Countermanding the Colavito Curse:  Part 4 (1966-67)

It required six seasons’ worth of virtual scenario, but at the conclusion of our previous episode we finally saw our version of the Cleveland Indians break through as a champion.

    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
    80    82  6    1962     91    71  2T
    79    83  5T   1963     85    77  5
    79    83  6T   1964     86    76  4
    87    75  5    1965     99    63  1

Now, in our final installment, we’ll test the question of whether this Tribe can sustain this level of excellence.

1965-66 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

Nov. 29, 1965: Drafted pitcher Alan Closter from the New York Yankees in the 1965 Rule 5 draft.

Nov. 29, 1965: Drafted pitcher Bob Heffner from the Boston Red Sox in the 1965 Rule 5 draft.

We doubt we’ll have room for either one of these guys, but there’s virtually no downside to giving them an audition.

Nov. 29, 1965: Sold outfielder Al Luplow to the New York Mets.

He’d looked quite good a few years earlier, but had failed to sustain that performance.

April 5, 1966: Sold pitcher Alan Closter to the Washington Senators.

Didn’t make the team. No harm, no foul.

1965-66 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

Nov. 30, 1965: Signed catcher Del Crandall as a free agent.

No need for this veteran.

Dec. 1, 1965: Traded catcher Phil Roof and outfielder Joe Rudi to the Kansas City Athletics for outfielder Jim Landis and pitcher Jim Rittwage.

We don’t have Roof, and we don’t need Landis. So we’ll keep young Joe Rudi in our system.

Jan. 14, 1966: Traded outfielder Lou Clinton to the New York Yankees for catcher Doc Edwards.

March 10, 1966: Traded catcher Cam Carreon to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Lou Piniella.

April 6, 1966: Traded pitcher Ralph Terry to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher John O’Donoghue and cash.

Don’t have ‘em, and don’t need ‘em.

1965-66 offseason: Indians’ deals we will invoke

Dec., 1965: Traded infielder Pedro Gonzalez to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Lee Elia.

Gonzalez, an adequate defensive second baseman who can fill in at other spots, did okay for us in a utility role in 1965, and is an established major leaguer at age 27. This is quite unlike the career minor leaguer Elia, who’s the same age and has shown none of Gonzalez’s capacity to hit for average.

But we see Elia’s superior defensive ability to handle shortstop as a better fit for our needs going forward. The White Sox would plausibly agree to the swap because at this point, with Ron Hansen still healthy, they have more need for help at second base than at shortstop.

April, 1966: Sold pitcher Jack Kralick to the New York Yankees.

Kralick went seriously south in 1965, and we don’t have room for him on our staff heading into ’66.

1966 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

June 16, 1966: Sold infielder Tony Martinez to the St. Louis Cardinals.

He’s once been a prospect, but was by now an expendable spare part.

1966 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

June 2, 1966: Traded pitchers Don McMahon and Lee Stange to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Dick Radatz.

In 1963, The Monster’s ERA had been 1.97 in 132 innings, and he was almost certainly the best relief pitcher on the planet.

In 1964, his ERA was 2.29 in 157 innings, and he was on the very, very short list of candidates for best relief pitcher on the planet.

In 1965, his ERA was 3.91 in 124 innings, and he was a below-average relief ace.

About a quarter of the way through 1966, at the age of 29, his ERA was 4.74 in 19 innings, and the Red Sox were no longer deploying him as their go-to guy.

Gee, what could go wrong with trading for Radatz at this point? Better yet, surrendering not one but two currently-effective pitchers to get him?

Our Indians will spend a second or two pondering that thought, and decide to wish Boston the best of luck with this one.

July 19, 1966: Traded outfielder Tony Curry to the Houston Astros for first baseman Jim Gentile.

Norm Cash has first base well in hand for us, thanks.

1966 season results

The one less-than-impressive aspect of our team in ’65 was the middle infield. Our incumbent shortstop, Dick Howser, was nagged by injuries and had trouble handling the position defensively, so over the course of the season he gave way to an erstwhile utility player, Larry Brown, who performed adequately but unexcitingly. And at second base, another young utility guy, Chico Salmon, emerged with most of the playing time; Salmon was toolsy but a bit ragged, rather the mirror image of the steady, bland Brown.

So for ’66 we’ll slide Howser over to second to battle it out with Salmon, and we’ve acquired the minor league veteran Elia to compete with Brown at shortstop.

On the mound, we’ll provide opportunities for a two impressive young right-handers: 23-year-old Steve Hargan, who got his feet wet in the majors in the second half of ’65, and 22-year-old rookie Tom Kelley.

