Vizquel’s Hall Candidacy Brings Strong Feelings on Both Sides


When Hall of Fame voting started, I thought Jim Thome was a slam-dunk first-ballot hall of famer – largely on the strength of his 612 (relatively untainted) home runs.

I figured Omar Vizquel, also in his first year of eligibility, would get into the Hall of Fame, but this wasn’t his year due to a crowded ballot. Chipper Jones is probably a first-ballot hall of famer too, and it sounds like Vladimir Guerrero – probably the best bad-ball hitter of his era – is finally getting the traction he needs for a plaque in Cooperstown. And of course, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens loom large over the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s voting process.

I had no idea a Vizquel hall of fame candidacy would be as controversial as it seems to have become.

To me, Vizquel was the prototypical slick-fielding shortstop who wasn’t known for his offensive prowess, but was skilled enough not to be a black hole in the lineup.

The supporters of Vizquel’s candidacy seem centered in Cleveland and San Francisco, both stops on his 24-year playing career (his durability is one of the keys to his Hall of Fame case). The argument boils down to the idea that he passes the eye test. Anyone who saw him on the field as a defensive playmaker saw hall of fame plays, and his 11 Gold Gloves are second only to Ozzie Smith’s 13. Smith is a hall of famer. Vizquel is fifth all-time in assists, and the career leader in double plays started by a shortstop.

It’s a dubious argument, but it’s worked before (and I confess, I bought into it). Bill Mazeroski is the most glaring example I can think of. I was living in Pittsburgh when he got elected to the hall by the Veterans Committee in 2001, and the biggest argument on behalf of the .260 lifetime hitter was his defensive prowess, something that was only understood if you saw him play.

Detractors point to little outside of those 11 Gold Gloves in terms of hardware. He made just three All-Star appearances and finished 16th in MVP voting in 1999 (although if Albert Belle couldn’t win the MVP in his monster 1995 season, the award wasn’t going to come to Cleveland at any time). They point to defensive metrics that prove he really wasn’t that good (but he is 10th all-time in defensive wins above replacement – placing him higher than Hall of Fame infielders Pee Wee Reese, Joe Gordon, the aforementioned Mazeroski, and Cleveland’s other great shortstop, Lou Boudreau).

Here it’s worth noting that all the Hall of Famers lower than Vizquel in dWAR were voted in by the Veterans Committee, itself a realm given more to politics than actual talent. Vizquel already faces an uphill climb. Barring a landslide of ballots that haven’t already been publicly revealed, Vizquel probably won’t get in this year, but he does appear to have enough votes to remain on the ballot. His best chance to get elected by the writers is probably this year, given the players coming up on the Hall of Fame ballot, and if he doesn’t get in during his ten years on the BBWAA ballot (it used to be 15, a change made to sweep past the steroid era as fast as possible), his candidacy becomes an even bigger crapshoot. The next stop would be the veterans committee, which has become a strangely stratified beast in recent years, divided into various eras for candidates. He might come up for a vote every five years or so.

The irony there is that if he doesn’t get elected into the Hall of Fame, he gets a different kind of immortality, the kind reserved for those players who have a local reverence that could never translate into a plaque in Cooperstown.

You had to see him play.

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer



Fonseca won batting title for Tribe before becoming MLB’s movie mogul


In 1929, the season belonged to the Philadelphia Athletics. After two years of second-place finishes, the “Mackmen” – so called because of their manager, Connie Mack – won 104 games, breezing to the pennant and a five-game World Series win over the Chicago Cubs.

But the batting title – and the MVP award – belonged to a player the Indians had claimed off the discard pile just a couple years earlier.

Fonseca batted .369 for an Indians team that finished a distant third, 24 games behind the Athletics and six games behind the second-place Yankees. It was a triumph for a player who had been sent to the minor leagues just three years earlier.

Fonseca, a native of Oakland, Calif., broke into the major leagues with Ohio’s other team, the Reds, in 1922. But injuries limited Fonseca, and he was cut by Cincinnati in 1925. He went to the Phillies, where he finally became an everyday player, batting .316 in 140 games.

The following year, Fonseca played in Newark, using film study to change his batting stance, and that September, he was sold to the Indians. The deal reaped dividends quickly, as he hit no lower than .311 in each of the next three years, culminating in .369 in 1929, when he won the team’s first batting title since Tris Speaker in 1916.

