October 1997

Cleveland's legacy of loss
By Mark Bloch
Animated Graphic by Mark Bloch

It seemed for a while they were going to be the "team of destiny," the unexpected winners of the 1997 World Series. But in the end it was another kind of destiny that engulfed the Cleveland Indians.
Since the 1950s, few baseball teams have been as mediocre as the Indians. Some attribute it to a mysterious "curse" that began with the 1960 trade of the popular Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers. Whatever the cause, their ineptitude continues to be haplessly lovable.
This year is the latest in a 100-year history of near-misses and disappointing might-have-beens for faithful Cleveland fans.

April 24,1901
The Indians, known then as the Cleveland Blues, played in the first American
League game ever (three others scheduled that day were rained out). They lost
8-2 to the White Sox, perhaps a bit of foreshadowing for Cleveland's 82 losses
that year, and for future seasons as well.
Cleveland shortstop Johnny Gochnaur set a team record for errors with 98. The
record still stands.
The Indians lose 102 games, a Cleveland record that stood until 1991. Local
amateur baseball games were drawing 80,000 fans, but the Indians pulled in only
186,000 fans all season to their home in League Park.
A poll favored the name Indians in honor of Lou Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian
who played for Cleveland from 1897-99, batting .338 his rookie year.
Unfortunately, the first Native American in the majors played only seven
error-filled games his last season before being kicked out of baseball for
drunkenness. He died the year of the poll, but the team logo Chief Wahoo lives
on, despite decades of protests by Native Americans.
The Indians win the best-of-nine World Series over the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-2.
But their first world title is not without cost. The Indians were stunned in an
August game against the Yankees when shortstop Ray Chapman, who was
hitting .303 and liked to crouch tight over the plate with his face almost in the
strike zone, caught a fastball in the head and died of a fractured skull the next
Dutch Levson defeats the Yankees twice on the same day, 5-1 and 6-1. He is
the last major leaguer to ever throw two complete game wins in one day.
Amazingly, he didn't strike out a batter all day.
July 31,1932
Designed in vain to lure the Olympics, Cleveland Municipal Stadium opens
before a record Indians crowd of 78,000. The monolithic stadium became
famous as the Mistake on the Lake for the frigid winds that blew in off Lake Erie.
By the time the Indians moved to a new stadium 63 years later, not one player
had ever hit a ball into the center-field bleachers.
July 31,1932
When legendary pitcher Walter Johnson came on board to briefly manage
Cleveland, conflict followed. In May 1935, a bout of paranoia got so bad that
Johnson fired two players, alienating fans who booed the future Hall of Famer.
Later, extra police were assigned to watch games, and beverages were sold only
in paper cups for fear that Johnson would be pelted with glass bottles. He
couldn't endure the campaign against him and was eventually let go.
Pitcher Johnny Alien, a problematic drinker known for taunting opposing players,
trashing a Boston hotel lobby and trying to punch out a teammate whose error
ended Alien's 15-game winning streak in 1937. In June 1938, he refused an
umpire's order to trim a dangling piece of his sleeve and stormed off the mound.
When he was fined $250, he decided to retire. The team's owner displayed the
offending jersey in a Cleveland department store window. The shirt ended up in
Bob Feller, signed in 1936 at age 17, threw a no-hitter on Opening Day.
However, the Indians lost the pennant to Detroit by one game. Ironically, a loss
by Feller (27-11, 2.62 ERA) to the Tigers in a rare relief appearance kept the
pennant out of reach. Manager Ossie Vitt criticized Feller, causing players to
demand Vitt be fired. When the incident became public, the team acquired the
nickname The Crybabies. Rival Detroit fans threw baby bottles, nipples and jars
of baby food on the field to mock them.
Bill Veeck, the club's most theatrical owner, brought in Larry Doby as the first
black player in the American League. Bob Hope came aboard at the same time
as a shareholder, as did midget racing and an orchestra between innings. Veeck
also was responsible for signing Satchel Paige, whose true age was a mystery
but who had pitched in the Negro Leagues as early as 1928. Paige was the first
African-American to pitch in the A.L. and in 1948 the first to pitch in a World
The Indians drew a major-league record 2,620,627 fans in a nail-biting season
that culminated in a successful playoff game against the Red Sox for their first
pennant in 28 years. Despite a team batting average below .200 in the World
Series, the Indians prevailed, beating the Boston Braves in six games.
The Indians sport an awesome pitching rotation of Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Mike
Garcia and Early Wynn. All but Garcia would wind up in the Hall of Fame. Wynn
once said he'd hit his own mother with a pitch, but "only if she were digging in."
Larry Doby led the league with 32 homers and Al Rosen with 105 RBIs, but when
it was all over, the Yankees won the pennant by two games,
A high-powered offense leads the Indians to the pennant with a record 111
victories. But Cleveland loses the World Series in four straight games to the New
York Giants. Willie Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder catch of a 460-foot
Vie Wertz blast to quash a Cleveland rally in the eighth inning of Game 1.
Herb Score, the 1955 Rookie of the Year and most promising Cleveland pitcher
to come along in years, was ruined when a Gil McDougald line drive hit the
left-hander in the eye. He returned to pitch, but never at his previous level.
All hope for the franchise seemed wrapped up in one handsome and popular
right-fielder from the Bronx named Rocky Colavito. That hope ended when
Colavito was unexpectedly traded to Detroit, where he pounded 35 home runs
with a .474 slugging average. Earlier another budding young player named
Roger Maris had been traded to Kansas City. Fans spoke later of "The Curse of
Rocky Colavito."
Luis Tiant, a right-hander who in 1968 won 21 games and posted a 1.60 ERA,
personified the Tribe of the '60s by leading the league in losses the following
season. The franchise finished dead last in '69 and again in '71, something
they'd done only once in the previous 68 years.
July 4,1974
Perhaps the lowest moment in the franchise's checkered history came the night
of this holiday promotion against the Texas Rangers. "Beer Night" offered an
unlimited supply of 10 cent beer to the frustrated Cleveland audience. The night
- and the game - ended in a ninth-inning riot by drunken fans who stormed the
field, resulting in a rare forfeit.
Frank Robinson became baseball's first black manager, and as a
player/manager he homered in his first at-bat. The team reached .500 under
Robinson's leadership in 1976, but by June 19, 1977, even he couldn't survive
the Cleveland downward spiral. In the next 14 years the Indians would go
through eight managers and lose 100 games three times.
The team is sold to Richard and David Jacobs, real estate developers, putting an
end to rumors that the team was headed to Tampa Bay.
Poised to turn the corner in its last season in Municipal Stadium, the team went
to Spring Training ready to become a contender. But tragedy struck again when
a boating accident near the end of camp killed relievers Steve Olin and Tim
Crews and injured the recently signed Bobby Ojeda. The team didn't regroup
from the tragedy until the second half of the season.
In a season shortened by the players' strike, the Tribe's 100-44 record is
baseball's best. The Indians reach the World Series for the first time since 1954,
only to lose to the Braves in six games. Though disappointed that the mighty
bats are stymied by Atlanta's pitchers, Cleveland fans are grateful just to have
gotten this far.
In a postseason in which they teetered on the edge of elimination, the Indians
reach the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 with a chance to erase years of
frustration. But the 5-year-old Florida Marlins tie the game, then win it in the 11th.
For the umpteenth time, Cleveland fans experience that sinking feeling.
Mark Bloch of has been an Indians fan for all of his 41
years. He's still waiting to see a World Series banner raised.