Tribe Madness: Previewing the First Energy Region matchups
By Rick Lamborn
October 24, 2013
Our tournament moves to the First Energy Regional where the winner of this region draws the winner of the Quicken Loans Region.
Here are the regions previewed so far:
#9 SP Bill Bernard (1902) vs. #8 1B Lew Fonseca (1929)
William “Strawberry Bill” Bernard was an established NL pitcher in the late 1800's who jumped to the AL in the inaugural 1901 season. Like Nap Lajoie, Strawberry Bill jumped from the Phillies to the Athletics and Strawberry found the AL much to his liking going 17-10 with a 4.52 ERA. Unfortunately for Bill (like Nap), the Phillies filed suit over the jump. As the AL won the court battle in Federal courts, the state of Pennsylvania ruled that the two stars could not play professionally in the state unless it was with the Phillies.
So after one start in 1902, Bill was granted free agency and signed on with the Cleveland Bronchos. Bill excelled in the remainder of his first year in Cleveland going 17-5 with a 2.20 ERA for Cleveland while leading the league in winning percentage (.783) which also included his 1-0 record with the Athletics. Bill would pitch six of his nine MLB seasons in Cleveland winning 23 games in 1904 en route to a career 77-55 mark.
Lew Fonseca was a first baseman, second baseman, and outfielder for the Reds, Phillies, Indians, and White Sox in the 1920's and '30s. Breaking in with the Reds at the age of 22 in 1921, Lew wouldn't eclipse the 100 game mark till his only season in Philadelphia in 1925 as he shuffled between first and second.
After missing the 1926 season, Lew returned to the majors with the Indians and played 96 of his 112 games at second base. Lew would then play only 75 games in 1928 as he shared first base with George Burns. In 1929, Fonseca had a career season when he led the AL in hitting with a .369 average. Lew only hit 6 homers that year (his career high) but added 44 doubles and a .959 OPS. Fonseca broke his arm in 1930 and in 1931 had lost his job to Ed Morgan, so the Tribe traded him to the White Sox.
#10 1B George Burns (1926) vs. #7 OF Joe Vosmik (1935)
Let me get this right, the Indians have a player that set a major league record for doubles in a season, hit .358 and won an MVP but could only land a #10 seed in this tournament. Yep, that's right. You see, the seeding in this tournament is based on each player's WAR (as reported by baseball-reference.com) and George's WAR in 1926 was 5.0 which makes him a #10 seed. As there was another George Burns playing in MLB at the same time, the Niles, Ohio man was dubbed “Tioga George” because he played in the sandlots in Tioga, PA. George was a hitter as he averaged .307 in his 16 major league seasons. The two-time Indian arrived on the Major League scene at the age of 21 for the Tigers in 1914. He moved to the Athletics four years later then arrived during the Indians 1920 World Championship run where he platooned with Doc Johnston.
After the 1921 season, Tioga would be traded to the Red Sox for Stuffy McInnis but he would return two seasons later. It was in his second stint that Burns set the AL on fire when he racked up 216 hits and 64 doubles (a then MLB record and the second highest in MLB history). That season Burns put up a .358/.394/.494/.889 slash line with 4 round trippers, 97 runs, and 115 ribbies. Those numbers were good enough to win the MLB MVP award asTris Speaker's Tribe went 88-66 but finished 3.0 games behind the high flying Yankees. With four games to go the Indians trailed New York by 2.0 games with four games against the third place Athletics in Cleveland, but the Indians lost the first three games and blew a chance to erase the Yankee lead. Tioga would leave Cleveland for New York in '28 and finish his career at age 36 with the Athletics in 1929.
Appearing in nine games as a 21-year old in 1930, Joe Vosmik was living his dream. As a boy in Cleveland, Joe would sneak into League Park to watch the Tribe teams led by Tris Speaker and at 20 he was donning the uniform of his favorite team. Then in 1931, Vosmik would take over the everyday job in left field slugging 7 homers while driving in 117. For seven seasons from 1930-1936, Vosmik was a fixture for the Indians teaming with center fielderEarl Averill to solidify the Indians outfield.
