Rocky Takes the Fast Lane Out of Cleveland

 

Swap Shop: Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn

It was a deal that stunned fans in two cities, as well as the American League as a whole. The trade of the reigning batting champion for the reigning home run champion defined the careers of the players involved, as well as the man who engineered it.

And baseball in Cleveland has never been the same.

Leading the American League in home runs in 1959 wasn’t enough to keep Rocky Colavito in Cleveland. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers on the eve of Opening Day in 1960.

Leading the American League in home runs in 1959 wasn’t enough to keep Rocky Colavito in Cleveland. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers on the eve of Opening Day in 1960.

Rocky Colavito was already a legend in Cleveland at the start of the 1960s. He hit 21 home runs as a rookie in 1956, and banged out 41 homers in 1958 while leading the American League with a .620 slugging percentage. To prove that performance was no fluke, Colavito led the league with 42 home runs in 1959 and finished second with 111 RBIs.

Only one man could keep Colavito from being one of the Indians’ all-time slugging greats, and that man was Frank Lane. Lane had become the Indians’ general manager in November of 1957, after spending two years in that position with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was known as “Trader” Lane for his propensity to trade any player, including an attempt to send Stan Musial to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Robin Roberts … a deal nixed by Cardinals’ owner August Busch.

Lane dealt Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder (and reigning American League batting champion) Harvey Kuenn two days before the opening of the 1960 season. The Indians were never the same. After finishing second to the Chicago White Sox in 1959, the team stumbled to a fourth-place finish in 1960, the first of five consecutive losing records for the Tribe in the 1960s. In those five seasons, Cleveland ended up no higher than its fourth-place finish in 1960, and twice finished as low as sixth place. The franchise languished in the middle of the American League pack, and didn’t see a winning season until 1965, when Colavito’s bat had been reclaimed.

(Lane was long gone by that point, as were all of the players he inherited in 1957. By the end of the 1960 season, none of the players on that team had been with the Indians when Lane arrived.)

In exchange for Colavito, the Indians got outfielder Harvey Kuenn, who had led the American League with a .353 batting average in 1959. Kuenn lasted one year in Cleveland, batting .308.

In exchange for Colavito, the Indians got outfielder Harvey Kuenn, who had led the American League with a .353 batting average in 1959. Kuenn lasted one year in Cleveland, batting .308.

Kuenn was no slouch with the lumber, and his league-leading .353 batting average in 1959 was no fluke. Over seven seasons with the Tigers, Kuenn batted .314 and averaged 192 hits per season. From 1953-1959, his batting average slipped below .300 only once (.277 in 1957), and he led the league in doubles three times over that period.

But Kuenn wasn’t the run producer that Colavito had been for the Tribe, or would be for the Tigers. Kuenn averaged only 59 RBIs for the Tigers, and scored at an average of 88 runs per season. In his only season with Cleveland, Kuenn batted .308 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs. Those weren’t the kinds of numbers that would inspire Cleveland fans to forget their beloved Colavito, or forgive Lane for letting Rocky get away. Following the 1960 season, Kuenn was traded to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland.

Rocky Colavito played for four years with the Tigers, averaging 35 home runs and 108 RBIs per season. Starting in 1960, the Indians didn’t post a winning record until 1965, when Colavito was back in their lineup (and leading the American League with 108 RBIs).

Colavito had several outstanding seasons for the Tigers. In 1960, he hit “only” 35 home runs and drove in 87 runs. His runs scored dropped from 90 in 1959 to 67 in 1960 … but that was still two runs more than Kuenn scored that same season. Colavito rebounded in 1961 to bat .290 with 45 home runs and 140 RBIs. He scored 129 runs in 1961, third most in the American League.

From 1958-1962, no one in major league baseball hit as many home runs as Rocky Colavito. And no one in the American League drove more runs home during that five-year stretch.