Beyond that, we aren’t messing with the formula that delivered the 1965 flag.

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   N. Cash*        31  160 603  98 166  18   3  31  80  67  90 .275 .349 .469 .818  133
   2B   C. Salmon       25  126 422  45 108  13   2   7  40  21  41 .256 .285 .346 .631   81
   SS   L. Elia         28  101 280  28  59   9   3   7  27  18  57 .211 .258 .339 .597   71
   3B   M. Alvis        28  149 536  55 132  20   3  16  60  45  88 .246 .304 .384 .688   97
   RF   R. Colavito     32  151 533  76 127  13   0  30  73  76  81 .238 .336 .432 .767  119
   CF   T. Agee         23  146 503  83 141  22   6  20  61  32  97 .280 .330 .467 .798  127
   LF   L. Wagner*      32  150 549  65 153  20   0  23  75  46  69 .279 .334 .441 .775  121
   C    J. Romano       31  110 263  29  62  10   0  14  38  45  55 .236 .343 .433 .776  122

 OF-3B  C. Hinton       32  123 348  46  89   9   3  12  45  35  66 .256 .321 .402 .724  107
   MI   L. Brown        26   92 255  19  59   9   0   2  13  27  43 .231 .306 .290 .596   73
   OF   V. Davalillo*   29   81 172  21  42   3   2   1   9  11  21 .244 .286 .302 .589   70
   C    J. Azcue        26   65 151  12  41   5   1   4  19   9  12 .272 .311 .397 .708  102
   MI   D. Howser       30   67 140  19  32   9   1   2   4  15  23 .229 .292 .350 .642   84
   C    D. Sims*        25   52 133  13  35   2   2   6  19  11  31 .263 .338 .444 .781  123
   OF   T. Curry*       28   58  67  10  14   1   1   2   9   6  21 .209 .280 .343 .623   79
   C    B. Booker*      24   18  28   6   6   1   0   2   5   2   6 .214 .267 .464 .731  106
   MI   T. Martinez     26   17  17   2   5   0   0   0   0   1   6 .294 .333 .294 .627   83

        Others                   68   8  14   3   1   2   4  10  13 .206 .325 .368 .693   99

        Pitchers                415  20  62   9   1   2  31  13 145 .149 .161 .190 .352    1

        Total                 5483 655 1347 176  29 183 612 490 965 .246 .306 .388 .695   99

        *  Bats left

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        M. Grant        30   32  32   9  12  11   0 224 217  85  76   20   45   99 3.05  113
        S. Siebert      29   33  29  10  15   6   1 217 172  79  66   22   56  148 2.74  126
        T. John*        23   31  30   9  15   7   0 201 180  68  62   13   51  125 2.78  124
        S. McDowell*    23   35  28   8  11   7   4 194 130  66  62   12  102  225 2.88  120
        S. Hargan       23   35  18   6  12   6   0 171 154  52  47    8   41  118 2.47  139
        L. Tiant        25   46  16   7  13   9  11 155 121  50  48   16   50  145 2.79  124

        D. McMahon      36   61   0   0   9   6  15  90  71  28  24    7   43   61 2.40  144
        S. Hamilton*    30   44   0   0   6   1   4  60  43  20  19    4   15   38 2.85  121
        G. Bell         29   40   4   1   6   3   0  85  61  29  26    4   26   70 2.75  125
        T. Kelley       22   21   5   1   3   3   0  63  65  37  31    9   28   43 4.43   78

        Others                    0   0   0   1   0   7   9   5   5    0    3    4 6.43   54

        Total                   162  51 102  60  35 1467 1223 519 466 115 460 1076 2.86  121

        *  Throws left

Our keystone tinkering doesn’t accomplish much, as the production there remains lackluster. And Kelley has little impact, just hanging on as the last guy in the bullpen.

But by and large, everyone else does well. In fact, two youngsters make a splash: sophomore center fielder Tommie Agee, who’d failed to hold his roster spot in ’65, is more than ready this time around, emerging as an all-around star. And the sinkerballing Hargan is terrific, squeezing his way into our amazingly deep starting rotation.

Indeed, our pitching is sensational, leading the league in ERA+. And its depth is illustrated by the fact that every single one of our five qualifiers for the league ERA title finishes within the top ten, and our sixth starter, swingman Luis Tiant, would have bumped Mudcat Grant to No. 11 if he’d worked just seven additional innings.

We’re a team without a superstar, yet we win 102 games, easily the most in the majors. It’s hard to be any deeper than that. We’re a back-to-back pennant winner for the first time in franchise history.

