball player in 1942, Feller wrote in a New York Times column in 2010. He didn’t care.
“I was mad as hell,” Feller said.
Feller’s dad, William, lay in a bed back home in Van Meter, terminally ill with cancer. Technically, Feller was exempt from military service. He joined the fight, anyway.
“We were losing that war, and most young men of my generation wanted to help push them back,” Feller said in the Times. “People today don’t understand, but that’s the way we felt in those days. We wanted to join the fighting.”
At that point, Feller had pitched in parts of six seasons in the majors and had compiled a 107-54 won-loss mark. William Feller had raised a ballplayer. He rolled baseballs to his baby boy; young Bobby could hurl a ball 270 feet at the age of nine. He was 16 years old when Cleveland signed him to a contract.
The Heater from Van Meter struck out 15 batters in his major-league debut at age 17 and struck out 17 a few weeks later. He led the American League in strikeouts as a 19-year-old in 1938 and topped the A.L. in K’s four straight seasons (1938-41). Rapid Robert won a total of 80 games from 1939-41.
Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight boxing champion, swore Feller into the service at the Chicago courthouse. Navy officials told Feller to report to the training station in Norfolk, Va. The right-hander did some exercising and played on the station baseball team. On June 15, 1942, he pitched in an Army-Navy Relief fundraiser game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Feller struck out five batters in five innings. But, that wasn’t why he signed up for action. He wanted to go where the shooting was.
Feller entered gunnery school and left aboard the U.S.S. Alabama, a South Dakota-class battleship, in the fall of 1942. The great pitcher fired his guns during a south Pacific battle in 1944 known today as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. U.S. forces shot down 474 Japanese planes, sank three enemy carriers and crippled many more support crafts. “We made it look so easy,” Feller said.
The Alabama took part in several other battles, both in the Pacific and the North Atlantic, and was awarded nine battle stars. Chief Petty Officer Feller was aboard for eight of them. Following combat, Feller said, “the dangers of Yankee Stadium seemed trivial.”
Feller returned to the major leagues on Aug. 24, 1945, at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. He threw a complete game before 45,000 fans, struck out 12 and beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2. In his nine starts in 1945, Feller completed seven and went 5-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 72 innings.
Cleveland’s ace enjoyed probably his best season in 1946. He won 26 games and posted a career-low 2.18 ERA. Feller pitched an astonishing 377.1 innings and struck out 348 batters. Before retiring in 1956, he won 266 games and struck out 2,581 batters. The eight-time All-Star led the league in wins six times and in strikeouts seven times. He hurled three no-hitters. Writers voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1962, in his first year on the ballot, with 93.8 percent of the vote.
Feller missed three-plus seasons due to his service in World War II. How many wins did he lose? 80? 90? How many strikeouts? 900? Feller never complained.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “None at all. I did what any American could and should do: serve his country in its time of need.”
Sam McDowell’s fastball blazed through the 1960s and early ‘70s, filled with strikeouts and intimidation.
“Sudden Sam,” a 6-foot-5-inch left-hander, also threw a 12-to-6 curveball and a nasty slider. He led the league in K’s five times and topped the 300-mark twice.
“I never saw anyone so fast,” star shortstop Luis Aparicio said. He probably wasn’t the only one.
Slugging outfielder Reggie Jackson said this of McDowell: “I like Sudden, and I think he has the greatest fastball, curveball, slider and change-up I ever saw. I call him ‘Instant Heat.’”
Then, there was that other thing. Much to the disappointment of opposing hitters, McDowell lacked pinpoint control. He walked more than 100 batters in eight straight seasons (1964-71) as a Cleveland Indian and led the American League in wild pitches three times. McDowell made for a nervous, fidgety at-bat. Not a few left-handed batters—and right-handed hitters, too—came down with a cold on the day Cleveland sent Sudden Sam to the mound.
McDowell, out of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, drew comparisons to some of the game’s legends. On May 23, 1966, Sports Illustrated made him the magazine’s cover boy. The caption read “Faster than Koufax?”
