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The Rock of Cleveland Part 2- Celebrating Rocky Colavito

The Rock of Cleveland Part 2- Celebrating Rocky Colavito
August 18, 2013
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This is part two of a piece that posted last week. In part one, it recalled how Cleveland Indians fans still have wonderful memories of The Rock.

Tribe fans filled the Terrace Club last Saturday for a special luncheon to celebrate Rocky Colavito’s 80th birthday.  I was fortunate to be in the audience to participate in the festivities.

Cleveland Indians Senior VP of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio organized the event, and most importantly convinced the Colavito family to gather in Cleveland for a weekend in August. 

Just like a Justin Masterson complete game shutout, Bobby D. was masterful as master of ceremonies.  He opened by commenting that every one of us, as young baseball players, mirrored Rocky’s routine prior to every at bat: lifting the bat behind our neck and down across our shoulders to stretch the muscles, then stepping into the batter’s box and tapping the plate with the bat three times, and finally pointing the barrel of the bat directly at the pitcher.

The weekend was a glorious homecoming for Rocky.  His first comments to the luncheon guests were that Cleveland was and always will be his favorite town. He emphatically stressed his love for Tribe fans, who he said are the greatest, the most passionate in the world.  These feelings remain in his heart, even after being traded not once, but twice by the Indians!

Rocky was joined by Indians teammates Max Alvis and Gary “Ding Dong” Bell.  They told stories that brought us back to those wonder years of our youth.  It was a simpler time, when a kid could look up to a ballplayer as a role model without having to worry about that player turning into an embarrassment because of poor judgment or nefarious off-the-field actions.

Seasoned Indians fans came in full force, many sporting replica jerseys of those worn by Colavito: the number 6 he wore on the pinstripe jersey in the late ‘50s, and the number 21 on the white sleeveless jersey vest with red long-sleeved undershirts he wore in the mid ‘60’s.

Most star players are recognized by the number they wore on their jersey.  I always wondered why Colavito didn’t reclaim number 6 when he returned to the Tribe in 1965.  Perhaps he didn’t want to take it away from catcher Joe Azcue, the player who wore that number at the time.

Rocky recounted several wonderful stories.  His recollection is amazing. He quoted exact conversations with teammates and reeled off minute details of games that were played more than 50 years ago.

A Chip Off the Old Rock   

Carmen, Rocky’s wife of 59 years, said that Bobby D. called her back in October and proposed the idea of holding a celebration in Cleveland to honor Rocky on his 80th birthday.  At first, Carmen wasn’t too keen on the idea, saying that she didn’t know what they would be doing that far out; that Rocky didn’t travel too much anymore, and that if he did, he would want to drive, which would make it a very long drive from their home in eastern Pennsylvania.

Bobby D. was persistent and eventually Carmen relented. She made sure that the Colavito family was well represented at this celebration.

Many fans shared with Carmen their favorite memories and even showed pictures from dog-eared scrapbooks. Carmen was delightful and gracious as she mingled with fans, and acknowledged her appreciation. And what else would you expect from Rocky’s wife? 

Rocky Colavito Jr. bears a striking resemblance to his dad, or at least how he looked twenty-some years ago. He was friendly and seemed honored and humbled that his dad received so much love from the Indians fans. And what else would you expect from Rocky’s namesake?

My dad is and always will be my hero, as it should be.  I can’t imagine the thrill that Rocky Jr. experienced watching his dad play professional baseball and speaking with so many fans who idolized his dad.

Some of Rocky’s grandkids attended and were in awe of the adulation that their grandfather received. They carried the same friendly demeanor as their grandparents. And what else would you expect from Rocky’s grandkids?

Also, I can guarantee you that the entire Colavito family are now IBI readers.

A Night in Baltimore

Rocky told the story of the night he swatted four home runs in a single game.  It was June 10, 1959 and the Indians played the Orioles in Baltimore.

Prior to that game, Rocky had been in a mini-slump, going 3 for 28.  After belting his first homer of the night, with the Orioles at bat, he ranged over toward the right field line to catch a fly ball.  A Baltimore fan threw a full beer right in Rocky’s face.  That got Colavito angry, and he challenged the unruly fan to meet him outside after the game.

When trotting back out to right field after belting his second homer, Rocky glared at the beer-thrower.  The Oriole fans booed The Rock.  Later, when taking his position in the outfield after hammering his third homer, the opposing fans sensed that something very special was happening. They gave Rocky a standing ovation, even the beer-throwing fan.

In the dugout, Herb Score, Rocky’s teammate and best friend told him not to fool around, to just hit that fourth home run.  Rocky replied that he just wanted to go 4-for-4, remembering he had been in a 3-for-28 slump.

Meanwhile, the Orioles had other ideas. The O’s manager Paul Richards summoned reliever Ernie Johnson to face Rocky.  Johnson boasted when leaving the bullpen that he knew how to get Colavito out.  His first pitch sailed right under Rocky’s chin. Then Rocky gathered himself, calmly stepped back into the batter’s box, pointed the bat directly at the O’s reliever, and blasted the longest of his four home runs.