The 1929 season turned out to be Fonseca’s best. He went home and caught scarlet fever, nearly dying in the offseason and only playing 40 games in 1930 because of those aftereffects and a broken arm suffered later in the season. Early in the 1931 season, he was dealt to the White Sox for Willie Kamm, and took on managerial duties the following year.

Fonseca retired as a player after the 1933 season, but continued to manage the White Sox. However, they stumbled out of the gate, and he was fired in May 1934 and succeeded by Jimmy Dykes (the runner-up in the vote when Fonseca won the American League MVP in 1929). But his next act turned out to be his real ticket to immortality in the sport.

Fonseca went to the major league owners and pitched the idea of a film bureau. With their support, he went to American League President Will Harridge, who funded the idea on a trial basis. By 1935, it had caught, showing films that demonstrated how to play the game as well as the importance of the game. It was at his behest that Bob Feller undertook one of the first tests of his speed, in 1941: Pitching a ball against a speeding motorcycle. His highlight films were shown to soldiers at war during World War II, and went on into the 1950s as Major League Baseball slowly but surely realized the value of film. All told, Fonseca made 60 movies in 35 years as the founder of Major League Baseball’s Motion Picture Bureau.

“Those movies introduced the sport of baseball around the world,” broadcaster Jack Brickhouse said after Fonseca’s death in 1989. “For that alone he belongs in the Hall of Fame for great service to the sport.”



The Governor, the Mayor and El Presidente: Indians show the intersection of sports and politics


This Thursday, the Alabama Secretary of State is expected to certify the results of the Dec. 12 special election, paving the way next week for Doug Jones to be sworn into the U.S. Senate.

No, not that Doug Jones. But I certainly can’t blame you for thinking that. I did – and I was hardly alone.

Many writers at the intersection of sports and politics made that joke, and the intersection of sports and politics is really crowded – even if sometimes they’re just politicians in name only.

One of Doug Jones’ teammates in the 1980s on the lakefront was Jerry Browne, who acquired the nickname “The Governor” because of Edmund Brown Jr., the son of a former governor of California and the governor himself in the 1970s. Edmund Brown Sr., known as Pat, served two terms as California governor before losing to Ronald Reagan in 1966. Reagan retired as governor in 1974, and he was succeeded by Jerry Brown, who at that point was California Secretary of State. Jerry Brown was governor for two terms, put out some feelers for President and was re-elected as governor in 2011, a job he still holds today (Jerry Browne retired as a ballplayer in 1995).

Jerry Browne was “The Governor,” and two years after his retirement, the Indians had “The Mayor.” Sean Casey was drafted in the second round in 1995 out of the University of Richmond, and made his debut as a September callup two years later. His time with the Indians was short-lived, though. He was traded to the Reds the following spring for Dave Burba, who spent four solid but unspectacular years in the Tribe’s rotation. Casey went on to a 10-year career, predominantly with the Reds, and acquired his nickname because of his garrulity at first base and his overall cheerfulness – skills he’s since put to good use on television.

The Indians also had “El Presidente,” a nickname for Dennis Martinez, who was so popular in his native country of Nicaragua that he was touted (although probably not that seriously) as a presidential candidate. He recently served as manager of the Nicaragua national team, and a stadium in Managua is named for him.

Occasionally, the Indians owner’s box has drawn from the ranks of politics, with Huey Long and Newton D. Baker serving as minor stockholders. (The current occupant of the White House attempted to buy the team in the early 1980s as well.)

Walter Johnson was lured to Cleveland after his playing career, spending two full seasons and part of a third as Indians manager before being fired in 1935. He returned to the Washington D.C. area and entered politics. His father-in-law, Edwin Roberts, was a four-term Congressman from Nevada (when Johnson married Roberts’ daughter Hazel, the ceremony was performed by the chaplain of the U.S. Senate), and Johnson himself was a supporter of women’s suffrage – persuaded by his wife, he said – before the 19th Amendment was passed. Johnson was elected to the Montgomery County, Md., board of commissioners in 1938, and ran for the U.S. House two years later. Although he remained exceedingly popular in the nation’s capital, he was running as a Republican against a Democratic wave (that was the year Franklin Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term as president) and lost.



Santana’s departure to Philadelphia mirrors Thome’s 15 years earlier


OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one: An Indians slugger settles in at first base after changing positions, becomes a mainstay of some quality Tribe teams, and ends up signing a fat contract in Philadelphia.

