Archive for the ‘Cleveland Indians’ Category

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Dennis Eckersley (Indians-Red Sox Game 1 Chat)

October 12, 2007

 

Game time is still quite a ways away (7:07 ET, FOX), but I couldn’t sleep much last night and now I’m up and all I can think about are Indians.

One of the first things I saw this morning after not sleeping was an article in the Boston Globe entitled “They’ve had some chief concerns,” in which Dan Shaughnessy wonders what Jacoby Ellsbury thinks of Chief Wahoo. It might be an interesting follow-up to readers of yesterday’s interview with historian Akim Reinhardt. A high point for me is when the customarily pompous and oblivious Shaughnessy seems to dismiss all cultural controversies over sports team names by concluding a listing of some of the controversies with the declaration, “For all I know, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are offended by the Minnesota Twins.”

Anyway, here’s Chief Wahoo himself riding on the shoulder of the Eck, shown here in the first of his many lives in major league baseball (those lives being, in order, young flamethrower for the lackluster Indians, ace and would-be savior of the powerful but pitching-desparate Red Sox, washed-up meatballer for the Cubs, Hall of Fame-caliber bullpen ace of the A’s, and, finally, journeyman reliever-for-hire). On the back of this card I see that he played his first season of pro ball in Reno at the age of 17. The following year, also in Reno, he struck out over 200 batters, and by the age of 20 was in the major leagues. In this photo he is 21 or maybe 22, and he already has 26 big league wins and is months away from pitching a no-hitter. His storied early success with the Indians makes his trade to the Red Sox seem, in retrospect, a bit like the more recent coming of Josh Beckett to Boston. In Eck’s first season with the Red Sox, 1978, he seemed to be the final huge piece of the World Series Championship puzzle, the brilliant young ace they needed to complement their aging resident Big Game Pitcher (in this analogy, Beckett is Eck and Curt Schilling is Luis Tiant). In the end Eckersley’s worthy efforts–he won 20 games in 1978–were not quite enough to win the division for the Red Sox, who fell in a one-game playoff to the Yankees, just as they had 30 years earlier in a one-game playoff against, who else, the Indians. That year the Indians went on to beat their partners in questionable baseball team names, the Braves, in the World Series, their last such triumph. They came close in the 1990s but always seemed to lack that dominating ace, their hitting-rich teams resembling the pre-Eck Red Sox of the 1970s. Now they have not one but two aces every bit as good as Eck ever was or Josh Beckett is, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have, after Beckett, an old man who has lost his fastball, a knuckleballer with a bad back, and a rookie from Japan who seems to have run out of gas months ago.

It’s no wonder I couldn’t sleep much last night.

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Rick Waits

September 30, 2007
 

 
Who will win the Rick Waits Award? This award, as with so many other things on Cardboard Gods, does not actually exist anywhere beyond the inside of my skull. Furthermore, I just thought of it a couple seconds ago. But just because you just thought of something does not mean it was not always there, waiting to be discovered, like a planet in the far reaches of the galaxy or a sculpture within a formless hunk of marble or a deep yet subtle flaw in your character that will one day lead to your undoing. Yes, like these things the Rick Waits Award has always been around, honoring in infinite obscurity the player who best embodies the particular bittersweet and fleeting intersection between meaning and meaninglessness that can only happen in certain situations on the very last day of the season in major league baseball.

It is named after Rick Waits, obviously, for the performance he turned in at Yankee Stadium on the final game of the season in 1978 as the starting pitcher for a 90-loss Cleveland Indians team on a seven-game losing streak. While the Yankees came into the game one win (or a Red Sox loss) from clinching a division title, the game was without significance for the Indians, who had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention a few moments after the singing of the anthem on opening day. Yet Waits, who to that point had been (and from that point would be) obscure, pitched as if his life depended on it, defeating future Hall-of-Famer and renowned “Big Game Pitcher” Catfish Hunter and the eventual World Champion Yankees, 9-2. At Fenway Park, where Luis Tiant was putting the finishing touches on a characteristically clutch 2-hit shutout, the crowd roared for the scoreboard message celebrating the feat of the heretofore unknown southpaw: “Thank You, Rick Waits!”

