Countermanding the Colavito Curse: Part 1 (1960-61)

Cleveland sportswriter Terry Pluto wrote a terrific book about the long-suffering Cleveland Indians of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s. He titled it The Curse of Rocky Colavito, and every Tribe fan knew exactly what he meant.

And if they didn’t, Pluto explained it this way in his Introduction (written before the 1994 season):

The first baseball player’s name I learned was Rocky Colavito. He was everything a ballplayer should be: dark, handsome eyes, and a raw-boned build — and he hit home runs at a remarkable rate. Best of all, he had a nickname. Baseball fans love nicknames, especially when they fit. In 1959 he led the American League with 42 homers. He drove in 111 runs, and no player signed more autographs.

Colavito was the Rock … the Rock of the Franchise.

“Don’t knock the Rock,” my father would say.

“Don’t knock the Rock” probably were not the first words I said, but they are the first I remember.

The Indians didn’t knock the Rock, they just traded him. The date was April 17, 1960. It was the day that Cleveland baseball died, or at least went into a deep, dark, seemingly endless coma.

Since trading Colavito, the closest the Indians have been to first place at season’s end was eleven games out, except in the strike-marred year of 1981. In the last 34 years, they have finished no higher than third — and that was just once, in 1968.

But from 1947 to 1959 they finished above .500 every year but one. In those 13 years, they won two pennants and finished in the top three spots nine times. Hey, they were a damn good team.

To be sure, neither Pluto nor anyone else actually believes in any manner of “curse” caused by the fateful Colavito trade. But it certainly is the case that if one could pinpoint an exact spot, a moment, at which the Cleveland franchise stopped being a perennial American League contender and started being a perennial American League afterthought, it was that one.

Well, what of it? Just how impactful was the Colavito trade on Cleveland fortunes in the years to follow? What other moves might they have made to alter their course?

Let’s find out. We’ll rewind the tape to April 1, 1960. We’ll inherit the actual Cleveland roster as of that day. But from that day forward, we aren’t compelled to execute the same transactions Indians’ GM Frank Lane made over the rest of the 1960 season, nor will we have to make the same moves as Lane’s successor, Gabe Paul, who took over the job in January 1961 and held it through 1968.

Can we kick the curse?

Prior to 1960 Opening Day: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

April 3, 1960: Sold pitcher Al Cicotte to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.

April 11, 1960: Purchased pitcher Johnny Klippstein from the Los Angeles Dodgers for $25,000 cash.

April 12, 1960: Released catcher Ed Fitz Gerald.

April 12, 1960: Released pitcher Ernie Johnson.

All sensible if rather trivial tinkering at the far end of the roster.

April 18, 1960: Traded pitcher Herb Score to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Barry Latman.

This, in contrast, was definitely not that sort of finalizing-the-Opening-Day-roster banality. Trading Herb Score was a big deal, as the erstwhile strikeout sensation wasn’t yet 27 years old, and was less than three years removed from being struck by that career-changing line drive.

But by this point it was no longer in doubt that the career had been dramatically changed. In his comeback bid, Score had never regained his top form, but over the closing weeks of 1958 and the first half of ’59 he’d performed acceptably. Not so in the final couple of months of 1959, however, as arm trouble had rendered the big southpaw completely ineffective.

Thus the following spring it was rather surprising to see the White Sox offer such a significant talent—the not-quite-24-year-old right-hander Latman, though he hardly presented Score’s upside (who did?), was a strong prospect—in exchange for hosting the next chapter in the Score rehabilitation project. It was smart for Cleveland to face harsh probability, and say, “Yes,” to this one.

Prior to 1960 Opening Day: Indians’ deals we will invoke

April 1960: Sold first baseman Bob Hale to the Detroit Tigers.

We’ll keep a different left-handed-hitting first baseman on our roster (just hang on a minute, you’ll see) and let the Tigers have this one instead.

April 1960: Purchased infielder Herb Plews from the Boston Red Sox.

Just plugging a hole in the bench with a replacement part.