That appears to be what happened with Carlos Santana, who according to reports has signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Phillies. But it happened 15 years ago with Jim Thome too.

Thome was drafted in the 13th round by the Indians in 1989, breaking in with the team as a third baseman as a September callup two years later. That team lost 105 games – the most losses in Indians history – but good times were just around the corner.

Four years later, the Indians had a new manager, a new baseball-only ballpark and a roster laden with talent. Thome wasn’t an afterthought anymore, but still batted in the bottom of the lineup, behind sluggers like Eddie Murray and Albert Belle. Two years later, both were gone and Thome switched to first base to accommodate free agent signing Matt Williams.

The roster turned over a little more in the late 1990s for the Indians, but Thome remained a constant. He was beloved by fans and loved being in Cleveland, even marrying a woman from North Royalton. But the Indians’ success came in part by drafting well and signing players to below-market value. Thome was going to be a free agent after the 2002 season, and had already established himself as a great slugger (and mostly untainted by allegations of performance-enhancing drug use that had become widespread by that point). His 52 home runs in 2002 led the major leagues – and were (and remain) the Indians team record. Would he leave too?

As it turns out, he did – and to the unlikeliest of places. The Phillies had made it to the seventh game of the 1993 World Series, but had only finished with a winning record once since then. But they pursued Thome doggedly, offering a five-year, $70 million deal and then upping it to six years and $85 million. It was the biggest contract they’d ever given out – and the biggest free agent acquisition since they signed Pete Rose a generation earlier. They were moving into a new stadium and they were looking for the same magic Thome and the Indians had when they moved to Jacobs Field. In fact, Thome said after the signing that he called former Indians General Manager John Hart, then with the Rangers, for advice. Hart told him the Phillies at that point were like the 1994 Indians.

As it turns out, Hart was right – but Thome wasn’t around to see the results.

In 2003, when Thome made his debut, a prospect named Ryan Howard was clubbing baseballs in the Florida State League. Howard, drafted two years earlier, was a first baseman like Thome. And since it was the National League, neither of them could see any significant time as a designated hitter.

Injuries limited Thome to 59 games in 2005, the year Howard was named Rookie of the Year. The die was cast and after the season, Thome was dealt to the White Sox. Except for a monthlong stint with the Dodgers in 2009 and a brief return to Philadelphia in 2011 (where, ironically, he spelled Ryan Howard at first base at times), he spent the remainder of his career in the American League, primarily as a designated hitter.

In 2007, for the first time since 1993, the Phillies won the division – the first of five straight National League East crowns. The following year, they advanced to the World Series, where they beat the Tampa Bay Rays. They made another World Series appearance the following year – after beating Thome and the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

Eventually, the core of the Phillies got old or left for greener pastures, and the team fell down in the standings as the Washington Nationals ascended. But the Phillies are now rebuilding, and the signing of Santana is a definite sign that they’re ready to contend again.

In 2016, Thome was inducted into the Phillies’ Wall of Fame – two years after the Indians built a statue and two years before his likely first-ballot Baseball Hall of Fame induction. His time there was just four years, but Charlie Manuel, who was his manager in Cleveland and Philadelphia, said you could draw a straight line from Jim Thome to the World Series win five years later.

“Jim Thome signed the biggest free-agent contract in Phillies history, and overnight changed the way that people look at the Phillies,” Manuel said. “Not just people in Philadelphia, but all over the country. “



Feller had role in early players association


Bob Feller pitched his way into baseball history in a 20-year career with the Indians.

But after his career was over, he made history of another kind.

On Dec. 11, 1956 – 61 years ago this week – the new Major League Baseball Players Association asked for a meeting with the 16 major league owners. Bob Feller, who was the Indians’ team representative to the players’ committee, was elected its first president. (Feller would announce his retirement as a player at the end of the month.)

The group had been charted two years earlier, organized at the Hollenden Hotel in Cleveland, but was a loose confederation of player representatives, more concerned with shoring up baseball’s pension plan, getting a cut of broadcast revenues and barnstorming, a lucrative source of revenue for stars like Feller in the off-season, but a burden to teams that had to play in-season exhibitions on scheduled off days. Association lawyer J. Norman Lewis denied that this was a step toward unionization, and Feller said two years later that there was no place for collective bargaining in baseball.