Gary Bell thanked Rocky for his support (likely for the hundredth time), since Bell was the Indians’ winning pitcher that night and the benefactor of Rocky’s incredible performance.

The next day, the Baltimore sports pages recapped Rocky’s historical feat by displaying a panoramic photo of the outfield stands in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, with arrows inserted to denote where each of Rocky’s four home run balls landed.  Rocky said that he really liked that picture.

Rocket Arm 

Much has been written about Rocky’s legendary throwing arm.  Rocky was also one of the few position players to record a win in a relief appearance as a pitcher.  His career pitching line included 5 2/3 innings pitched with a 0.00 ERA. With his accurate, powerful right arm, Rocky recorded an incredible 123 assists from the outfield in his career.  Tribe third baseman Max Alvis shared the following story that serves as additional confirmation.

The Indians were playing Minnesota and Twins star Tony Oliva was on first base.  The next batter hit a single to right field. While Oliva rounded second and was motoring to third, Rocky fired a bullet to third base. As Alvis reached for the throw, Oliva started his slide, and the throw deflected off his arm. The ball smacked Alvis squarely on the forehead.  The ball ricocheted all the way to the first base coaching box.  Alvis said that was proof of The Rock’s powerful arm.  Rocky, countered that it really showed what a hard noggin Alvis had.

Rocky liked to play catch with catchers, for two reasons.  First, not too many other players wanted to catch his fastball. And second, he inadvertently helped break in new catcher’s mitts.

Mighty Close 

Rocky believed that the 1959 team was the best Indians team of his era. The Tribe registered 89 wins and finished second to the Chicago White Sox that year, who won the American League pennant.  The ’59 Indians had an excellent pitching staff, led by 19-game winner Cal McLish, Gary Bell, who recorded 16 wins, as well as Mudcat GrantJim Perry, and Herb Score.

The White Sox seemed to own the Indians that year and defeated the Indians in 15 of 22 contests.  Rocky was convinced that the Tribe was better team, but did not play well in head-to-head matchups against the White Sox.

Rocky believed that the difference was Al Lopez, the White Sox manager, who was a genius when it came to handling a pitching staff. 

Rocky recalled a key series vs. Chicago in Cleveland in late August.  The Tribe was only 1 1/2 games behind the White Sox.  Unfortunately, Chicago swept the four game series, which pretty much carried them to the pennant, and pushed the Tribe out of contention.  Rocky drew parallels to the way the Tigers have dominated this year’s Indians team.  Reflecting back, it certainly seems to be history repeating itself.

Rocky recalled that Cleveland drew huge crowds to Municipal Stadium that weekend, including over 70,000 fans on Friday night, and 66,000 for a Sunday double-header… And that was without promotions like dollar dogs or post-game fireworks to draw fans.

A Hall of Famer to Tribe Fans 

Rocky was asked whether he believed he should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He said that he would like to be inducted at Cooperstown, but didn’t think it would happen.  It did not seem to bother him since he is very satisfied with his substantial accomplishments in baseball, but more importantly, the way he led his life during and after his baseball career.  It was clear that every fan who sang “Happy Birthday” in the Terrace Club on this sunny Saturday is convinced that Rocco Domenico Colavito is already a Hall of Famer. 

Unless the Indians win the World Series this season, the baseball highlight of the year for me will be spending time with Rocky and his family, shaking his hand, looking him straight in the eye and saying “Rocky, thank you for the wonderful memories. God bless you and your wonderful family”.

User Comments

Dave Pattison
August 20, 2013 - 12:27 PM EDT
Great article, Don. I wish that I could have been there. Rocky Colavito was my favorite player when I was a kid.
Ed L.
August 18, 2013 - 11:09 PM EDT
Oh, man those were great days. I was too little to remember details of Rocky's early years before being traded to Detroit but I do remember some - and especially my shock (and my friends' shock) when the Tribe sent him away - and, of course, when he returned for a King's ransom.

I actually became a fan in spring training of '55 when the Indians played the Red Sox at Pelican Stadium in New Orleans. Saw all those great players they has and wonder if by small chance Rocky, who did get called up in September, might have been in camp and made that trip. Wow! Just so many great memories.

Great job, DJ!
sammyseb
August 18, 2013 - 9:36 PM EDT
All great memories
michael spisak
August 18, 2013 - 9:12 PM EDT
Gary ding dong Bell ....Ball Four
shy
August 18, 2013 - 6:02 PM EDT
Good piece DJ I was one of the kids who went looking for Frank Lane the morning after the trade. I was going to ride my bike to his house and use my Rocky Colavito autograph 31" Hillerich and Bradsby to tattoo his kneecaps. And I saw him pitch when the Indians/Reds had their annual home and home charity exhibition at the first half break. He was fast, not Sam McDowell fast, but fast. Rocky was as special as any player in the game. He had off the charts mystique. I feel fortunate to have had a childhood with Rocky to watch in the summer and Jimmy Brown to watch in the winter. You don't realize how people influence your life sometimes until you mature and look back. I'm passing some torches now, and those dudes are definitely in there.

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