That was Koufax as in Sandy Koufax, of course. The lefty for the Los Angeles Dodgers had been carving up hitters with fastball and curveballs for a handful of seasons. In 1965, he won his second Cy Young Award and finished as runner-up in the National League MVP vote. Koufax struck out a record 382 batters in 335.2 innings. He finished the season 26-8.
Could McDowell ever be as a good as Koufax? Could he ever harness his control and turn himself into a true baseball superstar?
He was close. Despite issuing 132 free passes in 1965, McDowell fanned a career-high 325 in 273 innings. He compiled a 17-11 won-loss record. Not only did the fire-baller lead the A.L. in strikeouts, he topped it in K/9 (10.7), H/9 (5.9), ERA (2.18) and, yes, wild pitches (17).
Sudden Sam was only 22 years old in ’65. When Koufax was 22 years old, he went 11-11 with a 4.48 ERA. In 158.2 innings, the one-time prodigy struck out 131 but surrendered 105 walks. Like McDowell, Koufax issued 17 wild pitches, in 114.1 fewer innings. By comparison, McDowell was a control artist.
The Indians had known for a while they had something good in McDowell. They signed the four-sport prep star (football, basketball, baseball and track) in 1960 for $75,000. In late 1961, he made his major league debut, as an 18-year-old. Over 6.1 innings, he struck out five and walked five. McDowell gave up three hits but no runs.
Over the next few seasons, the talented young pitcher moved between the minors and the majors. McDowell still needed to learn how to harness that 95 mph fastball and wicked off-speed stuff.
By 1964, Cleveland decided to stick the wild-armed hurler into the rotation. McDowell went 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 31 games and 24 starts. Over 173.1 innings, he fanned 170 hitters. Sudden Sam walked an even 100.
From 1965-71, McDowell compiled a 105-91 mark in Cleveland and a 2.82 ERA (126 ERA+). He struck out 1,844 batters in 1,777.1 innings and gave up just 1,308 walks. He made six All-Star teams.
Arm problems sometimes bedeviled McDowell. During one start late in the 1966 season, he struck out 14 batters in six innings against the Detroit Tigers but had to leave the game due to a barking left shoulder. He was four K’s short of the single-game strikeout mark at the time, held by Koufax and Bob Feller.
“I’m sure I could have got at least four more strikeouts if I could have pitched those last three innings, McDowell said in a SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) article written by Joseph Wancho. “But my arm was getting tired.”
Also, Sudden Sam didn’t always get much run support. In 1968, he went 15-14 despite striking out 283 batters and finishing with a 1.81 ERA. Tony Horton led the Cleveland offense with 14 home runs and 59 RBI.
“What can I do?” McDowell asked in the SABR article. “I know the guys are trying hard.”
Further, it bothered McDowell that his Cleveland managers, Birdy Tebetts and then Alvin Dark, called pitches from the dugout.
“I wasn’t learning anything,” McDowell said. No one ever sat down with him between innings or before starts to discuss how to attack hitters. Sudden Sam was on his own.
McDowell won 20 games in 1970, the only time he reached that mark. He led the A.L. with 305 innings pitched and 304 strikeouts to go with a 2.92 ERA. The Sporting News selected him as the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
Then, things began to unravel. He held out to start the 1971 campaign, asking for $100,000. He signed for $72,000 with incentives. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deal; incentive-laden contracts were against the rules. That made McDowell a free agent, according to McDowell. Baseball and the Indians disagreed. Walkouts and suspensions followed. McDowell ended the year just 13-17 and with a 3.40 ERA.
Trade me, McDowell said. The Indians did just that on Nov. 29, 1971. They shipped him to the San Francisco Giants for future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry and shortstop Frank Duffy. In a poll conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 70 percent of fans disliked the trade.
McDowell, who was just 29 years old in his first year in northern California, never did much with the Giants. He did even less with the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, the other teams he played with in the final four years of his career.
Arm and neck issues plagued McDowell. He also batted the bottle. “The last four years of my career, I was a full-blown, third-stage alcoholic,” he said.