1935 was a special year as he led the league in hits (216), doubles (47) and triples (20) while putting up a .348/.408/.537/.946 slash line with 93 runs scored and 110 RBI for managers Walter Johnson and Steve O'Neill. That season the Indians would go 82-71 to finish third 12 games behind the Tigers. The Indians sprinted out to an 8-2 record that season and first place. The team kept pace with the Yankees and Tigers as they were 2.5 games back at the end of June, but a dismal July (8-19) sunk the team. For his efforts, Vosmik was selected for his only All Star Game appearance. Vosmik slumped in 1936 but still had a respectable .786 OPS but the Indians performed badly as a team and Vosmik was traded to the Browns. Vosmik would later play for the Red Sox, Dodgers and the Senators in a 13-year career in which he hit .307.
John Patsy “Tito” Francona played for the Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Cardinals, Phillies, Braves, Athletics and Brewers in a 15-year career which was delayed in 1954 and '55 by military service. Of all those nine teams, Tito had his best years and longest stay in Cleveland. He arrived in a spring training trade with the Tigers for Larry Doby. During his six years in Cleveland, Tito played all three outfield positions as well as first base while averaging .284 and 14+ bombs a year. His best year in Cleveland was undoubtedly 1959 when he hit .363/.424/.566/.980 with a career high 20 round trippers. That season Tito started out as a pinch-hitter and utility player, but after he went 5-for-9 in a June 7th double header against the Yankees he took over center field from Jimmy Piersall. Later in the season, he forced Vic Power to second base as he owned first base. The nearly two months without an everyday position cost Tito the chance of winning the batting title to future teammate Harvey Kuenn.
The 1959 season also saw the Indians go 89-65 but fell five games behind the White Sox. On August 26th, Tito went 2-for-4 in a 5-4 win against the Yankees to pull within one game but they were then swept by the White Sox in a four game series. After that the Tribe couldn't make up the ground and finished five games back. Tito's numbers steadily declined after the 1959 season and he was eventually sold to the Cardinals after the '64 season. Tito still had value and played in the majors until 1970 when he finished his career in Milwaukee's inaugural season (Seattle Pilots move to Milwaukee). Tito is the father of former Indian player and current Indian skipper Terry Francona.
On December 6th 1989, the Indians traded superstar Joe Carter to the Padres. In return the Indians received the two-time Minor League Player of the Year and number one prospect catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., outfielder Chris James and a minor league infielder. That minor leaguer may have turned out to be the best of the Indians haul. Carlos Baerga made his debut with the Tribe the next summer playing 50 games at third, 48 games as short and only 8 games at second. By 1992 the switch-hitter from Puerto Rico had seized ownership of second base and would hold onto it until midway through the 1996 season. In 1992, Baerga would hit over .300, collect over 200 hits, 20 homers, and drive in over a 100 runs en route to his first All Star game appearance.
The following season would start with tragedy for the Indians as two teammates would perish in a spring training boat accident. Carlos was the face of the franchise as he took the leadership role and represented the players at the news conference after the accident. That '93 year saw Carlos add 100+ runs scored to his prior feat becoming only the 2nd second baseman to hit .300 with 200 hits, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI in a season. After the strike shortened 1994 season, Carlos was the #3 hitter in a 1995 line-up which saw the Indians make the playoffs and World Series for the first time in 40+ years. After 100 games in 1996, Carlos was traded to the Mets having been a three-time All Star and two time Silver Slugger winner. Baerga would return to the Indians in 1999. In his 14 years in the majors, Baerga played for the Indians, Mets, Diamondbacks, Padres, Red Sox and Nationals but his best years were in an Indian uniform.
#12 C Johnny Romano (1961) vs. #5 OF Albert Belle (1995)
From 1957 to 1961, the infamous Frank Lane applied his wares in the General Manager's office of the Cleveland Indians. Nicknamed “Trader” Lane, Frank once tried to trade Stan Musial away when GM of the Cardinals but August Busch stepped in and stopped the trade. Oh how Indians fans wish that the Indians owner would have made the same move when Lane traded away Rocky Colavito. In fact, Lane had another nickname, “Frantic Frank”, as he was known by the sheer volume of trades he made. One of the trades toward the end of Lane's reign was to send Minnie Minoso, Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese and Jake Striker for a minor leaguer Norm Cash, a journey-man OF/3B Bubba Phillips and a little used catcher Johnny “Honey” Romano. Cash was immediately sent to the Tigers for minor league infielder Steve Demeter (Cash would be a four time All Star and Demeter would get two MLB hits...none after the trade).
