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Indians Saga '48-'07

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Colavito curse? Doby curse? Any curse?

Baseball Prospectus made reference to the Rocky Colavito Curse. His trade from the Cleveland Indians to the Detroit Tigers after the 1959 season was very unpopular among Indians fans. It took the Indians 35 years to produce a better W-L than they had in 1959 (.578 pct.) All the Indians did was trade the Home Run king for the Batting Leader (BA) Harvey Kuenn. However, their long haul into mediocrity can be traced back to the trading of Larry Doby a few years earlier. 1955 was the last year the Indians had a record greater than .578 (.604) until the mid 90s. Doby was a key figure in their 1948 championship, and led the Indians in On Base plus Slugging for the following four years in a row - as a centerfielder. His O+S, then, was frequently 50%+ higher than the league average, and continued to be 25-30% higher during the six years surrounding his trade. In return for Doby the Indians received two barely mediocre players (Jim Busby and Chico Carresquel) - quite typical of the players who would fill the Indians roster for the next 39 years. (Busby was a cousin of Steve Busby - the Kansas City Royals pitcher 22 years younger.)

 

Apologetically, the Indians would later re-acquire both Doby and Colavito - just in time for their declines.

 

Are the Indians cursed? In 1954 and 1995 they stormed through the American League regular season with two of the all-time greatest W-L records. Yet, they couldn't win the World Series. Cleveland continued to have the best record in 1996, but were blown away in the first round of the play-offs. The next October, it looked like they would finally win it all, but the upstart expansion Florida Marlins stole the championship from them. More division wins in '98, '99, and '01 did not even get them into the World Series. That is six division titles in 7 years, but no championship. Is it Cleveland's destiny to never have the bragging rights of being no. 1?

 

Perhaps, the Indians should change their name. "Indians" is racially insensitive. When they last won their championship in 1948, they did so by being the most racially inclusive team in the American League. Although, they were already pretty solid with Lou Boudreau (as shortstop superstar and manager), Bob Feller, Ken Keltner, Jim Hegan, Joe Gordon, and Dale Mitchell, it was the development of Bob Lemon and breaking the "colored barrier" with Larry Doby that made the Indians the best team in baseball. Satchel Paige had his rookie year for them, too, at 42 and pitched well enough for a 2.48 ERA in 72 innings.

 

For the next eight years, these Indians dominated the American League - except for the Yankees, of course. Early Winn and Mike Garcia joined Lemon as one of the greatest pitching trios of all-time. They finished no lower than 2nd place from '51-'56. During that time Boudreau got old, but he gave up shortstop seamlessly to Ray Boone, then Keltner passed on third base excellence to Al Rosen, and secondbaseman Joe Gordon gave way to the outstanding Bobby Avila.

 

For the 26 years follow that golden age, though, the Indians entered their consistent mediocre phase falling occasionally to bad. The next period from '83 to '91, they were even worse - consistently near the bottom of the standings, They became the league joke. A fictional major movie sardonically called Major League was made about the joke they had become.

 

With their firstbaseman from much of this bleakest period Mike Hargrove now managing, the Indians quickly rose to excellence. Bringing the Indians to two consecutive best W-L records in baseball were Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar, Paul Sorrento, Jack McDowell, Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Mike Nagy, Jose Mesa, Paul Assenmacher, Julian Tavarez, and Erick Plunk. What a team!

 

The Indians kept their team winning division titles with the outside help of Matt Williams, Tony Fernandez, Marquis Grissom, Dave Justice, Dwight Gooden, Robbie Alomar, Travis Fryman, Dave Burba, Bob Wickman, Steve Reed, Ricardo Rincon, David Bell, Juan Gonzalez, Chuck Finley. The talent they did grow on the farm was squandered - Brian Giles and Richie Sexson. Eventually, they began to play like the bad old Indians of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. However, instead of 3 decades, this rebuilding phase lasted a mere three years ('02-'04). All it took was complete reverse of the trend of trading minor leaguers for stars and recommitting themselves to player development and scouting - particularly in Latin America.

 

What did the Red Sox do to lift their curse? They built a better team and had all the parts working at near optimum level at the right times.

 

John Carter