1966-67 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

Oct. 13, 1966: Purchased outfielder Willie Smith from the California Angels.

Wonderful Willie had enjoyed immediate success when converted from pitcher to outfielder at the major league level by the Angels in 1964. But in 1966, he encountered his first sustained hitting slump, and it was a humdinger, as he lost his first-string job and the confidence of the California organization.

It made sense for the Indians to be quick to give Smith another shot, as he was still just 27 years old at this point.

Dec. 20, 1966: Traded infielder Dick Howser to the New York Yankees for pitcher Gil Downs and cash.

The once-exciting 30-year-old Howser’s productivity had been steadily degraded by accumulated hurts, until by this point it made sense to essentially dump him.

Nov. 28, 1966: Drafted pitcher Billy Wynne from the New York Mets in the 1966 Rule 5 draft.

We’ll give him a shot …

April 10, 1967: Returned pitcher Billy Wynne (earlier draft pick) to the New York Mets.

… but he won’t make it.

1966-67 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will modify

The actual Indians did this:

Jan. 4, 1967: Traded outfielder Jim Landis, pitcher Jim Weaver, and catcher Doc Edwards to the Houston Astros for outfielder Lee Maye and catcher Ken Retzer.

If this deal appears strange from the Astros’ perspective, it’s only because it was. Exactly what Houston GM Tal Smith was expecting to accomplish is a bit vague.

Anyway, we don’t have Landis or Edwards, so we can’t make this precise trade. But, hell, we can easily do better than the lame duo of the over-the-hill Landis and the triple-A roster-filler Edwards. We’ll do this instead:

Jan. 4, 1967: Traded outfielder Jose Vidal and pitcher Jim Weaver to the Houston Astros for outfielder Lee Maye.

We’ll dispense with the swap of minor league catchers. Vidal is a toolsy young guy who offers a chance of helping the Astros. We’ll accommodate their apparent eagerness to rid themselves of one of the better platoon bats of the era.

1966-67 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will make

Oct. 15, 1966: Purchased infielder Gus Gil from the Cincinnati Reds.

Offering utility infielder insurance that can be parked at triple-A.

1966-67 offseason: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

Oct. 14, 1966: Released catcher Del Crandall.

Never signed him.

1967 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make

April 25, 1967: Traded pitcher Dick Radatz to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later and cash. (On Nov. 21, 1967, the Cubs sent outfielder Bob Raudman to the Indians, completing the deal.)

So, the Cleveland parlay turned out to be Don McMahon and Lee Stange for the immortal Bob Raudman and cash. Mmm-hmm. Oh, plus several months of lousy Dick Radatz pitching as a bonus.

Gosh, but no, thanks.

May 1, 1967: Sold pitcher Jack Kralick to the New York Mets.

Already sold him.

May 6, 1967: Purchased pitcher Orlando Pena from the Detroit Tigers.

We like him, but we just don’t have room for him.

June 4, 1967: Traded pitcher Gary Bell to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Tony Horton and outfielder Don Demeter.

We have no need for Horton, so we’ll hang on to the steady, solidly effective Bell.

July 29, 1967: Traded outfielder Rocky Colavito to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Jim King and a player to be named later. (On Oct. 26, 1967, the White Sox sent infielder Marv Staehle to the Indians, completing the deal.)

The Rock’s rapid early-thirties decline has surely been disappointing, but there’s no need to get all this dramatic about it. We’ll retain the veteran slugger and deploy him in a platoon role over the balance of the season.

1967 season results

Seeking our third straight flag, we ain’t fixing what ain’t broken. Our roster is nearly unchanged, with the only turnover being Maye replacing Tony Curry as our lefty-hitting backup corner outfielder, rookie Vern Fuller replacing Howser in a utility infielder spot, and rookie George Culver nosing out Kelley for the final rung on the pitching ladder.

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   N. Cash*        32  152 488  64 118  16   5  22  72  79  98 .242 .350 .430 .780  128
   2B   C. Salmon       26  123 401  39  97  19   2   5  33  26  49 .242 .285 .337 .622   82
   SS   L. Elia         29  112 343  32  76  14   1   7  33  27  83 .222 .277 .329 .606   77
   3B   M. Alvis        29  157 605  63 155  21   4  20  67  36 102 .256 .295 .403 .698  103
   RF   R. Colavito     33  123 381  30  89  14   1   9  50  48  40 .234 .317 .346 .664   95
   CF   T. Agee         24  150 476  66 115  25   2  14  47  39 113 .242 .307 .391 .697  104
   LF   L. Wagner*      33  135 433  56 105  15   1  15  54  37  76 .242 .316 .386 .701  105
   C    J. Azcue        27   86 295  33  74  12   5  11  34  22  35 .251 .306 .437 .743  116