Romano on the other hand would stay in Cleveland past Lane's tenure. In his five years in Cleveland, Honey would make the All Star team twice (1961 and 1962) while handling pitchers like Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Tommy John. His best year was 1961 when he hit .299 with 21 homers, 80 RBI and an .860 OPS. That year managerJimmy Dykes' Indians (and Mel Harder's for one game) finished 78-83 good for fifth place behind the Yankees (the Tigers that year won 101 games but still finished 8 games behind the Yanks). After the '64 season the Indians would send Honey back to the White Sox (along with Tommy John) in a three team deal which tried to undo Lane's dismal trade of Colavito as the Rock returned to Cleveland. Johnny would finish his 10 year career in 1967 with the Cardinals.
Love him or hate him Albert Belle was an intimidating figure in the batter’s box throughout his career. Most of us loved him when he was in the batter’s box as an Indian but cringed every time he made news off the field (and sometimes on it). While at LSU, the outfielder went after a heckler which resulted in him being suspended for the College World Series. The college incident may have been a reason that Belle slipped to the second round in the 1987 draft (the Indians forfeited their first rounder that year when they signed catcher Rick Dempsey). Two years later Belle made his MLB debut at the age of 22. In 1990 Belle would spend most of the year in the minors (he was suspended at least once that year by the club). Belle suffered another suspension in 1991 when he hit a heckling fan with a ball (right in the chest). This wouldn't be his last run in but let’s move to what made Albert lovable: his dominating hitting.
From 1992 through his departure via free agency after the 1996 season, Belle was the most feared hitter in an Indians line up that gave opposing pitchers ulcers. In 1992, Belle would start a run of hitting 30 homers or more for eight consecutive years. 1995 was a special year in Cleveland and Belle was the anchor of the line-up. After starting the year late, the Indians went on to go 100-44 and win the AL Central and Belle would become only the second player in history to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same season. He did it while hitting .317 and had a 1.019 OPS. He led the league in runs (121), doubles (52), homers (50), RBI's (126) and slugging (.690) but was jobbed by the sports writers who elected Mo Vaughn as the league's MVP. Belle was a five time All Star and five time Silver Slugger (four each with Cleveland) and by the time he left Cleveland he was the franchise’s all-time home run hitter (242). Belle went on to play with the White Sox and Orioles before a hip injury forced him to retire (his last game was in 2000 at age 33).
165-140 with a 3.72 ERA and 2,151 strikeouts in 14 MLB seasons. That's what the Tribe front office bought on December 16, 1999 when they signed Finley as a free agent. The 37-year old southpaw from Monroe, Louisiana immediately made Indians fans satisfied when he went 16-11 with a 4.17 ERA in 2000. Finley's effort for Charlie Manual's club helped lead the Indians to a 90-72 record. It also saw the team's string of five consecutive division championships end as they fell to second, 5.0 games behind the White Sox. For his efforts Finley made his fifth and final All Star game.
In 2001, the Indians returned to the post season and Finley drew two starts against Seattle despite having a sub-par injury plagued year (8-7, 5.54). Finley struggled in 2002 going 4-11 as the Indians faded from playoff contention and he was traded to the Cardinals where he rebounded going 7-4. Finley retired after the 2002 season capping a 17-year career with a 200-173 record and holding the MLB record by striking out four batters in an inning three times.