Prior to 1960 Opening Day: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make:

April 5, 1960: Traded pitcher Leo Kiely to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Bob Grim.

The sort of swap of marginalities that typically has little impact in any case, but we just don’t see the point in this one, so we’ll pass.

April 12, 1960: Traded first baseman-outfielder Norm Cash to the Detroit Tigers for third baseman Steve Demeter.

Nor do we see the point in this one.

Cash and Demeter were similar in one significant respect: they were both 25 years old at the time of this trade (indeed, Demeter was the younger by a couple of months). But beyond that there was nothing comparable about them:
{exp:list_maker}Cash was a raw, underdeveloped talent, with just 311 professional games under his belt.
Demeter was a well-schooled, well-traveled minor league veteran, having played in 949 games over seven years.
Despite his minimal minor league apprenticeship, nearly a quarter of Cash’s professional appearances had been in the major leagues, including four World Series games.
Despite his extensive experience, just one one-hundredth of Demeter’s games had been in the majors, and he’d never been in a big-league starting lineup. {/exp:list_maker}In other words, Cash, though he still had a great deal to prove, was a prospect on the fast track, while Demeter might as well have had “proven journeyman roster filler” tattooed across his forehead.

Or, as we pondered in an earlier examination of the Indians of this period:

… what the heck was this all about, dumping Cash in exchange for a humdrum minor league veteran for whom the Indians clearly had no use?

We’ll pass.

April 17, 1960: Traded outfielder Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Harvey Kuenn.

(Sigh) … what can one say?

Here’s how we put it in the Blockbusters series:

Kuenn was a very fine ballplayer, of course, and had been forging an outstanding career with the Tigers. But not only was he three years older than Colavito, in 1957, 1958, and 1959 Colavito had been a better ballplayer … So not only could the 26-year-old Colavito have been expected to have a better future ahead of him than Kuenn, he was already enjoying a better present.

And here’s what we added later:

Suffice to say that the dynamic behind this deal had zero percent to do with any kind of rational baseball analysis, and 100 percent to do with Lane’s jealousy that the photogenic young Colavito was the star of the Indians’ show instead of Lane himself.

How about we just put it this way: we won’t make this deal.

1960 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

April 29, 1960: Purchased outfielder Pete Whisenant from the Cincinnati Reds.

The 30-year-old Whisenant is a spare part, but a toolsy one, with power and some speed. We can find a spot for him on our bench.

May 15, 1960: Traded outfielder Pete Whisenant to the Washington Senators for infielder Ken Aspromonte.

And we can also be, as were the actual Indians, persuaded to turn that spot on the bench over to the 28-year-old Aspromonte, who’s no great shakes, but represents more of an upgrade to our infield reserve than Whisenant is to our outfield reserve.

July 30, 1960: Sold pitcher John Briggs to the Kansas City Athletics.

August 1960: Purchased pitcher Frank Funk from the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.

Aug. 3, 1960: Released infielder George Strickland.

Aug. 9, 1960: Purchased infielder Joe Morgan from the Philadelphia Phillies.

This would all be more routine roster maintenance.

1960 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

May 12, 1960: Selected outfielder Johnny Powers off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles.

Don’t need him.

May 18, 1960: Sold pitcher Bob Grim to the Cincinnati Reds.

Don’t have him.

June 2, 1960: Sold pitcher Bobby Tiefenauer to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Aren’t willing to give up on him.

June 2, 1960: Traded outfielder Johnny Powers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Hank Foiles.

No Powers means no Foiles.

June 13, 1960: Traded catcher Russ Nixon and outfielder Carroll Hardy to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Marty Keough and pitcher Ted Bowsfield.

We like Keough, but not enough to surrender the 25-year-old lefty-swinging Nixon (who was, need we add, not related to the Republican Presidential nominee of 1960).

July 26, 1960: Traded catcher Hank Foiles to the Detroit Tigers for infielder Rocky Bridges and catcher Red Wilson.

No Foiles means … okay, you know what it means.

July 29, 1960: Purchased pitcher Don Newcombe from the Cincinnati Reds.

No interest in this unhappy case.