I’ve been thinking about Rick Waits all week, as I wondered if another division title was going to come down to the final day for the Red Sox and Yankees, and as I read about fans at Wrigley Field doing the Tomahawk Chop in tribute to the faraway Brewer-beating Atlanta Braves, and as I listened on the radio as fans at Shea Stadium cheered for a change in the score of the Nationals-Phillies game. Today is the last day of the regular season, and there are four teams vying for two remaining spots in the National League playoffs, so the chances for a Rick Waitsesque feat seem high. The tireless Bob Timmermann at The Griddle has figured out all the many playoff permutations for today, but since my brain shuts down instantly when I start trying to figure these things out, I am keeping my focus for today narrow, searching only for possible Rick Waits Award winners. One of the teams in the playoff hunt is the hard-charging Colorado Rockies, but they are playing the Arizona Diamondbacks today, and since the Diamondbacks are bound for the playoffs they do not possess the level of meaninglessness on their roster necessary for producing a winner of the Rick Waits Award. The gasping Mets play the eliminated Florida Marlins, but the Marlins send Dontrelle Willis to the mound, and Dontrelle Willis is a charismatic star with a World Championship ring. If the Rick Waits Award were one of these run of the mill awards that get handed out every year without fail, perhaps the jaunty Willis could win it with an altogether unsurprising Phillies-helping defeat of the Mets, but the Rick Waits Award is like the Nobel Peace Prize: if there is no one worthy of the award in a given year then the honor is bestowed to no one. It’s unclear whether the rigorous Rick Waits Award selection committee will similarly disqualify the pitcher opposing the contending San Diego Padres today, Jeff Suppan, who has harmed his otherwise viable candidacy by starting games in two of the last three World Series. This leaves only one pitcher with a clear route to the coveted award.

Jason Bergmann takes the mound today for the Washington Nationals against the seemingly unstoppable Philadelphia Phillies. I have never heard of Jason Bergmann. This bodes well, as does the fact that he plays for a team that used to be another team that is now extinct. Jason Bergmann went 2 and 0 in his first major league season and 0 and 2 in his second. So far in this season, his third, he is 6 and 5, which considering the symmetry of his first two seasons seems to suggest that he will lose his final decision to make things perfectly even and perhaps then disappear into the ether from whence he came. On the other hand, he is but one good day away from getting his name engraved for the ages on a meticulous bronze recreation of the slumping, fatigued, blank-faced man shown in the 1979 card above.

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Ed Crosby

August 14, 2007
 

Adrift

Chapter 2 (continued from Clyde Wright)

Utility infielder Ed Crosby seems here to be displaying the slumping body language and sardonic facial expression of a man on the brink of declaring the official pledge of allegiance of the adrift: “Ah, who gives a shit.”

Then again, I’m probably projecting. When I was in my mid-twenties, as Crosby is here, the general tension of many a dumb useless week often collapsed as if through a rotted trapdoor into boozy ease at 3 A.M. Sunday morning in the International Bar, my elbow propped along the bar much like Crosby’s elbow on his knee, my expression finally melting from its customary angsty, apprehensive glare into Crosby’s somewhat wobbly, bleary-eyed smile, an internal monologue rising through the loosening in my chest to the accompaniment of Ain’t Got No Home by Clarence Frogman Henry on the jukebox:

Who gives a shit? Who gives a shit I work a go-nowhere job battling shoplifting teenagers and selling half-pints to ruined men? Who gives a shit I haven’t gotten laid in years? Who gives a shit I still live with my brother, my bedroom a converted closet with a toddler’s glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling? Who gives a shit my dream of being a writer is nowhere, a con game I run on myself? Here’s a toast, my friends: Who gives a shit about any of it?

Yes, I’m probably projecting. After all, a man such as Crosby who clung to the major leagues with few discernable skills (no career home runs, a lifetime .219 batting average, one career stolen base in nine attempts) must have been a passionate, focused, and tenacious practitioner of his chosen vocation, the polar opposite of a man adrift. But who knows? By 1976 Crosby had been clinging for six years to a transient, marginal major league existence, and perhaps in this moment he is seeing the encroaching inevitability of the game of baseball going on without him, completely indifferent to his absence. Maybe he can sense the truth, that he’s got just two more at-bats left before the end. Maybe he can feel it and instead of railing against it he’s taking one long last look at a world with clear lines and definite rules.

Crosby’s son is in the major leagues now, the promising but injury-prone Bobby Crosby. Not knowing anything about their family situation, I’d guess it’s a safe bet that Ed Crosby taught a love of the game to his son. Likewise, I suppose Clyde Wright must have passed some of the game down to his own son, Jaret, who has won 68 major league games. Both Bobby Crosby and Jaret Wright made auspicious debuts in the majors, the former winning the 2004 Rookie of the Year award, the latter starring as a 21-year-old rookie for the pennant-winning Cleveland Indians. These debuts suggested that both would easily eclipse the efforts of their fathers, but both have been slowed by injuries since their shining breakthroughs, the setbacks piling up enough by now to surely give them a view of the moment Ed Crosby seems to be in the midst of here, the end of the line, the end of the game, the beginning of the rest of life with all its possibilities for drifting.