However, Feller, always one to speak his mind, did an interview a year later that was absolutely prescient about what was going to come to baseball. Feller had testified against baseball’s reserve clause before Congress, and he reiterated his remarks in an interview with Mike Wallace. Wallace, later one of the mainstays of “60 Minutes,” pointed out how well-paid ballplayers were, with an average salary of $18,520 for the 1956 Cleveland Indians – far above the average U.S. salary of around $3,600. Feller countered by saying, “As far as I’m concerned it’s not the amount that you make, it’s the principle that you’re not in a strong bargaining position,” not that different from Curt Flood, a decade later on the Dick Cavett Show saying, “A well-paid slave is still a slave.”

Feller opposed the reserve clause – but stood alone in doing so. Wallace noted that no other players were willing to speak against it, and Jackie Robinson even said, “I think the reserve clause is all right.” (It’s probably worth noting that Robinson, the first black player in the modern major leagues, was not in a position at that point to fully speak his mind. It’s also worth noting that a noticeable rift developed between Feller and Robinson, both inducted in the same Hall of Fame class in 1962.) But as it turned out, he was on the right side of history, even if it went too far for his liking.

In 1966, the Major League Baseball Players Association was certified as a union, and was looking for a new director. Feller was among the current and former players who went and talked to Richard Nixon about the opening. At the time, Nixon was regarded as politically dead and buried, four years removed from losing the race for California governor, having famously said, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Nixon declined the offer, saying he had political obligations (two years later he’d run for president and win). Fifteen years after the meeting, Feller recalled Nixon’s advice.  “Do not get a lawyer and do not get a labor leader. Get somebody who knows something about your game and has some experience.”

The players didn’t listen. Led by former Phillies and Orioles hurler Robin Roberts, who was described as a radical, the association hired as executive director Marvin Miller, who had served as an economist and negotiator for the United Steelworkers, then in its heyday. Feller told Russ Schneider of the Plain Dealer that Miller was a snake-oil salesman, saying, “This guy Miller is a phony. He can’t do the players any good. He can only hurt them … I’m convinced Miller is in this thing for only one reason. Not to help the players or baseball in general, but simply to make a buck.”

On Miller’s watch, the average MLB salary went from $19,000 to $326,000. But it came at a cost – five players’ strikes, including one in 1981 that cancelled 713 games. (The 1994 strike happened after Miller stepped down as director.)

But the reserve clause eventually was struck down. Although a court challenge by Flood was unsuccessful, a federal arbitrator paved the way for free agency. Feller believed that a modest adjustment to the reserve clause while he was players association president could have prevented what he thought was the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction, saying in his autobiography the association had gone too far. “Its leaders seem to have replaced the negotiating table with a stone wall,” Feller said.



Kuenn a bad deal coming and going for Indians


When Indians general manager Frank Lane dealt Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn two days before the 1960 season started, he likened it to trading hamburger for steak.

But eight months later, apparently Lane had grown tired of steak.

The deal that sent Colavito to Detroit remains so reviled by Indians fans that there’s supposed to be a curse associated with it. But the deal 57 years ago this week that sent away the player they got – Kuenn – might be just as bad.

Kuenn was serviceable in 1960, his only year in Cleveland, batting .308 – down markedly from the .353 he hit the year before to win the batting title – and making his eighth (and final) All-Star team. However, he only played in 126 games, losing nearly a month to injuries as the Indians went 76-78 to finish fourth in the American League after a second-place finish the year before. The team also shed attendance, which dropped from nearly 1.5 million to less than a million.

Even years later, Lane denied that he got the Colavito deal wrong. But the deal he made Dec. 3, 1960 was a tacit admission of that fact. Lane sent Kuenn to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland.

“As much as I hated to let Kuenn go,” Lane said in the next day’s Plain Dealer, “I felt this trade would help us because it gives us a starting pitcher and an outfielder who hits with power.”

This is where we pause to remind you that the Indians HAD a power-hitting outfielder … that was traded for Kuenn.

Antonelli was a throw-in. He had actually broken in with the Boston Braves in 1948, and was deprived of meeting the Indians that fall in the World Series when he was left off the roster. But he got his chance six years later, when he was the ace of the pitching staff for the Giants, who swept the Indians in the World Series.