 RF-LF  L. Maye*        32  115 297  43  77  20   4   9  27  26  47 .259 .319 .444 .763  122
   SS   L. Brown        27  101 243  19  55   8   1   4  19  26  33 .226 .299 .317 .616   81
 OF-1B  C. Hinton       33   98 249  28  61  10   2   5  19  22  50 .245 .303 .361 .665   94
   C    D. Sims*        26   74 226  21  46   7   2  10  31  25  53 .204 .295 .385 .680   98
   OF   V. Davalillo*   30  116 239  31  68  11   3   1  15   7  20 .285 .303 .368 .671   96
   2B   V. Fuller       23   73 206  18  46  10   0   7  21  19  55 .223 .297 .374 .671   96
   C    J. Romano       32   24  58   1   6   1   0   0   2  14  16 .103 .278 .121 .398   21
   OF   W. Smith*       28   21  32   0   7   2   0   0   2   1  10 .219 .242 .281 .524   53

        Others                   93  10  26   6   2   0   6   6  16 .280 .317 .387 .704  106

        Pitchers                393  34  69   7   2   4  27   8 122 .176 .179 .234 .413   21

        Total                 5458 588 1290 218  37 143 559 468 1018 .236 .297 .368 .665  94

        * Bats left

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        S. Hargan       24   32  27  14  14  12   0 223 177  78  64    9   73  143 2.58  128
        L. Tiant        26   35  27   8  12   8   2 214 174  75  64   23   68  221 2.69  123
        S. McDowell*    24   35  31   8  12  12   0 212 177  99  88   18  111  215 3.74   89
        S. Siebert      30   34  26   7  10  11   4 185 136  59  49   17   54  136 2.38  139
        T. John*        24   33  27   8  11  12   0 178 145  63  53   13   49  110 2.68  124
        M. Grant        31   27  14   2   5   7   0  95 116  51  47   10   18   50 4.45   74

        D. McMahon      37   63   0   0   6   2  10 109  71  29  26    9   41   83 2.15  154
        G. Bell         30   53   5   2   6   4   7 103  78  35  30    7   34   76 2.62  126
        S. Hamilton*    31   44   0   0   3   3   6  62  57  26  25    8   24   56 3.63   91
        G. Culver       23   18   0   0   2   1   1  25  24  13  11    1   10   14 3.96   84
        S. Williams     30   12   4   1   5   2   1  50  38  15  14    3   16   50 2.52  131

        Others                    1   0   1   1   0  24  25  15  14    2   17   18 5.25   63

        Total                   162  50  87  75 31 1480 1218 558 485 120  515 1172 2.95  112

        *  Throws left

Well, it seems that even a Swiss watch begins to wind down at some point. We show some age in several key spots, and this team is clearly not the juggernaut it’s been for the past two seasons.

The primary disappointment is Colavito, who encounters a fall-off-the-cliff year at the age of 33. But several other important veteran hitters begin to slow down as well, including Leon Wagner, Chuck Hinton, and, perhaps, Norm Cash. John Romano doesn’t slow down; he slams into the proverbial wall. Even our young star Agee finds that things aren’t as easy this time around. Altogether our offensive production is reduced: it’s competent, but not a strength.

It’s pitching that remains our strength. But even on that side we find some issues, as Grant struggles big time, and Sam McDowell, of all people, has some difficulties as well. Our staff remains among the best in the league, but it’s no longer clearly the very best, as it was in ’66.

Thus we achieve a Pythagorean record of 86-76. Since the actual 1967 Indians finished one win above their Pythag, we’ll have ours do the same, and we’ll come in at 87-75. Not good enough to win any pennants, right?

Well, probably not. But let’s remember what particular league we’re dealing with, here, and consider just how our scenario would likely impact the key contenders.

The Boston Red Sox won it that year, of course: “The Impossible Dream” and all that. But in our scenario, the Red Sox don’t have Gary Bell efficiently filling a crucial workhorse role on a somewhat shaky pitching staff. Would they have been able to trade Tony Horton for another pitcher as capable as Bell? How many fewer games would they win than their actual 92?

And how many fewer than 91 would the Tigers win, without Cash? And how many fewer than 89 would the White Sox win, without Agee, McMahon, or Tommy John?