(Continued in Father & Son–Big Leaguer)

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Sid Monge

August 5, 2007
 

 
In 1979, Sid Monge became the first Mexican-born pitcher to make a major league all-star team. This is according to my always potentially faulty research, which entailed the persual of the list of Mexican-born major leaguers at baseball-reference.com. (Bobby Avila seems to have been the first from the list to make an all-star team as a position player.) 

Monge did not play in the 1979 All Star Game, the American League manager choosing to look elsewhere for pitchers to finish out the game after starter Nolan Ryan got touched up for 3 runs in his only 2 innings. According to baseball-almanac.com, the American League manager that year was Bob Lemon, which seems fitting since Lemon had been at the helm of the Yankees the previous October when the New Yorkers had claimed their second straight World Series title. But Lemon had been fired by George Steinbrenner a month prior to the 1979 All Star Game. I would have thought his replacement on the Yankees, Billy Martin, would then have been summoned to manage the American League, but apparently Bob Lemon was called back into active duty to fulfill the final obligation of a pennant-winning manager. What did Bob Lemon wear for this game, I wonder? His town’s slo-pitch softball uniform? A too-tight Indians jersey from his long-ago playing days? Shorts and a T-shirt?

Perhaps his month away from the game prevented Lemon from gaining any direct knowledge of Sid Monge’s surging skills as a left-handed relief ace, and perhaps this lack of knowledge made Lemon shy away from attempting to utter the mysterious word Monge into the phone that connected the dugout to the bullpen (while also shying away from Monge’s American League teammate and companion in pronunciation ambiguity, Dave Lemanczyk) to instead order up guys listed on his roster whose names could be easily enunciated without fear of embarassment: Stanley, Clear, Kern, and, finally, the Yankee ace Lemon had relied on the previous year, Guidry. None of the pitchers called on instead of Monge came through; only Guidry escaped without being charged with a run, but he surrendered a bases-loaded walk before recording his only out. Still, judging from this photo Sid Monge harbored no bitterness over not getting a chance to pitch in the midsummer classic. He stands tall and proud, a man who has gone farther than any of his countrymen in his chosen field.

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Jackie Brown

May 21, 2007
 

When talk among baseball fans turns to the so-called ugly uniforms of the 1970s, the most frequent subjects of twisted appreciation are the technicolor dreamsuits of the Astros, the brown and yellow McDonald’s-cashier garb of the Padres, and the White Sox’ humiliating shorts and giant-collar shirt ensemble. For some reason the Indians’ all-red migraine-producer fashioned here with exclamation point aplomb by drifting hurler Jackie Brown seems to generally escape the scrutiny of the collective baseball memory. I’m not sure why this is.

Maybe it’s because the Indians in the 1970s were so forgettable. At least they were to me, which is odd, because the teams I was generally most familiar with were those that played in the American League East (which is where the Indians were from 1969 until the jarring and alienating invention of the Central Division in the mid-1990s). I try to think of the Indians teams from my childhood and all I can come up with is the vague notion that Rick Manning was a good fielder.

They were actually not as atrocious during the mid- to late-1970s as I would have guessed, and maybe that’s another secret of their forgettableness. They just kind of blended in. (Perhaps the red uniforms were a desparate, ultimately futile attempt to demand that the world take notice.) In the season directly preceding this Jackie Brown photograph, the Indians even finished above .500, albeit just barely. According to the statistics on the back of this card, Jackie Brown contributed significantly to this rare post-Rocky Colavito breath of winning baseball: as the Topps people have it, Jackie Brown blitzed the American league that year with a near-spotless 9–1 record. Unfortunately, his actual record was 9–11; somebody lopped off a 1 in the tens place of his loss column.

I wonder if the Montreal Expos brass somehow had access to this card before it even hit the stores in 1977. The idea that he was a 9–1 pitcher seems the only possible explanation I can come up with to explain the trade that occurred in December 1976 that sent Jackie Brown north of the border for budding slugger Andre Thornton. Thornton went on to be a mainstay in the middle of the Indians’ lineup for years, while Jackie Brown put in one more season that was exactly slightly worse (9–12) than the previous season before bidding adieu to the major leagues. The funny thing about the trade is that despite its lopsided nature it seems neither to have hurt the Expos, who began climbing toward the top of the N.L. West East, nor to have helped the Indians, who began plunging ever-farther down into the depths of the A.L. East.