McDowell retired from baseball at the age of 32. Five years later, he checked into a rehab clinic for alcohol addiction. His turnaround began as he sat on his couch in Pittsburgh and said to himself, over and over, “You beat me.” McDowell was talking about alcohol.
Rehab changed McDowell. In 1982, the state of Pennsylvania certified him as a addictions counselor. Through the years, he has helped many athletes overcome their demons.
Was he faster than Koufax? Maybe. Was he better? No, he never got there. McDowell retired with a 141-134 won-loss record, but he did strike out 2,453 hitters in 2,492.1 innings. He threw hard and was one of the most exciting pitchers of his era.
By Glen Sparks
A campaign is going on to award the late Bob Feller with the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The Cleveland Indians submitted a petition to the White House earlier this month that asks Barack Obama to honor Feller with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher, served in combat during World War II.
The Medal of Freedom is given “for especially meritorious contribution to 1) the security or national interests of the United States, 2) world peace, or 3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
In recent years, ballplayers Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra and Willie Mays have received the Medal of Freedom. All the players were living at the time. Banks, Musial and Berra have since passed away. Feller died in 2010 at the age of 92.
Through Feb. 23, the Feller petition has received nearly 14,000 signatures. A total of 100,000 signatures are needed by March 4 to get a response from the White House. (You can add your name to the petition.)
“It was all about the country,” says Curtis Danburg, senior communications director for the Indians, says about Feller. “He took probably more pride in his role in the navy and serving our country than as he did as a baseball player.”
Feller, who came up with the Indians in 1936 as a loose-armed and fuzzy-cheeked 17-year-old, volunteered for duty just a few days after the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. He reportedly was the first professional athlete to sign up for duty. (Of note, Feller’s dad was dying of cancer. The pitcher could have asked for a deferment.)
During the early part of the war, Feller spent time as a physical-fitness instructor and did some ball playing on various military teams. His dream of serving as a fighter pilot ended after he flunked an eye exam.
Later, Feller saw plenty of action while aboard the U.S.S. Alabama battleship. Over his 26 months of duty in both the Pacific and North Atlantic, he received eight battle stars and rose to the level of chief gunner’s mate. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944), he led a gunnery crew. In a SABR biography, Feller said it was “the most exciting 13 hours of my life.” The New York Yankees never seemed so tough after that.
The Heater from Van Meter, Iowa, returned to baseball late in the 1945 campaign. He already was a 107-game winner with Cleveland and led the American League in victories and innings pitched each season from 1939 through 1941. The right-hander topped the A.L. in strikeouts from ’38 through ’41.
Feller spent his entire career with Cleveland and enjoyed several big years after the war. He retired with a lifetime won-loss mark of 266-162 and a 3.25 ERA, with 2,581 strikeouts. Rapid Robert tossed three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. He led the league in strikeouts seven times and fanned 348 in 1946.
Cleveland’s greatest pitcher ever topped the league in wins six times. He easily made it into the Hall of Fame in 1962, in his first year on the ballot, with 93.75 percent of the vote.
Ted Williams, maybe the greatest hitter of all-time, called Feller “the fastest and best pitcher I ever saw during my career.”
Feller’s story is a great piece of Americana. The future big leaguer grew up on an Iowa farm. He built up his arm strength by milking cows and bailing hay. His dad, William Feller, raised a ballplayer. He had young Bob roll a ball around the house before the boy could even walk. Father and son played catch every day. Later, William set up lights inside the barn so that he and Bob could play catch during those frozen Midwest winters.
Feller struck out 15 batters in his first major-league start, Aug. 23, 1936. Two weeks later, he fanned 17. On April 19, 1937, Feller made the cover of Time magazine.
He heard about the Pearl Harbor attack while driving in his car from Van Meter to Chicago, on his way to contract talks with the Indians brass. The tragic news from thousands of miles away in Hawaii made him “mad as hell.”
Late in life, he wrote an article for the U.S. Naval Institute about his time in the military. He described the furious combat and devotion to duty. He ended the article this way: “I’m still a Navy man at heart. And I’m proud to have served.”
By Glen Sparks
“Grab a bat, kid.”