The lone contestant in the actual 1967 A.L. “Great Race” coming out smelling like a rose here are the Minnesota Twins, who went 91-71 with Mudcat Grant, whom as we see had a bad year. Give them any half-way decent pitcher in place of Grant, and they probably win at least 91 (and presumably they would have Lee Stange, whom they actually traded to the Indians for Grant in mid-1964, still in his place, and Stange had a good year in ’67—for Boston, so putting him back with the Twins is another stroke against this scenario’s Red Sox). So we can probably conclude that it would have been Minnesota grabbing its first pennant in our 1967 scenario.

As for our Indians, depending on how severely we want to handicap the others, my guess is that 87 wins would probably yield second place, maybe third, depending on what other moves the Red Sox and Tigers might have made to adjust to their different situations.

Well then

Our two-pennant mini-dynasty seems to be over. While this Cleveland pitching staff still appears very formidable, it’s clear that a significant rebuilding job will be necessary in the field, as the core of this offense is looking rather long in the tooth.

But we’ve enjoyed a nice ride on the Colavito-and-Cash axis. We’ve demonstrated that Frank Lane’s foolish squandering of those specific assets definitely cost the Cleveland Indians the chance at contending in the 1960s. Lane’s successor Gabe Paul, though he didn’t commit any blunders that catastrophic, compounded the problem by expending so much talent (Romano and Agee and John) to get Colavito back, and also by frittering away significant pitching resources in Grant, McMahon, and Steve Hamilton.

    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
    80    82  6    1962     91    71  2T
    79    83  5T   1963     85    77  5
    79    83  6T   1964     86    76  4
    87    75  5    1965     99    63  1
    81    81  5    1966    102    60  1
    75    87  8    1967     87    75  2?
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Comments

  1. Philip said...

    Another excellent alternate timeline piece!

    Now some cynical Boston fans may argue it was merely a sinister plot to deny the Red Sox the ‘67 flag. But since we all know that Steve is a tried and true Yankees fan who will loudly be cheering on New York to beat Tampa Bay tonight at all costs (even though a NY win will clinch – at minimum – a wild card tie for the Red Sox), his motives need to be questioned.

    Besides, thanks to Steve, instead of denying the Red Sox their Impossible Dream season in 1967, he not only hands them the World Series but (no doubt, unintentionally) helps them win at least division titles in 1972 and 1974 and almost certainly another World Championship in 1975 (when Jim Rice sat out the entire series due to a wrist injury). Here’s how:

    Recall that Steve wrote:

    “1965 season: Actual Indians’ deals we will not make…
    June 14, 1965: Purchased pitcher Jack Spring from the California Angels.
    We don’t have room for this pioneer LOOGY.”

    Spring had pitched in over 100 games for the Angels, 1962-63. The 32-year old saw limited mound time with the Indians in 1965, pitching only in 14 games. Cleveland then sent him down to AAA ball, where he flourished with the Portland Beavers. In 1967, Spring appeared in 69 games, all in relief. He went 10-5 with an ERA of 2.45.
    In Steve’s alternative time lime, it is very plausible that Spring stays within the Angels farm system. Pitching well in 1966-67, he gets a call up in May and the joins the bullpen, with California releasing Nick Willhite to make room for him.

    Willhite, therefore, is not available to the Angels when they would have otherwise traded him to the Mets for Jack Hamilton (who the Angels eventually tried to turn into a starter).

    Without Hamilton, the Angels retain Jack Sanford for their starting rotation, passing up an offer of Roger Repoz from Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics. Sanford, a native of Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, gets the ball when the Angels visit Fenway on August 18th.

    In the bottom of the 4th inning, Sanford WALKS slugger Tony Conigliaro. Rico Petrocelli then triples home two runs, the Red Sox eventually winning the game, 3-2.

    Conigliaro finishes the season with 30 homeruns and helps Boston not only win the pennant, but defeat St. Louis in the Fall Classic.

    A healthy Conigliaro all but assures the Red Sox the division title in 1972, prevents the collapse in 1974 and sets up a dramatic victory over Cincinnati in 1975.

    Boston takes the pennant again in 1977, narrowly edging out Baltimore and New York thanks to several timely walk-off homeruns by Tony C late in the season. In game six of the World Series against the Dodgers, Conigliaro sends a Charlie Hough knuckleball over the Monster for his 3rd home run of the game as Boston takes the Series, prompting ABC guest commentator Thurman Munson to dub him, “Mister October.”

    There’s no need for a AL East playoff game in 1978 because the Red Sox win the division handily. In his final career at-bat, Conigliaro homers off Dodgers young fireballer Bobby Welch to help Boston win back-to-back championships.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    Well, Chris, I guess it’s the usual:  I don’t know what’s nerdier, the fact that I’ve written 300 articles, or the fact that you’ve counted them.  grin

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