Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Tribe

Welcome to the 1980's baseball version of Siberia.  Someone once said, "Pennant Fever" in Cleveland last approximately 48 hours".  Some baseball pundits believed it didn't even last that long.  By 1978 The Tribe was entrenched in a streak of finishing below .500 for 15 of the previous 20 seasons.  That's a record of futility only since past by the Pirates (circa 1993-2012).  A 1970's Cleveland Indians team was usually comprised of players on their way up (and probably out via trade) and those on their last legs.  Sprinkle that in with some fringe major leaguers and career minor leaguers and you have 48 hours of pennant fever.  This team finished 66-90 and stayed out of last place thanks to the generosity of the second year expansion Jays. 28 year old 1B-DH Andre Thornton, who bounced around the NL and was getting his final chance made the most of it leading the team with 33 homers and 105 RBI's and being well on his way to becoming a forgotten Tribe legend of this era.  No one else eclipsed the 20 homer mark.  Newly acquired Gary Alexander hit 17 and Johnny Grubb had 14.  The rest of the team barely found the warning track.  Shockingly the Tribe finished 8th (middle of the road) in homers hit, despite being quite top heavy with 3 guys carrying most of the load.  Jim Norris (.283) was the closest this team came to a .300 hitter.

To their credit though, the team did bat .262 and most of the lineup, except Alexander, hovered close to that average.  The bench was solid.  Not a lot of pop, but they were all capable of getting a big hit if by miracle the team was in a close one.  The pitching was close to awful.  Rick Waits (13-15, 3.20) and Mike Paxton (12-11, 3.86) were the only starters with ERA's below 4.00.  Waits had a fantastic year, which also included 15 complete games and 2 shutouts, but more often than not his offense couldn't score for him.  The key here is to get to the pen, which was the real strength of this team.  Jim Kern (10-10, 3.08, 13sv) was the closer.  Paul Reuschel (2-4, 3.11), Sid Monge (4-3, 2.76, 6sv) and Dan Spillner (3-1, 3.67, 3sv) did a fantastic job setting up Kern.  The challenge will be:  can Cleveland hold a lead into the late innings and hand it off to the pen ?

To round out the "missing Indians" cards I added 20 new 1978 Cards that required various degrees of work.

20 year old Griffin hit an amazing .500 for the Tribe.  Unfortunately that came in just 4 at bats.  1978 would mark the final cup of coffee with the Tribe for this slick fielding / switch hitting shortstop  who would go on to win the 1979 ROY Award in Toronto.  On December 5, 1978 the Tribe would make another one of their bonehead trades by sending Griffin to Toronto for Victor "not the Salsa dancing WR" Cruz.  This card was a fun one to make.  I took an early B&W photo of Griffin and colorized it along with adding the "C" on the cap.  I then superimposed it on a background of Municipal Stadium.
One thing Bernie Carbo could do was hit.  Unfortunately for him and the 6 franchises that he played for during his 12 seasons, he took more bong hits than bat hits.  Carbo spent just 60 games in Cleveland during the '78 season, splitting time with Boston.  He hit a respectable .287 with 4 homers in 174 at bats as the team's DH after arriving on June 15th.  At the end of the season he was given his free agency as he slipped further and further into the abyss called drug abuse.  He will forever be remembered for that huge World Series Homer that he hit in 1975 during that historic game 6.  I used an autographed photo found on ebay for this card.
Bo was another tragic figure.  Tragically he died at the young age of 37 while adjusting a satellite dish on his roof.  He played 13 big league seasons and was a 2 time All-Star.  In 1978 he caught 44 games for the Tribe and hit just .236.  Limited success for him over the next two seasons was followed by a breakout year in 1981, where he hit .313 and was the AL-All Star catcher.  At the conclusion of the season the Tribe once again dipped into their bad trade bag of tricks and packaged him in a 3 team deal that netted Silvio Martinez and a beat up Lary Sorensen.  Diaz went on to have a fine career in Philly and Cincy.  I used his '79 Card photo for this card.

Briggs hit just .163 in 15 games with the Tribe during the '78 campaign.  The Tribe wisely dumped him on the Padres, who used him in '79 as a utility man who hit .207 in 227 AB's.  After spending all of 1980 in the minors he would get two final cups of coffee in 1981 (Montreal) and in 1982 (Cubs) before realizing that a career .195 hitting utility player doesn't have too many major league options.  I used his '79 card here.

Spillner arrived from San Diego mid season in a deal for Dennis Kinney.  Score this deal as one of the few "wins" for the Tribe.  For the next 6 1/2 seasons he would serve whatever roll their staff needed.  His best season (1982) was as the team's long man / closer.  He went 12-10, 2.49 with 21 saves.  At the age of 32 after a 4-3, 3.44 season out of the pen in Chicago he wasn't offered a contract by anyone, so he retired.  A strange sequence of events showed that he was a victim of baseball's "Collusion" of the mid 80's and later award a cash settlement of almost $450,000.  If you want to read a great "Where are they now" article about him from SeattlePI, click here.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

Former #1 pick of the Texas Rangers, Clyde was damaged goods when he arrived on Lake Erie.  In 1976 his arm troubles began. Traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1978, he was 8-11 and then 3-4 before he damaged a rotator cuff.  He was out of baseball at the age of 24 in 1980 having never fulfilled the promise of being a phenom.  Clyde was purely a victim of poor ownership (Bob Short) and poor management (Billy Martin) in Texas.  The NY Times wrote an interesting piece on him 10 years ago.  You can read it by clicking here.  I found this photo on ebay.

Kinney was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round of the 1970 Major League Baseball Draft, and he played in their organization through his major league debut in 1978. He was given a chance at closing games for the Indians, notching five saves in 18 games. That June, however, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Dan Spillner.  Kinney's one full season in the majors came in 1980 for the Padres. That year, he pitched in 50 games as a reliever, compiling a 4–6 record with a 4.25 ERA and one save. In December, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Dave Stegman, but appeared in just six games for the Tigers before being released in the offseason. After a brief trial with the Oakland Athletics in 1982, his major league career was over.  I did some airbrushing and cut/pasting on this minor league card photo.

Alexander arrived in a trade with the A's on June 15th for Joe Wallis.  At the time many thought the Tribe finally swindled someone else in a trade.  With his combined numbers Alexander came in 9th in the AL in homers (27), but he also led the league with an alarming 166 strikeouts.  Still, he was a catcher with power, and how can you go wrong with that ?  If you are Cleveland, you could find a way to go wrong with anything.  It turned out that Alexander was a huge defensive liability behind the dish leading the league in errors.  He was eventually replaced by Ron Hassey mid way through the following season.  He was relegated to the DH role, but hit just .225 with no power and was eventually replaced by rookie phenom Joe Charboneau in 1980.  I found this photo while doing a Google search.
No one had a more appropriate name than Horace Speed.  This man could flat out run.  Known throughout his short career as a pinch runner / 5th outfielder, Speed saw extended action  in '78 for the Tribe.  His .226 average was not overly impressive.  His 4 "caught stealing" in 6 attempts was even more alarming for a man who made his living with his legs.  1979 saw him hit just .143 in 26 games before being farmed out for good.  I found this rare photo of him on the OOTP board.
Lintz is a MLB record holder.  I bet most folks, including myself, didn't know that.  Apparently he holds the record for most steals in a season (31) for a player who didn't actually record a hit (0).  An amazing obscure record set in 1976 as a member of the Oakland A's, who were trying to put together one final run before owner Charlie Finley dismantled his team.  Lintz had some moderate success as a speedy middle infielder for the post-expansion Expos in the early 70's.  By the time he got to Oakland he was purely a specialty player.  By 1978 he found himself playing in Portland, which was Cleveland's AAA affiliate.  The Indians called him up for a few games where he served as a pinch runner.  No know photos of him could be found in an Indian uni.  I took his 1975 SSPC card photo, as a St. Louis Cardinal, and pasted the CLEVELAND jersey logo on it.  No hat was needed, because there is no reason to cover up a cool 'fro like his !

Paxton arrived in the offseason as part of the Eckersley deal.  He had an above average (12-11, 3.86) first season in Cleveland and fans were just about to forget "the Eck", but unfortunately he bottomed out in 1979 (8-8, 5.92) and then disappeared for good after a forgettable 1980 (0-0, 12.91).