Although Antonelli flourished in Harlem, he faded in San Francisco. The Yankees were actively pursuing him as well, and Lane made the deal just to keep him out of the Bronx. There was also a school of thought that believed Antonelli might benefit from a change of scenery. It didn’t help. Antonelli went 0-4 for the Indians and was promptly dealt to the Braves, by then in Milwaukee. He made nine appearances for them before retiring.

Lane, who never met a trade he didn’t like, talked up Kirkland.

“Kirkland is three years younger than Kuenn and has a great deal more power,” Lane said. “He runs very well, has a strong arm and is a pretty good outfielder. In fact, they tell me he played those tricky winds out in San Francisco last season better than Willie Mays.

“I think he’ll hit as many as 30 home runs for us.”

Kirkland hit 27 in 1961 and his power numbers declined after that. After the 1963 season, the Indians traded him to Baltimore. His major league career ended in 1966 – the same year Kuenn retired.

But Kirkland had outlasted Lane in Cleveland. Lane quit the Indians a month after the deal and went to Kansas City to work with Charlie Finley and the Athletics. His damage had been done.



Youth was served when Indians hired Boudreau as player-manager


The Indians suddenly found themselves in the market for a manager after the 1941 season.

Although Cy Slapnicka was celebrated as a scout, unearthing pitching talent like Mel Harder, Herb Score, Bob Lemon and most famously, Bob Feller, he had a rough go as the team’s general manager. After missing out on the pennant in 1940, the Indians ended up four games below .500 in a tie for fourth place – 26 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. Slapnicka, who had had a heart attack in 1938, wanted to return to scouting, which he said was his first love. After one year as manager, Roger Peckinpaugh was promoted to the front office, but that opened a vacancy in the Indians’ dugout.

And as it turned out, the new manager was found in the Tribe dugout as well.

The Nov. 26, 1941 edition of the Plain Dealer screamed across the front page that the new manager would be Lou Boudreau. At age 24, not only was Boudreau called the “boy manager,” but he was the youngest regular manager in Major League history. The only younger manager was Peckinpaugh himself, like Boudreau, a shortstop in his playing days. Peck managed the Yankees at the age of 23 for the last three weeks of the 1914 season after Frank Chance resigned, going 10-10 before he was succeeded by Wild Bill Donovan. (Ironically, Peckinpaugh, broke in with the Indians, the team that signed him off the Cleveland sandlots, before being traded to New York to make way for Ray Chapman.)

Nobody was more surprised by the hire than Boudreau’s wife Delia, who said bluntly, “I thought he was too young for the job.”

But even though Boudreau had just completed his second major league season, Indians owner Alva Bradley was confident he made the right hire, noting that he’d interviewed about a dozen men for the job and couldn’t find anyone with a professional – or personal – record as spotless as Boudreau’s.

“We couldn’t afford not to take advantage of Lou Boudreau’s natural gift for leadership,” Bradley said. “I don’t know of another man of whom I could be so certain that he would be thoroughly respected by the players, press and public. Lou is smart, he’s a great ball player, a fine young man, a fighter and a leader.”

The Plain Dealer noted that he could literally be a fighter, pointing out that he had to be restrained from taking a swing at Johnny Berardino during a game the previous season with the Browns. Boudreau, the story pointed out, weighed in about a buck-sixty.

Boudreau, an Illinois native who played baseball and basketball at the University of Illinois, was at his alma mater – where he served as an assistant basketball coach in the off-season – when he was notified of the hire. He hastened quickly to Cleveland to sign his contract, and set out shortly thereafter on his managing duties.

Two weeks after the hire, the United States entered World War II, and most major league rosters were depleted as players joined the armed forces – the first being Feller, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese fighter planes. But Boudreau failed his physical, due to arthritis in his ankles, and continued as player-manager until after the 1950 season, and leading the Indians to their last World Series win to date.



1990s Indians Teams Could Get Short End Again When it Comes to Cooperstown


Next year’s Baseball Hall of Fame inductions could have a Cleveland flavor to them.

What’s even more likely is that they’ll have more than a touch of controversy.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot was announced Monday, and among the candidates on the ballot for the first time are former Indians Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.

Thome, currently eighth all time with 612 home runs, appears to be an odds-on favorite to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And Omar? Well, he won 11 Gold Gloves and turned 1,734 double plays – more than any other shortstop – but his WAR is about average compared with other shortstops. And he’s a lifetime .272 hitter with 2,877 total hits (for many years, 3,000 hits was considered almost a surefire ticket to baseball immortality).