Sep. 2, 1960: Sold infielder Rocky Bridges to the St. Louis Cardinals.

And, you know the drill.

1960 season: Actual Indians’ deals on which we will remain agnostic

Aug. 3, 1960: Traded manager Joe Gordon to the Detroit Tigers for manager Jimmy Dykes.

Well, we have been willing to say this much:

This is one of the more notorious transactions in the long career of GM Frantic Frankie Lane, then plying his trade for Cleveland. Trading managers is something that had never been done before, and it was widely hooted as a bizarre stunt.

But I’ve never quite seen it that way: in the first place, Lane didn’t do this all by himself; he had a trading partner here in Tiger GM Rick Ferrell, so it wasn’t as though Lane was the only one who thought this would be a good idea.

And fundamentally, why would it necessarily have been a bad idea? Teams trade players all the time, reasoning that this player’s set of strengths and weaknesses matches up better to the team’s current and/or future needs than that player’s set. Why couldn’t the same dynamic apply to managers, who after all, have their own strengths and weaknesses that may fit the profile of some teams at some times better than others?

In any case, no other set of general managers has seen it the way Lane and Ferrell did in early August of 1960; this remains the only trade of managers in history.

1960 season results

Having finished second in 1959, we come into this year with high expectations.

To shore up some of our ’59 trouble spots, we’ve imported a top-tier second baseman in Johnny Temple, as well as a journeyman third baseman in Bubba Phillips. We’re giving the surprise hitting star from ’59, Tito Francona, the regular left field job, and we’ll be giving two impressive 25-year-olds we acquired via trade, Norm Cash and John Romano, opportunities for playing time at first base and catcher, respectively.

An area of concern is our pitching. Though we’re fortunate to have several impressive young arms on the staff, we lack an established staff leader, an ace, either in the starting ranks or in the bullpen.

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1B-LF  N. Cash*        25  121 353  64  99  16   3  17  60  62  60 .280 .393 .487 .880  140
 2B-3B  K. Aspromonte   28  117 413  59 120  18   1   9  41  48  29 .291 .362 .404 .767  110
   SS   W. Held         28  109 376  45  97  15   1  21  65  44  73 .258 .340 .471 .810  120
 3B-1B  V. Power        32  132 464  55 134  21   2   8  65  19  16 .289 .306 .394 .700   91
   RF   R. Colavito     26  145 555  67 137  18   1  33  85  50  82 .247 .312 .461 .773  109
   CF   J. Piersall     30  131 437  63 123  11   4  16  57  22  34 .281 .309 .435 .743  102
 LF-CF  T. Francona*    26  147 544  84 159  36   2  17  76  67  67 .292 .370 .460 .830  127
   C    J. Romano       25  108 316  40  86  12   2  16  50  37  50 .272 .349 .475 .824  124

 2B-3B  J. Temple       32   98 343  45  92  12   1   2  16  29  18 .268 .319 .327 .645   78
   C    R. Nixon*       25   78 218  18  60  13   1   4  23  11  18 .275 .309 .399 .708   93
 3B-OF  B. Phillips     32   85 203  23  42   9   1   3  20   9  25 .207 .244 .305 .550   50
   SS   M. de la Hoz    21   49 144  18  37   6   2   5  20   8  11 .257 .288 .431 .718   95
   OF   C. Hardy        27   95 134  26  28   5   2   1  12  15  34 .209 .285 .299 .583   61
   OF   R. Graber*      30   40  89   8  16   2   0   0   6  10  18 .180 .272 .202 .474   32
   OF   W. Bond*        22   20  66  10  15   1   1   3   8   6   7 .227 .316 .409 .725   98
   C    K. Retzer*      26   32  56   4  12   2   0   0   3   5   4 .214 .279 .250 .529   47
   3B   J. Morgan*      29   22  47   6  14   2   0   2   4   6   4 .298 .370 .468 .838  129
   IF   G. Strickland   34   32  42   4   7   0   0   1   3   4   8 .167 .255 .238 .493   36
 2B-3B  H. Plews*       32   16  30   2   7   1   0   0   2   2   5 .233 .273 .267 .539   49