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Toby Harrah

February 5, 2007

Nobody ever discusses the most equal trades of all time. Conversely, the awful trades come up periodically: Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi, Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb, Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater (and a player to be named later, Mario Guerrero, who evened out the deal a little, at least to me), Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Babe Ruth for No No Nanette. I guess the even trades seem to have a way of dissolving in collective memory. No scars are produced. I could only think of one equal trade without Googling “equal trades” and “baseball,” a search which turned up even less than the trade I’d thought of on my own the moment I looked at this card: Toby Harrah for Buddy Bell. No minor league throw-ins, no cash, no players to be named later. One guy for another guy. Perfect.

In retrospect, some might be tempted to give an edge in the trade to the Texas Rangers, who received Bell from the Indians while parting with Harrah. In most expert opinions, Bell seems to rank a few guys ahead of Harrah on the list of all-time best third basemen. In the 2001 edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James ranked Bell 19th and Harrah 32nd. Though I’m not qualified to argue with Bill James about anything even remotely connected with baseball, I still am tempted to stick up for Toby Harrah a little on the basis that Harrah matched Bell in the ability to drive in runs and surpassed him in the ability to get on base and, once on base, advance. He had good power, good speed, he drew a lot of walks, and he is probably the best palindrome-surnamed baseballer of all time. Also, a recent study by Baseball Prospectus
revealed him to be, statistically speaking, the second-best clutch hitter of the last 35 years (behind Mark Grace). Bell’s career lasted a little longer than Harrah’s, and he also was one of the all-time best defensive third basemen, whereas Harrah in the field was merely like he was at every other aspect of the game: pretty good. James mentions how nice a guy Bell was several times throughout his book, so maybe that helped Bell move up a little versus Harrah in his estimation, especially considering that his entry on Harrah consists of an anecdote about how as a very young player Harrah was among those on the Washington Senators secretly lobbying for a mutiny on manager Ted Williams. But anyway, as trades went, the 1978 exchange of Bell and Harrah struck me at the time as perfectly balanced, and I still see it that way, each team getting a good but not great third baseman in his prime. Beyond that, the trade seems perfect to me because of the teams involved. The players changed teams but nothing really changed, good or bad, not for the Rangers, nor the Indians, nor Harrah, nor Bell. First place remained a rumor, decent personal statistics were compiled, empty seats bore witness, and history continued to unfold elsewhere.

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Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson

January 8, 2007

In September of 1985, when I was seventeen, I moved in with my aunt and uncle in Boston. It was the first autumn since I’d been four years old in which my name wasn’t on any roll-call sheet. I wasn’t expected anywhere. I’d been kicked out of boarding school the previous spring and after getting my GED had spent the summer with my grandfather on Cape Cod, working as a gas station attendant. That fall in Boston I got through a lot of the hours playing solitaire Strat-O-Matic in my room. I don’t know what my aunt and uncle thought about the sounds of dice clattering deep into the night from behind my closed door.

Sometimes in the daylight I left the house to supposedly go look for a job. In truth I mostly just wandered around. One day in particular that has always stayed with me for some reason was the day I smoked pot from my little metal one-hitter in Boston Commons, went to a matinee of Teen Wolf, then came home and lied to my aunt that I’d applied for several jobs all over the city. I’m not really sure why I lied, as my aunt and uncle never put any pressure on me to get a job. They may have started doing so eventually, but as it turned out I somehow did finally walk into an ice cream parlor in Harvard Square that had a “Now Hiring” sign. I worked part-time there for a couple months, then quit and went to stay with my father in New York City.

My brother was going to NYU at that time, living in a dorm just a short walk away from my father’s apartment. I went over there most evenings and got high with him and his roommate, Eric, while the two of them took turns trying to blow the other’s mind with selections from their ridiculously large and ever-growing collection of Jamaican dub music. As the current song was coming to an end, my brother or Eric (depending on whose turn it was) rose in the dim blue light of the room and selected another song, shielding the album from the other so that the song would be a surprise. Not much in the way of conversation occurred, but occasionally my brother or Eric uttered a complementary, drawling, long-voweled “dude” when the other’s song choice was exceptionally pleasing to the dude-utterer’s bass-hungry senses. After many bong hits and offerings from the likes of Augustus Pablo, Scientist, and King Fatty, I stumbled back to my dad’s place, where he would already be asleep, all the lights off. The studio apartment had only one separate room, the bathroom, and since I often came home too high to sleep I spent many a night sitting on the shut lid of the toilet, reading On the Road. I wanted my life to be like the one in the pages of that book, exciting, adventurous, everything hallowed.