If you’re asking me, and I don’t have a vote, I think he’ll get in, but definitely not on the first ballot. Sometimes a good team can drag a borderline candidate over the finish line, and there aren’t a whole lot of other Indians players from that era who will get voted in by the writers (Eddie Murray is already in the Hall of Fame, a testament more to his time with the Orioles than with the Indians).

Albert Belle dropped off the ballot quickly – likely due to a combination of factors including his overall truculence (which effectively cost him the 1995 American League MVP) as well as a career that was too brief by Hall of Fame standards. Kenny Lofton dropped off the ballot just as quickly, which seems to be slightly more of a miscarriage of justice.

Probably the other player from those teams with the strongest hall credentials would be Manny Ramirez, in his second year on the ballot, but here, we come to another issue, which reared its head Tuesday amid news that Joe Morgan sent out a letter to BBWAA voters imploring them to keep out steroid users.

Morgan sent the letter out in his capacity as the hall’s vice chairman and a member of the board of directors, and pointedly said steroid users. Here, it’s worth noting that when steroids were finally banned by Major League Baseball, other controlled substances were also banned – including amphetamines, which were a major part of baseball pretty much for the preceding half-century. There were tales of “greenies” out in bowls like candy in major league clubhouses.

Morgan’s attitude – and he says he’s not speaking alone on this – reeks of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. It’s easy to clutch pearls now, but the guardians so interested in preserving the honor of the game were far less concerned – or far less vocal about their concern – as it was happening. There were whispers of this kind of activity 20 years ago, neither team officials nor Commissioner Bud Selig had any interest in investigating. And if Selig – who was also a main figure in the collusion by major league owners in the 1980s – can get a plaque in Cooperstown, why can’t the players?

The standard Morgan proposes is anyone who tested positive for steroids, admitted using steroids, or were mentioned in the Mitchell Report should not be in the hall. (That last condition is itself dubious. With two exceptions, no players testified, and George Mitchell had a massive conflict of interest as a board member for the both the Red Sox and Disney, the parent company of ESPN.)

Manny failed several drug tests, and while players like Jim Thome, who was tainted by the era in which he played, or Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who were mentioned in the Mitchell report but never had any hard proof of drug use, might get the benefit of the doubt, Manny cannot.

It’s entirely possible – and seems kind of fitting – that much like those 1990s teams never won a title, they might end up underrepresented in Cooperstown as well.

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer



This year’s awards have Tribe feel — even in National League


It’s easy to forget just how well-run the Indians organization is.

I mean, I think everyone in Cleveland knows they’re the best run sports organization in the city, if only by default. When the Browns’ executive vice president has to call a news conference to announce that he didn’t sabotage a potential trade, you have problems, particularly since the alternative to malice in this instance is incompetence. And the Cavs suddenly look inept as well, although you can never count out any team with LeBron James on it.

But the Indians’ tentacles reach far and wide, as evidenced by where former Indians players and coaches end up. Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway is the new Mets manager. Charlie Nagy is the pitching coach in Anaheim, and although Omar Vizquel interviewed for the vacant Tigers managerial job after four years as a coach, he didn’t get it, and wasn’t retained by new skipper Ron Gardenhire. But I have no doubt he’ll end up somewhere.

The finalists for the MLB awards were announced Monday. As expected, Terry Francona is finalist for manager of the year again. As expected, Corey Kluber is a finalist for the Cy Young Award again (this is your obligatory reminder that the awards are voted on before the postseason). And Jose Ramirez is a finalist for American League MVP – unsurprising to any Indians fans who saw him play, but maybe a little surprising to anyone who carries the inferiority complex that goes with being a Cleveland fan that enough people outside of Cleveland hold him in such high esteem.

But the National League managers of the year finalists – Dave Roberts, Torey Lovullo and Bud Black – all have Cleveland connections too.

Bud Black, who was named National League Manager of the Year in 2010 with San Diego and is a finalist this year with the Rockies, pitched for the Indians from 1988 to 1990, and again in 1995 before calling it a career. The 1988 Indians team could boast five future major league managers at the same time: Black, Francona, Ron Washington, John Farrell and then-hitting coach Charlie Manuel.