        Others                   39   2  10   1   1   0   2   1   9 .256 .268 .333 .602   64

        Pitchers                408  39  84  10   0   0  28  22 112 .206 .231 .230 .461   27

        Total                 5277 682 1379 211  25 158 646 477 684 .261 .320 .401 .721   97

        * Bats left

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        J. Perry        24   41  36  10  18  10   1 261 257 118 105   35   91  120 3.62  104
        M. Grant        24   33  19   5   9   8   0 160 147  88  78   26   78   75 4.39   86
        G. Bell         23   28  23   6   9  10   1 155 139  78  71   15   82  109 4.12   92
        B. Latman       24   29  22   4   7   7   0 147 149  80  68   20   70   92 4.16   91
        D. Stigman*     24   41  18   3   5  10   9 134 118  78  67   13   87  104 4.50   84
        J. Harshman*    32   15   8   0   3   4   0  54  50  32  24    7   30   25 4.00   95
        R. Smith*       32   14   6   0   3   3   0  46  46  23  21    3   37   33 4.11   92

        J. Klippstein   32   49   0   0   5   5  14  74  53  30  24    8   35   46 2.92  130
        B. Tiefenauer   30   34   0   0   5   3   2  57  63  28  23    3   21   27 3.63  104
        B. Locke        26   32  11   2   4   5   2 123 121  51  46   10   37   53 3.37  112
        R. Coleman*     28   23   8   1   5   4   0  77  82  33  31    5   28   48 3.62  104
        L. Kiely*       30   20   0   0   2   2   1  21  21   4   4    1    5    7 1.71  221

        Others                    3   1   5   3   1  72  64  31  28    8   42   45 3.50  108

        Total                   154  32  80  74 31 1381 1310 674 590 154  643  784 3.85   98

        *Throws left

It turns out to be a generally frustrating year. Some things go well: 24-year-old right-hander Jim Perry steps forward and fills the role of durable ace reasonably well, leading the league in wins, though his ERA and peripherals aren’t top-grade. Francona proves to be a genuinely good full-season hitter, and Cash and Romano are both splendid, hitting their way into first-string jobs over the course of the season. Veteran center fielder Jimmy Piersall sees his hitting rebound.

But too many things don’t go so well. Temple is a disappointment, battling injuries and seeing his BA and OBP drop far below his standard. Phillips is a bust, and Vic Power moves over from first base (where Cash is taking things well in hand) to handle most of the playing time at third. Colavito delivers a performance that is, for him, an off-year. Shortstop Woodie Held misses six weeks with a broken finger.

Behind Perry, the pitching isn’t bad, but it’s not good either, and none among the rest of the young hurlers makes progress.

It adds up to a competent ball club, but not a contender. We win nine fewer games than the 1959 edition, and drop from second place to fourth. This is distinctly below our expectation.

1960 expansion draft: Actual selections from the Indians we will make

Dec. 14, 1960: Pitcher Johnny Klippstein selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

Dec. 14, 1960: Pitcher Carl Mathias selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

Dec. 14, 1960: Infielder Gene Leek selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 1960 expansion draft.

Dec. 14, 1960: Outfielder Jim King selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

We have all these guys, so we’ll let them go in the draft as they did.

1960 expansion draft: Actual selections from the Indians we will not make

Dec. 14, 1960: Outfielder Marty Keough selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

Dec. 14, 1960: Pitcher Ted Bowsfield selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 1960 expansion draft.

Dec. 14, 1960: Catcher Red Wilson selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

But we don’t have these guys …

Dec. 14, 1960: Infielder Ken Aspromonte selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

… and though we do have this guy, we have to stand up and say that it was quite odd for the Indians to leave him exposed in the expansion draft as they did, given the apparent “breakout” season he’d delivered as a 28-year-old in 1960. We’ll keep him protected, and instead …

1960 expansion draft: Selections from the Indians we will invoke

Dec. 14, 1960: Outfielder Carroll Hardy selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

A far substitute for Keough.

