Review: Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine Book

The Ultimate Cleveland

Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine Book, Martin Gitlin. Lanham, MD: Lyons Press, 2019.

Summary: A collection of stories about baseball in Cleveland chronicling the up and down and strange history of the Indians (and their predecessor, the Spiders).

In 2016, my dream World Series happened. I had always wanted to see the Cleveland Indians play the Chicago Cubs. I was convinced that one of these star-crossed teams would have to win. Sadly, it wasn’t the Indians I had rooted for since childhood, even though they pulled out to a 3-1 lead and were on the edge of winning in the seventh game. This has been the life of an Indians fan. Now there is a book that collects all the strange stories of this franchise, a walk down memory lane for many of us, and a way for others to understand the unique pain of being a Tribe fan.

In twenty-seven short, witty, and engaging chapters, Martin Gitlin tells the story of the high and low points of the franchise. We actually begin with the baseball team before the Indians, the Cleveland Spiders. For those of us who suffered the years of 100 loss teams and the race to the bottom, this team was even worse, chalking up a 20-134 season, the worst ever in major league baseball.

There are high points. The amazing pitching of Bob Feller. The Lou Boudreau-led teams including the 1948 World Series champions, the last time the franchise won a World Series. The Indians were the American League pathbreakers in knocking down racial barriers with Larry Doby on the playing field, and Frank Robinson as the first black manager in baseball. In 2017, they had the longest winning streak at 22 games since the New York Giants won 26 in 1916, propelling the Indians to a 100+ win season.

There are the heartbreaks. The meteoric career of Addie Joss that ended when he died of tubercular meningitis in 1911. The rise and fall of Herb Score, hit in the eye with a line drive never to be the same (although he became a consummate announcer of Indians games). The trade of popular Rocky Colavito and the “curse of Colavito” that followed. Thirty years of mediocre teams from the Sixties to through the Eighties. “Sudden Sam” McDowell who never realized his potential due to alcoholism, Tony Horton who broke down under the pressure to excel and had to leave baseball, and one-season wonder Joe Charbonneau. Saddest perhaps were the off-season deaths of Indians Steve Olin and Tim Crews from a freak boating accident in 1993.

And then there is the weird. The Cleveland Crybabies of 1940. Ten-cent beer night in 1974, and the riot that followed. Albert Belle’s corked bat and the shenanigans that surrounded it. The invasion of the midges against the Yankees. The demise of Chief Wahoo, the politically incorrect logo beloved by generations of Indians fans.

All this and more is captured by Gitlin in words and photographs. It brought back memories of seeing many of the players, living through the seasons of hope and disappointment, and yet never in a heavy-hearted fashion. It was a great read on the treadmill, would make a great gift to the Indians fan in your life, or to anyone who loves America’s pastime. And if your team is suffering through a mediocre season, this book will help you say with generations of Indians fans, “there’s always next year.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review e-galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

My Dream World Series

cubs-indiansFor years, I’ve told friends that my dream World Series would be a match-up between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. I would usually add, “One of them has to win,” ending the Championship drought one of these teams have suffered since 1908 and 1948, respectively. For years, I thought it would never happen, as both teams languished. But as I watched the way both teams were playing this summer, I began to wonder, could this be the year? And it was!

Wednesday night ended a truly epic seven game series, one that I think people will talk about for years. An underdog team, the Indians jumps out to a 3-1 lead. Chicago comes roaring back to take the last three games. It goes down to a seventh game, tied at the end of nine innings. The only way I think it could be a better series would be if the Indians had won at home.

And so I show my true colors. I grew up rooting for the Indians from childhood. My first major league baseball game was an Indians game. I used to listen to Herb Score call play by play on my transistor radio on summer evenings. I remember Terry Francona’s dad, Tito Francona when he played for Cleveland. I remember Rocky Colavito, whose trade led to the purported “curse of Rocky Colavito on Cleveland,” “Sudden Sam” McDowell, Luis Tiant, before he went to a great career with Boston. There were the mediocre teams of the 70’s and 80’s, with a few standouts like Andre “Thunder” Thornton and Rick Manning. I lived in Cleveland at the time and would go to cavernous Cleveland Stadium on summer evenings when only 3,000 or so would show up. Then there were the powerhouse teams of the ’90’s with Mike Thome and so many others managed by Mike Hargrove who I’d watched as a player. There was the Series loss to Atlanta in ’95 and the heartbreak loss to the Marlins in ’97. I so hoped this would be the year.