Torey Lovullo, whose brief playing career included six games with the Indians in 1998, began his coaching career in the Tribe farm system. He managed at the A, Double-A and Triple-A levels. When Farrell, who had served as the Indians’ director of player development in the early aughts, became the Blue Jays manager in 2011, he took Lovullo with him as a coach. When Farrell moved on to Boston, he took Lovullo with him, and when Farrell had to take a leave of absence in 2015 to be treated for lymphoma, Lovullo served as interim manager. Lovullo was named manager of the Diamondbacks after the 2016 season.

Dave Roberts is now manager of the Dodgers, and he’s probably most associated in his playing career with the Red Sox – particularly their memorable 2004 World Series title – but he broke in with the Indians. Originally drafted by the Tigers, he was traded to the Indians as a minor leaguer and made his debut in Cleveland in 1999. He spent part of three seasons with the Indians before they dealt him to the Dodgers, the team he managed to the World Series this year. He was named National League Manager of the Year last year.

So when the awards finally get passed out, even if no Indians win (not bloody likely, in my opinion), at least one former Indian will be named National League Manager of the Year.



Indians, Dodgers missed chances at true rivalry


Because of the Indians’ quick – dare I say premature – playoff exit, we were deprived of a potential rematch of the 1920 World Series.

That was the first appearance in the Fall Classic for both teams, with the Indians prevailing in seven games (in the penultimate best-of-nine World Series). That World Series is also notable for being the first pitting two brothers against each other. Doc Johnston played for the Indians; his brother Jimmy played for the Dodgers.

The teams remained apart for most of the 20th century – with the distance increased after the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, their home since 1958.

But for a few small changes in fortune, the Indians and Dodgers could have been rivals in the 1950s and 1960s.

The 1950s Dodgers – heroes for integration and the apple of an entire borough’s eyes – were immortalized as “The Boys of Summer,” but they made frequent trips to the Fall Classic, winning pennants in 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956. They lost the pennant on the last day of the 1950 season and lost in a memorable three-game playoff in 1951.

And in every World Series appearance in that span, they played the Yankees, then in the midst of a historic run of success. The pinstripers won five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953, bookended by Indians appearances in 1948 (their last win to date) and 1954 (an ignominious four-game sweep by the Giants). In 1948, the Dodgers finished third, seven and a half games behind Boston, and in 1954, they finished second, five games behind the Giants.

The Indians finished third in 1949 and fourth in 1950, but then finished second in each of the next five years but 1954, when they won 111 games and the pennant. In 1955, the Dodgers won their first and, as it turns out, only World Series in Brooklyn. Two years later, they moved west to Los Angeles after owner Walter O’Malley duked it out with New York power broker Robert Moses about a proposed new stadium in New York.

The Dodgers took to the West Coast well, winning a pennant (and ultimately a World Series) in 1959. Their opponent that October was the White Sox, a team bought by former Indians owner Bill Veeck, managed by former Indians manager Al Lopez and with a staff ace of former Indians pitcher Early Wynn. That year, the Indians finished second in the American League.

The 1959 Dodgers team was a bridge between the Boys of Summer and the teams of the 1960s, led by the intimidating pitching duo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. There was one more matchup with the Yankees, in 1963, a Dodgers sweep. The Yankees were in the twilight of their empire at that point, and would play in the 1964 World Series before falling into oblivion for the next decade, rescued only by free agency, which allowed owner George Steinbrenner to spend to his heart’s content in pursuit of a title.

Over the next four years, four different American League teams won the pennant. None of them were the Indians, who by then had sunk into the mire. The farm system was decimated in the 1950s, and the list of players dealt away comprises a pretty good team – one that could have challenged for the pennant if it was kept together: Norm Cash, Tommy John, Lou Piniella and of course, Rocky Colavito. And imagine a pitching staff including Luis Tiant and Sam McDowell – guided by the steady hand of Herb Score, if he had escaped injury and reached the potential that was so great, the Red Sox were willing to offer $1 million for him to the Indians.

The Dodgers won the pennant in 1965 and 1966, but the premature retirements of Koufax and Drysdale set them back several years.

The Indians emerged from their 40 years in the desert in the 1990s, not long after the Dodgers had won an improbable World Series against the vaunted Athletics in 1988. In fact, one of the keys for the Indians was Orel Hershiser, the ace of that Dodgers team. But by then, the Dodgers were in disarray, and hadn’t fully emerged until the past couple years.

Maybe next year?