Dec. 14, 1960: Pitcher Rip Coleman selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 1960 expansion draft.

A fair substitute for Bowsfield.

Dec. 14, 1960: Catcher Ken Retzer selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

A fair substitute for Wilson.

Dec. 14, 1960: Third baseman-outfielder Bubba Phillips selected by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

And a fair substitute for Aspromonte.

1960-61 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

Oct. 10, 1960: Released pitcher Jack Harshman.

The Indians had caught a bit of lightning in a bottle with Harshman down the stretch in 1959, but by now it appeared as though the long-and-lanky tender-armed lefty had run out of comebacks.

Oct. 13, 1960: Sold infielder Billy Moran to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.

As did the actual Indians, we’ve got more attractive middle infield options.

Nov. 28, 1960: Drafted catcher Valmy Thomas from the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960 Rule 5 draft.

He can compete for the third-string catcher role that Retzer held for us in 1960.

1960-61 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

Dec. 3, 1960: Traded outfielder Harvey Kuenn to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Willie Kirkland and pitcher Johnny Antonelli.

We’ll let the Tigers handle this one.

1960-61 offseason: Indians’ deals we will invoke

April 1, 1961: Purchased pitcher Don Ferrarese from the Chicago White Sox.

Actually on this date the White Sox sold Ferrarese to the Phillies. We won’t let the journeyman southpaw clear American League waivers.

1961 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

May 3, 1961: Purchased outfielder Chuck Essegian from the Kansas City Athletics.

The muscular 29-year-old Essegian, a former Stanford football player, had his limitations as a baseball talent, but he also presented the sort of jaw-dropping power that keeps one getting chances. We’ll happily become the sixth major league organization to offer him one.

June 5, 1961: Sold pitcher Russ Heman to the Los Angeles Angels.

July 7, 1961: Purchased pitcher Joe Schaffernoth from the Chicago Cubs.

July 20, 1961: Purchased pitcher Ted Abernathy from the Milwaukee Braves.

Low-impact back-of-the-staff shuffling.

1961 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

July 3, 1961: Selected infielder Ken Aspromonte off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels.

We never let him go in the draft.

July 4, 1961: Sold pitcher Johnny Antonelli to the Milwaukee Braves.

We never acquired him.

July 28, 1961: Sold first baseman Bob Hale to the New York Yankees.

Sep. 6, 1961: Traded catcher Ken Retzer to the Washington Senators for a player to be named later. (In October, 1961, the Senators sent infielder Chet Boak to the Indians, completing the deal.)

We already let both guys go a while back.

1961 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will modify

The actual Indians did this:

May 10, 1961: Traded infielder-outfielder Joe Morgan, a player to be named later, and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bob Nieman. (On June 1, 1961, the Indians sent pitcher Mike Lee to the Cardinals, completing the deal.)

We like the idea of Nieman’s bat off our bench, but we just don’t have room for it. So instead we’ll simply do this:

Sold infielder-outfielder Joe Morgan to the St. Louis Cardinals.

1961 season results

Despite our uninspired performance of 1960, we haven’t made any major moves, and we come into this season with essentially the same roster, other than the adjustments necessitated by losing second-line players in the expansion draft.

For improvement, we’re counting on better health and generally more as-expected production from our key hitters, and we’re expecting (hoping?) to see one or more of the young pitchers blossom alongside Perry.

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   N. Cash*        26  159 535 112 188  21   7  40 122 120  86 .351 .475 .641 1.116 200
   2B   J. Temple       33  129 518  78 143  22   3   3  38  61  36 .276 .347 .347 .694   89
   SS   W. Held         29  146 509  68 136  23   5  23  93  69 111 .267 .353 .468 .820  121
   3B   V. Power        33  132 450  51 121  27   3   4  54  30  13 .269 .306 .369 .675   82
   RF   R. Colavito     27  161 583 124 164  29   2  44 115 109  76 .281 .391 .564 .955  156
   CF   J. Piersall     31  121 484  86 156  26   7   6  49  43  46 .322 .375 .442 .817  121
   LF   T. Francona*    27  151 563 103 170  29   8  15  71  53  49 .302 .358 .462 .820  121
   C    J. Romano       26  135 458  68 139  26   1  19  87  56  53 .303 .380 .489 .870  134