Tony Phillips swings and misses to end the 1988 World Series. The underdog Los Angeles Dodgers knock off the Oakland A’s 5-2 in the fifth and deciding game.
Orel Hershiser, on the mound at the end, turns slightly to his left. He looks briefly to the sky. Rick Dempsey sprints out to greet the L.A. ace and hoists him into the air. The catcher offers his hearty congratulations following a glorious run.
Kirk Gibson’s epic, one-legged home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1, on a 3-2 backdoor slider off Dennis Eckersley, remains—deservedly so—the great frozen moment of the ’88 Series. Hershiser, though, remains the most heroic figure in the Dodgers’ improbable run to a championship season.
If No. 55 did anything wrong in 1988, he kept it a secret. From Aug. 14 until the Series’ end, Hershiser compiled a 10-1 won-loss record with a 0.65 ERA. Over 14 starts, the 29-year-old tossed 11 complete games and eight shutouts. He ended the season with a 59-inning scoreless streak.
Not surprisingly, the baseball writers voted Hershiser the National League Cy Young Award. The 6-foot-3-inch right-hander went 23-8. He led the league in wins, innings pitched (267), shutouts (eight) and complete games (15). He ended up third in ERA (2.26).
Hershiser, a 17th-round draft pick out of Bowling Green University in Ohio, is the only player to win a Cy Young, Championship Series MVP Award and World Series MVP Award in the same season. He also earned the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year honor and was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
He did all this and looked like a CPA at the same time.
Orel Leonard Hershiser IV, born Sept. 16, 1958, made his Dodger debut in late 1983 and was named to the team’s opening-day roster in 1984. Early that season, he got pounded during one start. Tommy LaSorda, the Dodgers’ Alpha-male skipper, didn’t like the way the rookie pitcher went about his business. Tommy barked at him during a meeting on the mound. You’re giving these hitters too much respect, LaSorda said.
The manager didn’t like Orel’s pitching, and, frankly, he didn’t like his name. What kind of name is “Orel”? Tommy started calling him “Bulldog.”
Well, maybe that helped. Anyway, Hershiser turned into one of the game’s topped hurlers. His sinking fastball probably helped, too.
In 1985, Hershiser went 19-3 to go with a 2.03 ERA. (He finished third in the Cy Young voting.) He followed that up a so-so 1986 campaign (14-14, 3.95 ERA) and simply did not get much run support in 1987 (16-16, 3.06, sixth in the Cy Young race).
The 1988 season was magical, of course. Catcher Mike Scioscia said, “He was flat-out nailing every pitch.” During the scoreless streak, opposing batters went 0-for-31 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-9 with runners on third base.
Hershiser extended his scoreless streak to 67 innings in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series versus the New York Mets (Technically, playoff innings do not count as part of a regular-season streak.) He gave up two runs in the ninth inning of that game. The Dodgers went on to lose 3-2.
So, what did he do? He started another streak in the final frame of Game 3 of the NLCS. That one lasted 21 1/3 innings before he gave up two runs in the World Series clincher. (He recorded a save in Game 4 of the NLCS and threw a shutout in Game 7. He also threw a shutout in Game 2 of the World Series.) All told, Hershiser gave up seven runs in his final 101 2/3 innings of 1988.
Following the on-field celebration after the World Series concluded , a still hyped-up Hershiser marched toward the visiting clubhouse in Oakland. A kid wearing an A’s cap spotted the Dodgers hero.
“You were lucky, Hershiser,” the kid said, according to the book Out of the Blue.
Hershiser: “Grab a bat, kid.”
The Dodgers rewarded their star pitcher on this date in 1989. Avoiding arbitration, the team signed him to a three-year, $7.9 million deal, the largest contract ever given up to that point for a pitcher.
Hershiser started the 1989 season in fine fashion. He began 14-8 with a 2.40 ERA. (He did, however, give up a run in the first inning of the season to officially end his streak.) Then, the L.A. offense went into the doldrums. Over his final 10 starts, Hershiser went 0-7 but with a 2.10 ERA. On his final start of the season, he was 14-15. He pitched 11 innings that day and evened his record.