A former Braves pitching coach said “Aim small, miss small....aim big, miss big”. That must have been the formula used by Guy “Alabama Blossom” Morton when he took the mound for Cleveland in the 1910's and '20's. Guy often credited his excellent control on hunting squirrels with rocks in his native Alabama. In his 11-year career with the Naps/Indians, Guy succeeded by not giving free passes as he only issued 583 of them in 1629.2 innings. Breaking in with the Naps as a 21-year old in 1914, the Alabama Blossom only found victory once in 14 starts but had a respectable 3.02 ERA. All that year did was set up Morton's 1915 season in which he went 16-15 with a 2.14 ERA for managers Joe Birmingham and Lee Fohl. The Indians finished a distant 44.5 games behind the high flying Red Sox and could only finish above the woeful Athletics. On August 21st of that year the 43-68 Indians tradedShoeless Joe Jackson to the White Sox and struggled the rest of the way going 14-27.
The 1915 season started Morton's run of double digit wins which stretched through 1918. Morton lost his starting role in 1920 to Duster Mails but put up an 8-6 record in the championship season of 1920. Afterwards, Morton was a swingman starting 44 games and relieving in 67 games through the rest of his career. He scored another double digit win season in 1922 (14-9, 4.00 ERA). Morton's career ended when he was released by the Indians in 1924 after going 0-1 with a 6.57 ERA. Morton’s entire 11-year career was in Cleveland going 98-86 with a 3.13 ERA.
When you play for nine teams in 18 years, it's hard to be identified with one MLB team. That might be the case but Jose “Junior” Cardenal was ranked at #44 on the all-time Cubs list where he spent six of those seasons. The Indians acquired the 24-year old Cuban outfielder from the Angels for first baseman Chuck Hinton. On his third team, Junior shined twice making unassisted double plays from center field.
Cardenal lit up the bases that year swiping 40 bags as he hit .257/.305/.353/.658 with 7 homers, 78 runs and 44 ribbies. Alvin Dark's Indians would win 86 games to finish third in the AL. Cardenal's stay on the shores of Lake Erie was brief as the Indians sent him to the Cardinals after the '69 season. In two years in the Tribe uniform, Cardenal stole 76 bases. Cardenal's travels would take him to the Brewers, Cubs, Phillies, Mets and Royals to go with his previous stints with the Giants and Angels. Ten times in his career Junior topped the 20 steal mark as he finished with 329 in his career.
Think about this, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrerra, Michael Bourn, and Drew Stubbs all struck out as many or more times in 2013 than Joe Swell did in his 14-year career. The 5'6” shortstop once went 115 games without whiffing. What is more interesting is that Sewell struck out more than half of those 114 times (62) in the first five years of his career (he never would reach double digit strikeouts in another season). Sewell also took 842 free passes in his career.
Arriving in Cleveland on September 1st, 1920, the he took over shortstop duties just about a month after Ray Chapman's death (starting 21 games). The rookie was unfazed as he then started all seven games in the 1920 World Series (he only hit .174 that series) as the Tribe took their first title. Then the next year, Joe would have the privilege of playing with his brother, catcher Luke Sewell (Luke would be Cleveland's every day catcher from 1926 to 1932. In 1923, Sewell put the bat on the ball to the tune of a .353/.456/.479/.935 slash line with 41 doubles, 10 triples and 4 long balls. He scored 98 runs while driving in 109. Tris Speaker's Indians would ride Sewell to an 82-71 record which put them a half game behind the second place Tigers (16.5 games behind the Yankees). Joe would follow that season up by leading the AL in doubles (45) in 1924. Sewell also played in 1,103 consecutive games in his career. Joe's days at shortstop ended in 1928 when he was shifted mid-season to third. After the 1930 season, Joe was released by the Indians but quickly joined the Yankees where he would win another title in 1932. It's been claimed that Joe used the same bat for the entire length of his career.
The cut off for automatic qualification into this tournament is a 4.3 WAR. George “Bo” Strickland's 1953 WAR (4.2) just missed. As fifteen slots were available, I selected Strickland based on the strong WAR and the fact that he was the starting shortstop on the 1954 Indians that won 111 games. For most of his career, Bo was considered a good fielding-weak hitting shortstop with a career average of .224. In 1953, for one season Strickland would put it together offensively hitting .284/.362/.379/.741 with 5 homers and 47 RBI as Al Lopez's bunch finished second with a 92-62 record. It marked their third consecutive second place finish. The next year, the Tribe got tired of knocking on the door and knocked it in with a 111-43 finish to take the AL. Unfortunately that team lost to the Giants in four straight games.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Bo toiled in the Dodgers and Red Sox farm system until the Pirates selected him in the Rule V draft. By rule the Pirates had to keep the Louisiana native on the roster all year which they did. Bo earned the Pirates starting shortstop spot in '51. Midway through the '52 season, the Pirates sent him to Cleveland. Bo won the Indians shortstop spot from Ray Boone. After the 1955 season, Bo lost his shortstop spot but remained an Indian until ending his career in 1960. Bo spent eight of his 10 MLB seasons as an Indian.