 3B-2B  K. Aspromonte   29   66 189  20  40  11   1   1  17  23  14 .212 .295 .296 .591   61
   IF   M. de la Hoz    22   61 173  20  45  10   0   3  26   7  10 .260 .295 .370 .665   79
   OF   W. Bond*        23   73 129  17  27   4   3   4  19  14  21 .209 .288 .380 .668   80
   OF   D. Dillard*     24   67 132  24  35   5   0   6  18  13  25 .265 .331 .439 .770  107
   C    R. Nixon*       26   58 121  12  32   6   1   1  13   6  10 .264 .300 .355 .655   77
   LF   C. Essegian     29   60 111  17  30   5   1   8  26   7  23 .270 .314 .550 .864  129
   C    V. Thomas       35   18  29   2   6   1   0   1   2   2   2 .207 .258 .345 .603   62

        Others                   95  11  20   2   1   2   4   9  16 .211 .286 .316 .602   63

        Pitchers                413  31  63   5   1   2  27  17 131 .153 .175 .184 .359   -2

        Total                 5492 844 1515 252  44 182 781 639 722 .276 .348 .437 .786  112
        *  Bats left

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        M. Grant        25   35  35  11  16   7   0 245 207 118 105   32  109  146 3.86  102
        G. Bell         24   34  34  11  13  14   0 228 214 125 104   32  100  163 4.11   96
        J. Perry        25   35  31   5  10  13   0 202 214 117 103   25   78   82 4.59   86
        B. Latman       25   40  18   4  13   3   5 164 154  79  74   22   50   99 4.06   97
        W. Hawkins      25   30  21   2   7   6   1 126 132  68  57   15   56   49 4.07   97

        F. Funk         25   56   0   0  12   9  12  92  79  35  34    9   31   64 3.33  118
        B. Tiefenauer   31   47   1   0   5   3   5  83  85  32  29    6   20   52 3.14  125
        D. Ferrarese*   32   42   4   0   5   4   1  70  57  30  26    6   37   48 3.34  118
        B. Locke        27   34   4   0   4   3   2  86 100  45  43   11   36   34 4.50   88
        D. Stigman*     25   22   6   0   2   4   0  64  65  35  33    9   25   48 4.64   85
        S. Hamilton*    25   15   6   0   2   3   0  48  54  31  25    5   26   22 4.69   84

        Others                    1   0   2   1   0  36  33  12  10    1   21   17 2.50  158

        Total                   161  33  91  70 27 1444 1394 727 643 173  589  824 4.01   98

        *  Throws left

We see a blossoming, all right, but it isn’t among the pitchers: first baseman Cash bursts into stardom with a spectacular year. Colavito bounces back from his sub-par 1960, and combined with the excellent supporting cast of Romano, Held, Piersall, and Francona, our offensive attack is tremendous, the best in the league.

Alas, our pitching staff doesn’t match up. Perry is a significant disappointment, and while Mudcat Grant and Gary Bell both do all right, neither one is emerging as a star, and so once again our pitching is a supporting cast without a star to support.

The bottom line is that we’re an improved team, but our 91-70 record will bring us only a third-place finish, far behind the runaway pennant-winning Yankees.

To be sure, our version of the Indians is far better than the actual 1961 Indians, who finished fifth at 78-83. But in our scenario, no one would know that; what people would know was that the Cleveland Indians had finished first or second in each and every one of the six seasons from 1951 through 1956, and in the five seasons since, they’d only managed to finish as high as second one time (1959).

In our Cleveland, we should imagine a sense of impatience.

    Actual Indians        Virtual Indians

    W     L  Pos   Year     W     L  Pos
    76    78  4    1960     80    74  4
    78    83  5    1961     91    70  3

Next time

Can we add the ingredients to return the Indians to contender status?