And so I understand the joy of all the Cubs fans who have waited even longer. The last Indians World Series Championship was six years before I was born. The last Cubs championship twelve years before my late father was born. Congratulations Chicago! You’ve waited forty years longer, and it was truly a well-played series, representing so much of what I love about the game. Players who gave it all they had. Two shrewd managers who built teams that played as teams.

I don’t begrudge the fact that much of the nation was rooting for you. People love a fairy tale ending to a nightmare. The faithful of Wrigley have waited and endured through so much. As long-suffering fans, we’ve been on similar journeys. If it had to be anybody else but Cleveland, I’m glad it was you.

At the same time, here are some musings of a Cleveland fan already thinking of next year:

  • I’m hopeful. These are young players still getting better. They’ve nothing to be ashamed of–they accomplished more than almost anyone imagined this year. And they know what it is like to play in the World Series.
  • I hope to get to more Columbus Clippers games in my home town. The guys playing in Cleveland were guys I watched within the last few years. There seem to be people with an eye for talent in the organization.
  • I read somewhere that Cleveland’s payroll is 21st on the list of major league teams. It says something about Francona and the front office that such a team could contend so well.
  • That’s even more striking when you consider they went without standouts like Michael Brantley (another of the guys we used to watch in Columbus!).
  • On a more serious note, I hope Cleveland will retire the Chief Wahoo logo. It is demeaning to Native Americans. Let’s show how great we can be as a team without being demeaning.

This series is why I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan. I hope our political candidates can learn from this. Fight hard. Play fair. Give it your all. And praise the other team in victory or defeat. Win graciously. Lose without whining about it.

Next year in Cleveland–Believeland! #RallyTogether.

 

 

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Rocky_Colavito_1959

Rocky Colavito in 1959

I’m writing this post on the Opening Day of the 2016 baseball season. I grew up in northeast Ohio and even lived in Cleveland and I’ve been a lifelong Indians fan. To be an Indians fan is to be the definition of longsuffering. I totally get Cubs fans. I keep hoping for a Cubs-Indians World Series. One of them would have to win.

Truth is, I enjoy anything from a major league game to a sandlot game with a group of kids. The rules, the strategy are the same–all that changes is the skill level. I can think of few better places to spend a summer evening than a ballgame. These days we most often make it to a Columbus Clippers game–the Indians Triple A affiliate.

One of my other summer pastimes is to read at least one baseball book. In recent years these have included bios of Mike Piazza and George Steinbrenner, both gifts from my son and David Halberstam’s account of the ’49 Yankees. So many writers who excel in other genres have written great baseball books–Doris Kearns Goodwin on the Brooklyn Dodgers and George Will (several baseball books) come to mind.

This year I return to my beloved Indians. Every Indians fan talks about “the curse of Rocky Colavito.” In 1960 Indians GM, Frank Lane, traded this home run hitter to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. Colavito was the 1959 home run champ and beloved in Cleveland. And the trade, and many others in the Lane years, resulted in over 30 years of mediocre teams until 1995 and 1997 when the Indians won pennants. In 1997, fans may have concluded the curse was still alive when the Indians were within an inning of winning the Series leading 2-1 in the ninth of the seventh game only to have the Marlins tie the game in the ninth and win the series in the eleventh.

Terry Pluto, a Cleveland sportswriter, has popularized the idea of the curse. The 1994 edition of his book, The Curse of Rocky Colavito, which looks like a trip down a memory lane of unfulfilled hopes, is on my “to read” pile for this summer. Checking Amazon, it turns out there is a 2007 update. I kind of wonder if another is on the way. It’s been a long wait since the 1948 World Series Championship (before I was born).

The other baseball book on my list is a classic 1952 novel by Bernard Malamud eventually made into a movie by the same title, The Natural, in 1984, starring Robert Redford. Some consider this one of the best novels ever written about baseball. I’ll let you know.

If you are a baseball fan and a reader and haven’t started the tradition of the summer baseball book, maybe this could be the year. Chris Foran, an entertainment editor from Milwaukee has posted a great list of new baseball books. If you can’t make it to the ballpark, you can always sit on your porch or patio on a summer evening with a good book that takes you there.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks…