Saturday, October 22, 2016

Go Tribe! Can Terry Francona Deliver Cleveland Fans the Big One?

Cleveland Indians fans have been feeling pretty good this year. When the season opened last spring local pundits seemed confident about the Tribe's chances to finish on top. Fans like hearing that kind of talk, but the club's April performance seemed to dampen enthusiasm a bit. Over time, the character of the team began to emerge and when all was said and done, they did indeed finish at the top in their division. Two stellar series later and we're now simply waiting to see who our opponent will be in the World Series.

The Indians have not been in the World Series since 1997, in which they were defeated in 7 games. Their previous trip to the Series, in 1954, was also a heartbreaker in the end. With a stellar pitching staff (3 future Hall of Fames) expectations were high, but they were snuffed in four. In 1948 Cleveland achieved this dream behind a host of hot bats and stellar pitching, the same arsenal of weapons this year's Indians are armed with.

Following the Indians success this past month has been a personal thrill, though I've kept my emotions under wraps because of our long history of disappointments. In part, it's because I and many other Cleveland fans are all too well aware of the Curse of Rocky Colavito. Just as Red Sox fans had to endure a lengthy history of remorse for trading Babe Ruth, in the same manner Indians fans have attributed their history of failure to the management stupidity that occurred in 1960.

All my early love of the game came from those Indians teams of the 1950s and early 60s. How quickly they fell from great to, well, not so great. I remember all their names. Vic Power, Woody Held, Bubba Phillips, Jimmy Piersall. When you're a kid and you're a fan, every name is cool. One of the coolest names for me was Tito Francona. I remember seeing him play as a left fielder and watching him hit from the left side of the plate.

The much weakened Indians after Colavito's departure.
Colavito was the coolest of the cool, though. He was young slugger who did this maneuver with his bat each time he went up to the plate, grabbing its ends with both hands and sliding it down over the muscles of his back, a move that every kid I know would try to emulate. For more about Rocky Colavito, visit this article about how "the curse" started, and watch this video about his legacy.

As a kid, though, I think we liked a lot of our heroes just because their names were cool. Or was it that because they were cool we loved the sounds of their names? I dunno. Tito Francona, Rocky Colavito, Minnie Minoso... Indians names with as much potency as their Yankee adversaries.

That's why I think it's grand to have another Francona back on the franchise, leading this team to its historic moment. Cleveland is a town that loves its heroes and appreciates their efforts on behalf of the fans. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona already had a lot of us in his corner as soon as he stepped to the helm. The papers call him Terry but he was nicknamed Tito like his dad had been. Like his father he was a first baseman and an outfielder. This is his fourth year as manager after having managed the Phillies and the Red Sox. He took the Red Sox to the World Series twice, the second time breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

His first year in Cleveland he took us to the playoffs and though we came up short, the team has really gelled in this post-season.

As I write this the Chicago Cubs have the National League title within their grasp. With the exception of the Indians, only the Cubs have gone longer without winning the World Series. A lot of people are rooting for the Cubs to defeat the Dodgers this weekend. I, for one, strongly to see the Indians as World Champions, but if they had to lose then this is the only other team I would accept as a consolation. It will be a heart breaker, though.

Enough of that. what follows are a few items that caught my attention while verifying stats for this blog post.

Miscellaneous Baseball-Related Items

Trivia: Tito Francona, Rocky Colavito and the late Arnold Palmer all lived in Cleveland in the fifties and later moved to Pennsylvania.

Here's an interesting YouTube video making a case for Rocky Colavito being in the MLB Hall of Fame.

Home Run Derby: When I was a kid I remember a weekly television show called Home Run Derby in which top home run hitters would compete at hitting home runs. I first saw it when I was visiting my cousins in Nevada. Kids and adults all got thrills from the long ball, so why not make a game of it? I'd forgotten the rules of the game, so it was fun to discover this episode with Rocky Colavito and Harmon Killebrew.

This anecdote from the career of Tito Francona was unusual enough to be recorded on Wikipedia, and seemed worth sharing here in the "incidental details" department. "A bizarre incident occurred to Francona in Spring training heading into the 1961 season. Francona hit an exhibition home run against the Boston Red Sox on March 26 at Hi Corbett Field. When John C. Cota, a city parks employee, went to retrieve the ball, he discovered a dead body. The body was that of Fred Victor Burden, who was wanted by Tucson, Arizona police in relation to the shooting death of former prize fighter James Cocio."

One hallmark of the Cleveland franchise has been great pitching. When I was born my parents named the four teddy bears in my crib after the 1952 starting rotation. Three of these were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame and all four can be found on the list of top ten greatest Indians pitchers. (We had box seats behind the Indians dugout when Early Wynn made one of his attempts for a 300th career victory in 1962. I was ten.) Going way back to the 1890's one of the greats of all time pitched for those dominating Cleveland teams: Cy Young, for whom the famed Cy Young Award is given annually to the league's top pitcher.

The Cubs bats have kicked in again, and if the pitching holds they're bound to be celebrating all over town tonight in Chicago. Two teams who have known more than their share of bad luck will face off and one will go home having earned a place in history.

Go Tribe!

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