Bursting on the scene in 1911, the 26-year old southpaw had a rookie season to remember. Sylveanus “Vean” Gregg went 23-7 with a 1.80 ERA and shutdown opposing hitters. After opening the season 6-11, management made a move tabbing first baseman George Stovall as player-manager. The Naps responded going 74-62 the rest of the way. Despite the solid finish the Naps finished 30.5 games behind the Athletics.
Vean went on to post consecutive 20-13 seasons. The second of those in the 1913 season saw Vean's younger brother Dave “Highpockets” Gregg throw one inning on June 15th. Vean was 9-3 in 1914 before being traded to the Red Sox for Fritz Coumbe, Ben Egan and Rankin Johnson. Vean would pitch in Boston through the 1916 season but arm injuries reduced his ability to pitch. He sat out 1917 then resurfaced with the Athletics going 9-14. Gregg then took a six year hiatus from MLB ball (pitching some in the PCL) before pitching one season with the Senators (mostly in relief). In total, Gregg went 72-36 as a Nap over four years.
Vic Wertz was only able to muster a 2.7 WAR in 1957 but garnered an at large bid into this tournament. One of the reasons that I picked Wertz to fill one of the 15 at-large spots was because OOTP loved him in the Nostalgia League that I ran earlier in the year. Having served in the military during World War II, Wertz returned and made his MLB debut with the Tigers in 1947. The Indians acquired Vic from the Orioles for Bob Chakales in 1954 as the Indians charged to the AL pennant. Wertz is remembered for the long fly ball he hit to dead center at the Polo Grounds when Willie Mays made “The Catch” in the eighth inning of Game One of the 1954 World Series. He hit that ball over 450 feet which would have put it out of any park but the Polo Grounds. With Larry Doby on second, any hit would have broken a 2-2 tie. The Indians eventually lost in 10 innings. Wertz would hit .500 (8-for-16) in that World Series with two doubles, a triple and a homer but the Indians would get swept.
Wertz made the All Star team four times in his career but only once in his five years in Cleveland. That year was 1957 when he hit .282/.371/.485/.857 with 28 homers and 105 RBI. The Tribe under new manager Kirby Farrell dropped to 76-77 ending a six year run of finishing in the top two in the AL. The fall left the Indians in sixth place and 21.5 games behind their New York nemesis. After an injury plagued 1958 in which the 6-foot first baseman only appeared in 25 games, Wertz was traded to the Red Sox for Jimmy Piersall. Wertz retired after the 1963 season having played for the Tigers, Browns/Orioles, Indians, Red Sox and Twins in his 17-year career.
With 35 games in parts of three seasons under his belt, Al “Flip” Rosen replaced the popular Ken Keltner as the Indians third baseman in 1950 and put up five consecutive seasons with 100 RBI. Rosen signed by the Indians out of the University of Florida. After serving in the Navy during WWII, Rosen found his way blocked by the Indians' star but at 26 years old he finally won the position. Rosen's career peaked in 1953 when he led the league in runs (115), homers (43), RBI (145), slugging (.613) and OPS (1.034) as he became only the third (and last to date) Indian to win the MVP.
The '53 Indians finished second in the AL, 8.5 games behind the Yankees. It was their third consecutive year being the bridesmaid. Rosen helped the Indians take down the Yankees the following year as the Indians finally won the AL pennant. He was a four time All Star (1942-1955). Back and leg injuries finally caught up to Flip and he retired after the 1956 season. He spent all 10 years of his MLB career in Cleveland hitting 192 bombs and 717 RBI while hitting .285 (.879 OPS).