The holidays came and went, and in January I applied to a small state college situated on top of a mountain in northern Vermont. It wasn’t a hard school to get into, so I got in, and within a few days was there for the start of the spring semester, which began the day the Patriots got annihilated by the Bears in the Super Bowl. I got stoned and drunk that day with a couple fellow new students, and as it turns out one of them was named Fritz. Fritz was gone by the following semester, as were some of my other new partying buddies, and the rest of them were gone within the next couple semesters. It was a college where people who had fucked up elsewhere came and hung out for a little while before moving on.

I stayed, however. Eventually my drug usage tapered off. The last time I tripped on acid was on Halloween 1987, at a Phish show at Goddard College. It was a bad trip, narrow, jittery, alienating, laced with the smell of my own burning synapses, and I spent most of it crashing around alone through limb-scraping brush in the dark woods behind the art building where everyone was having a fantastic time dancing and laughing together, everyone singing about Halley’s Comet and the land of lizards, everyone wrapped in colorful costumes, the guitarist and bass player hopping up and down in jester hats, the drummer in a matronly dress. All I had on was my Josh Wilker suit–ripped jeans, T-shirt, army jacket, Converse all-stars, skin–and if I could have I probably would have taken it all off and set it on fire.

What I’m trying to get at here is that I’m haunted by boundless possibilities, and I always have been. My earliest years, the early 1970s, came in a time and place bubbling with the idea that anything was possible. The ecstatic visions of Jack Kerouac seemed less an elegiac psalm to an evaporating world than a prelude to a world yet to come. You could be whoever you wanted to be and each day was going to be a new transformation, the promising light of the present moment giving way to even brighter, warmer, wider light. In the early 1970s, the number of my parents went from the traditional two to three, my mom’s new boyfriend Tom coming aboard. It may sound strange, I realize, but this was far from the only commune-like free love experimentation of the time. At least for some, that kind of thing was just sort of in the air.

For example, right around the same time, just before the start of the 1973 baseball season, Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson traded entire families. Much has been written about this swap, most of it in a mocking tone, so I’m not going to say much beyond pointing out that when they did it they meant it. Maybe it was in large part an extension of the fun they were all having together, but they must have believed they weren’t merely pulling a pleasurable stunt. Beyond the pleasure of the moment, there must have been a hope for some as yet uninvented republic of joy.

I don’t even really want to talk about how they both had career-worst years that season, or that in general they never really were the same as players again, or that Kekich decided after a few weeks that the experiment wasn’t working out, a decision that came too late–his wife and Fritz Peterson already having decided they wanted to make the swap permanent. I really just want to shine a light on that slim brilliant moment in time when the world seemed to some to be clay in their hands, moldable to any shape they desired. I chased that moment for a long time. I wanted the sky to crack open and spill all its secrets. I never did see any such thing. I saw Teen Wolf. I saw William “The Refrigerator” Perry score a touchdown. And one day while tripping on low-grade LSD I watched some mountains turn into a pair of old basketball sneakers.

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John Lowenstein

October 24, 2006

“And he wants to trade the game he plays for shelter.” — Leonard Cohen, “The Stranger Song”

The Indians never got anywhere near first place throughout the 1970s (or 1960s or 1980s). Judging from this John Lowenstein card, the strain of toiling season after season without hope of ever reaching the glittering lights of the playoffs was something the Montana-born Lowenstein was singularly equipped to handle. His westward-trudging pioneer ancestors had probably endured droughts and floods and scurvy and crushing isolation and perhaps even grisly skirmishes with the demographic represented by the huge script across Lowenstein’s chest. Replace the baseball uniform and cap with a dirty white shirt, fraying leather vest, and sagging mud-flecked bowler hat and Lowenstein is an extra in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, staring gauntly at the ceaseless gray drizzle, subsisting on diminishing rations of pemmican and horse oats, waiting uselessly for the shipment of prostitutes who though cheap will all be beyond his dismal means.

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David Clyde

September 30, 2006

In this 1980 card, David Clyde’s last, the former nationwide high school sensation displays his league-leading thousand-yard stare in front of what appears to be a painted backdrop. Maybe the fake blue sky was wheeled in to cover the mildewed bricks of the windowless room, deep within the Indians’ spring training barracks, where the oft-disabled former number 1 draft pick preferred to endure his daylight hours. Maybe Topps purchased the backdrop at the going-out-of-business sale of a photographer who, until the word statutory started getting flung around, made his living creating portraits of high school seniors. Or maybe the picture was actually taken by said photographer, who had moved to Florida with a U-Haul full of backdrops to try to start anew and had picked up freelance work involving the subjects the pensioned Topps photographers preferred to avoid. Maybe after “the shoot” the photographer and David Clyde went for beers at the topless joint out by the abandoned A&W and neither one asked any questions about the past.