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Comments

  1. Tom Tomsick said...

    But the worst aspect of the Colavito trade is yet to come: with attendance down into the 500k’s by 1964, Gabe Paul feels obligated to boost attendance by trading for a proven gate attraction: the Rock!  He was returned to Cleveland in a 3-team swap, with the Indians giving up Rookie Tommy John, 2-7 in 1964.  TJ was a rookie with Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant, and Sam McDowll was beginning an uninterrupted ML career in ‘64 as well!  What a Big 4! Rocky had 2 solid seasons in ‘64, and ‘65, then started to slip in performance.  TJ went on to win almost 290 more games after the trade.

  2. Jake said...

    That’s not the Joe Morgan of Big Red Machine fame, I am guessing.

    Is it the one who would be the Red Sox manager in the 80s?

  3. Steve Treder said...

    You are correct, sir.  That’s the Joe Morgan who managed the Red Sox.  Like the JM of Big Red Machine fame, this JM was a left-handed-batting infielder.  He was a good AAA player, probably could have had a better major league career than he did, but mostly struggled at the plate in his few opportunities in the show.

  4. Philip said...

    OK, I agree with Steve. Let’s nix the Rocky Colavito to Detroit trade.

    But here’s another reason why he doesn’t go to Detroit:

    Because on June 10, 1959 he gets traded to the Red Sox instead!

    Rumors were abuzz all afternoon that the slumping Colavito would be sent to Boston.

    After the game of June 9th, Colavito was hitting .277/.344/.538 with 14 homeruns, but had only 5 hits in his last 41 at bats (a homer being the only XBH).

    He’s told of the trade just before suiting up against the Orioles and instead of facing the Birds he catches a train out of Baltimore and heads up to Boston.

    (I haven’t yet be able to pin down what the actual trade proposal was, just that the rumors were supposedly rampant and then died down after he tagged O’s pitching for four homeruns that day.)

    But I suspect since Cleveland ended up shipping Rocky to Detroit for 29-year old outfielder Harvey Kuenn next spring, that the Tribe might have been interested in Boston’s 31-year old Jackie Jensen, who had slammed 35 homeruns in 1958 while knocking in a league-leading 122 runs. When Boston concluded it’s 6/10/59 game, Jensen was hitting .268/.366/.515, with 12 homeruns. (he would go on to hit 16 more and again lead the league in RBI).

    Another possibility would have been 29-year old third baseman Frank Malzone, who was hitting .293/.342/.471. Malzone had hit over .290 in each of his first two full season (1957-58), had already earned two Gold Gloves and was on his way to playing in his third All-Star game in as many seasons. (If it’s Colavito for Malzone, then Billy Consolo isn’t traded the next day to the Senators and replaces Malzone at 3rd for the Sox).

    The Jensen trade would seem to be the better fit (outfielder for outfielder) and had it taken place, poor Cleveland would have lost out when Jensen retired in January 1960 over fear of flying. So, there still would have been the Colavito Curse, just with a different twist.

    By playing his homegames in Fenway, Colavito makes it a 3-way race for the 1961 homerun title, before Roger Maris pulls away in the end. But for the first-time in Major League history, three players hit 50+ homeruns in the same season.

    (and since Rocky gets trading before the Indians face Baltimore on 6/10/59…)

    Colavito goes into the record books on 6/18/61 when he homers four times against the Senators, tagging Dave Sisler and Mike Garcia each twice in a wild 13-12 Red Sox win at Fenway.

    (Rocky actually did have a 3-homer game in August 1961 at Washington, so the prevailing winds at Fenway help what was a fly out to left there become a homer in Fenway; Rocky actually did hit 4 homeruns that day, one in game one and three in game two of a doubleheader)

    The Sox would probably still not have won a pennant in the 60’s prior to 1967. But by 1966 would have featured a lineup that would have included Colavito, Tony Conigliaro, Rico Petrocelli, George Scott and Carl Yastrzemski.

    Colavito never got to face Bob Gibson head-to-head in the actual time-line but in this alternate one he will, in 1967 with game one of the World Series on the line.

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