LaSorda wanted to take him out early. Hershiser refused to give him the ball. Talk about “Bulldog.”
“I didn’t want to finish with a losing record,” Hershiser told ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian later. “I told Tommy, ‘I’m not coming out of this game. I have to win.’”
He looked a like a future Hall of Famer at that point. But, any chances of Cooperstown blew up the same day his shoulder did. Hershiser missed much of the 1990 season after undergoing rotator-cuff surgery on his right arm. He was never the same.
Yes, the Bulldog pitched another decade in the majors. He even went 45-21 in three seasons with the Cleveland Indians (1995-97), thanks in part to the team’s battering offense. He won the 1995 ALCS MVP award, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA. He struck out 15 batters in 14 innings.
In general, though, his post-surgery pitches lacked the bite of his early throws. He retired early in the 2000 campaign after going 1-5 with a 13.14 ERA as a Dodger. He compiled a 204-150 career mark and 3.48 ERA.
Hershiser never made it to the Hall of Fame (lasting just two years on the ballot). That doesn’t make him any less a Dodger great. He put together a marvelous career, full of highlights, memories, and one magical season.
By Glen Sparks
OK, this is what you need to do: go to your baseball card collection–pore through a binder or sift through a pile–and find a Frank Robinson card. Look for one of his later cards. Maybe a 1975 Topps, the one with a portrait shot of Robby wearing a Cleveland Indians cap. Turn over to the back of the card and check out those stats.
Or, better yet, go to Baseballreference.com, the Internet’s reason for being. You’ll find everything you see on that baseball card, plus a lot more. Robinson put up some gaudy numbers. Over a 21-year career, he slugged 586 home runs, drove home 1,812 and hit .294 with a .389 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage and .926 OPS. He accumulated 107.2 WAR points. He remains, even now, baseball’s overlooked superstar.
The right-handed swinging Robinson, born in Beaumont, Texas, on Aug. 31, 1935, grew up in Oakland, Calif. He graduated from McClymonds High School and signed with the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent in 1953. Frank blasted 38 home runs and led the N.L. in runs scored in 1956, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing seventh in the MVP voting.
Over his 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Robinson topped 30 homers seven times and hit 29 twice. He led the league in slugging percentage, OPS And OPS+ three straight seasons (1960-62), taking home an MVP trophy in 1961. The following campaign, Robinson finished second in the league in batting average (.342), third in home runs (39) and third in RBI (136).
In 1965, Robinson slugged 33 homers, drove in 113 and batted .296. He also celebrated a milestone birthday late that season. The Reds famously declared that Robinson was an “old 30” and shipped him to the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Huh? What? Old 30? (OK, for the record, Pappas, 27 years old when dealt and the star of this deal, compiled a 30-29 won-loss mark in three seasons in Cincy, with a 4.04 ERA, 93 ERA+. Baldschun, another pitcher, went 1-5 in two years as a Red, with a 5.25 ERA, 75 ERA+. Simpson, a 22-year-old outfielder, also lasted just two seasons in Cincinnati. He hit .246 in 138 at-bats.) Clink.
Robinson, meanwhile, continued pounding fastballs and curveballs into submission. One of the game’s great all-around talents won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles. He hit 49 homers, drove in 122 runs and batted .316. That fall, he was awarded the World Series MVP as Baltimore won its first title, beating the Dodgers. Robinson also played on Baltimore’s 1970 World Series-winning team.
The future Hall of Famer (first ballot, 1982, 89.2 percent of the vote) wrapped up his career with the Dodgers (1972), the Angels (1973-74) and the Cleveland Indians (1974-76). The Indians, of course, hired Robinson to serve as player-manager before the 1975 season, the first African-American to skipper a team in the big leagues.
Later, he also managed the San Francisco Giants (1981-84), the Orioles (1988-91) and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2002-2006). The writers named him Manager of the Year in 1989.
Maybe, Robinson, now 80, is more famous today as a manger than as a ballplayer, even one with 14 All-Star appearances. Supposedly, a former player once asked him if he had ever played in the big leagues. Frank probably smirked. Ever play? Did he ever.