Vail was a big time rookie who burst on the scene in 1975 with the Mets.  He immediately set the rookie consecutive game hitting streak record (23 games).  Based on his limited body of work in September the Mets anointed him their "Player of the Future" and traded fan favorite Rusty Staub to Detroit.  Vail rewarded the Met brass by breaking his foot in the off season while playing basketball. The injury robbed him of whatever speed he had and he was never the player they thought he'd become.  His stock fell so much the Tribe claimed him off of waivers at the end of Spring Training in March of 1978.  In just 14 games on Lake Erie he hit .235 and was sent to the Cubs for Joe Wallis at the June 15th Trade deadline.  I took this Cubs photo and added an Indian jersey, red rim on his cap and a "C" logo.
It's not hard to spend your life pitching in the large shadow of your brother, especially when your younger brother was larger than life (figuratively and literally) Rick Reuschel.  Paul, who looked more like an accountant than a major league hurler, was traded by the Cubs to Cleveland midway through the '78 season.  He responded with a respectable year out of the pen.  1979 proved to be a horrendous year for him (2-1, 7.94) and he was subsequently released.  I used his '79 card photo.
I doctored up a B&W Red Sox photo of Kreuger and added the appropriate logos and trim, then superimposed it on a background of the "Mistake by the Lake".  At 29 he was all out of options and was released by the Tribe.

Rick Wise won 188 games in a solid 18 year career in the big leagues, yet we will all remember him as the guy that was traded for Steve Carlton.  At the time, 1972 most pundits though of Carlton as being slightly better than Wise, but definitely on a par with him.  Looking at their numbers after 1972 it is easy to see who got the better of the trade.  Wise had some realy good years in Boston, culminating in his 19 win sesaon of 1975.  By the time he got to Cleveland his skills were beginning to errode.  1978 saw him lose 19 games for the Tribe, which also led the league in futility.  He rebounded nicely in 1979 (15-10, 3.73), but that turned out to be his final season as a front line starter.  After the '79 season the Tribe let him become a free agent, which turned out to be the correct move since he had 3 sub par years in San Diego.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

Hassey was a 25 year old rookie for the Tribe in '78.  He hit just .203 with 2 homers in 74 at bats.  The following season would see him become part of the lefty/righty platoon behind the plate with Bo Diaz.  He responded favorably by hitting .287.  His best season in Cleveland was 1980, where he hit .318 with 8 homers in 390 AB's.  In total he would spend 7 above average seasons with the Indians.  He had some solid seasons up in the Bronx and on the South Side of Chicago before moving on to Oakland and playing on 3 pennant winners as the lefty part of their catching platoon.  I found this great autographed action shot on ebay.

Cox turned out to be one of your run of the mill banjo hitting utility players.  In 82 games in '78 he played 5 positions and hit just .233 in 227 AB's.  He pretty much duplicated those numbers in '79 before being traded to Seattle for Bud Anderson.  After one carbon copy season in Seattle he moved on to Toronto, where he hit .300 in just 50 AB's and was never heard from again as he was banished to the Mexican Leagues.

Veryzer batted .271 with one home run and 32 RBIs in part tie action during the '78 season. His most memorable moment of the season may have come on September 13 when he drove in the winning run of the Indians' 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox with a successful suicide squeeze bunt, knocking the Red Sox out of first place.  He would spend 4 seasons as the Indians starting shortstop before moving over to the Mets.  I found this photo while doing a Google search.

In 1971 Cage was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Although Cage was with the Indians organization until 1981, he only played in the major leagues in 1978 and 1979, when he had batting averages of .245 and .232. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1981 for Rod Craig, although he would not play in the major leagues with Seattle. Instead, a week after the trade, Cage's contract was sold to the Hankyu Braves of the Japanese Pacific League. He played for the Braves for two seasons, 1981 and 1982.

Horton, who split the '78 season with 3 horrible teams, started the year as the Tribe's starting DH.  In 50 games he hit just .249 with only 5 homers, before being moved to Oakland.  His stay in Cleveland was quite short and definitely not all that sweet.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

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