By Glen Sparks
Rocky Colavito, being Italian and a Bronx guy from a certain time, idolized Joe DiMaggio while growing up. He wanted to be just as good and just as smooth as No. 5, the famous Yankee Clipper.
Colavito learned the game while playing on the New York City sandlots. He could hit, and, boy, could he throw. The kid had a cannon for an arm, and he liked to show it off.
The Cleveland Indians signed Colavito as a 17-year-old following a tryout at Yankee Stadium. Colavito hit from an open stance, just like Joe D. Unfortunately, he didn’t slug like DiMaggio. Even minor-league curveballs broke harder than they did on the sandlots. Cut the DiMaggio impression, a minor-league coach said.
Rocco Domenico Colavito, born Aug. 10, 1933, took the advice and went on to enjoy a fine major-league career (1955-68). He hit 374 home runs and drove in 1,159 runs over 14 seasons. The 6-foot-3-inch slugger with the mighty forearms topped 30 home runs seven times and 40 homers three times.
Batting from the right side, he hit.266 lifetime (.489 slugging percentage), with a .359 on-base percentage. The Rock made six All-Star teams and finished in the top five in MVP voting three times.
The Indians called up Colavito early in the 1956 season. He promptly smacked 21 homers in 101 games and batted 276 (OPS+ 135), finishing runner-up to Chicago White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio for A.L. Rookie of the Year.
His career really took off in 1958. He smashed 41 home runs and placed third in the MVP race. In 1959, he led the league with 42 homers and was never better than on June 10 in Baltimore. Rocky ripped four home runs in four at-bats, walked once, drove in six and scored five times.
The Sporting News declared Colavito as the man most likely to break Babe Ruth’s record of hitting 60 home runs in one season. That he never did. But, from 1958-66, Colavito clubbed 323 round-trippers, averaging almost 36 per year. Unfortunately for the Cleveland fans, Colavito hit 173 of them for other teams.
Frank Lane was the Cleveland general manager during Colavito’s time. People called him “Trader” Lane for a reason. He loved to think about trades, to talk about trades and, most of all, to make trades. When he was charge of the Cardinals, he even tried to trade Stan Musial.
Lane shipped Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn on April 17, 1960. Fans lit up the switchboard at Municipal Stadium. They couldn’t believe it. Just about every Indians fan hated the deal. It didn’t seem right; it didn’t seem fair. One baseball executive put it this way: “The Indians traded a slow guy with power for a slow guy with no power.”
An outfielder like Colavito, Kuenn hit for a high average and led the A.L. with a .353 batting average in 1958. He also topped the circuit in doubles three times. But, he didn’t hit home runs. He topped out at a dozen in 1956. Kuenn only spent one season by Lake Erie, batting .308 (118 OPS+). Cleveland sent him to the San Francisco Giants.
Colavito, meanwhile, kept pounding home runs (139 in four seasons with Detroit). In 1964, the Tigers sent him to the Kansas City Athletics, There, he finished with a team-leading 34 dingers.
Finally, Rocky made it back to Cleveland in 1965. Over the next two years, he hit a total of 56 homers. Colavito didn’t slow down until 1967 when he only ripped eight (with the Indians and the White Sox). The next year, he also hit eight (with the Los Angels Dodgers and the New York Mets) and called it quits.
Terry Pluto wrote a book in 1994 titled The Curse of Rocky Colavito. Pluto argued that the 1960 trade of Colavito to Detroit led to an extended playoff drought for the Indians. The team had been a power in the 1950s. They went to the World Series in 1954 (losing to the Giants) and finished in a solid second place in ’59, Colavito’s last year with the Tribe. Not until 1995 did Cleveland return to the postseason. Was it a curse? Well, Pluto, and maybe some others, think so.
Colavito never got much Hall of Fame traction. He stayed on the ballot for two years, getting 0.5 percent of the vote in 1974 and 0.3 percent in ’75. Even so, he remains a legend of sorts in Cleveland, a Rock, if you will.