 

 

 

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Third and Long Ball

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Max Alvis

When Max Alvis broke in with the Cleveland Indians in 1963, he seemed destined for stardom. A good-hitting, good-fielding third baseman with power, Alvis was, throughout his brief career, a true professional who could not completely overcome the virus that shortened his stay in the majors.

The Jasper, Texas native was signed by the Indians in 1958. He opened the Tribe’s 1963 season as the team’s starting third baseman, and put up solid offensive numbers: a .274 batting average, 32 doubles, 22 home runs and 67 RBIs. He led the Indians in home runs in 1963, and led all American League third basemen in putouts.

Max Alvis had a solid rookie season for the Cleveland Indians in 1963. He batted .274 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs.

Max Alvis had a solid rookie season for the Cleveland Indians in 1963. He batted .274 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs.

Alvis was on his way to an even-better season in 1964. By the end of June, he was batting .251 with 12 home runs and 29 RBIs. Traveling with the team to Boston, he was struck with an intense headache that only got worse with time. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with spiral meningitis. He was told that the illness had been caught in time, and upon his return in August that seemed to be the case. Alvis finished the year batting .252 with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs — in a season shortened for him by nearly six weeks.

Alvis had made a remarkable recovery, though he was never quite the same player afterward.

In 1965 Alvis hit 21 home runs and drove in 61 runs, both fourth best on the team. He was named to the American League All-Star team that season, as he would be again in 1967 when he hit 21 home runs with 70 RBIs. Then over the following two seasons, his numbers declined steadily. By 1969, he was relegated to a part-time role, batting .225 with one home run and 15 RBIs.

After eight seasons with the Indians, Alvis was traded with Russ Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Frank Coggins, Roy Foster and cash. He spent one season with the Brewers, batting .183 in 62 games, before retiring at age 32.

In nine major league seasons, Alvis batted .247 with 111 home runs and 373 RBIs. He was an All-Star twice. He ranks 59th among home run hitters in the 1960s.

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Former MVP Traded for Future MVP

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 17, 1969) The Atlanta Braves announced today that they had acquired the 1967 National League Most Valuable Player, Orlando Cepeda, from the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher-first baseman Joe Torre.

As a member of the Cardinals, Torre would himself be named the National League’s MVP in 1971.

After batting only .248 for the Cardinals in 1968, Orlando Cepeda was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Joe Torre. The trade revived the careers of both sluggers.

After batting only .248 for the Cardinals in 1968, Orlando Cepeda was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Joe Torre. The trade revived the careers of both sluggers.

In his three seasons with the Cardinals, Cepeda had led the team to the National League championship in 1967 and 1968. In his MVP season of 1967 (the National League’s first unanimous MVP since Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell was the unanimous selection in 1936), Cepeda hit .325 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBIs. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 73 RBIs as the Cardinals repeated as National League champions in 1968, though he hit two home runs with six RBIs in the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Cepeda would play an integral role in the Braves’ 1969 divisional championship season, hitting .257 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs. His best season in Atlanta would come one year later, batting .305 for the Braves with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs. In 17 seasons, the 11-time All-Star finished with 379 home runs and a career batting average of .297. Cepeda was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

The move to St. Louis recharged Joe Torre’s run production. After knocking in only 55 runs for Atlanta in 1968, Torre drove in 101 runs in 1969 and 100 runs in 1970. In his MVP season of 1971, Torre led the major leagues with 137 RBIs.

The move to St. Louis recharged Joe Torre’s run production. After knocking in only 55 runs for Atlanta in 1968, Torre drove in 101 runs in 1969 and 100 runs in 1970. In his MVP season of 1971, Torre led the major leagues with 137 RBIs.

Torre also had a strong turnaround following the trade. Moving to first base for the Cardinals, Torre would hit .289 with 18 home runs and 101 RBIs. He would also drive in 100 or more runs in the next two seasons. During his MVP season of 1971, Torre would lead the major leagues in hits (230), RBIs (137), total bases (352) and batting average (.363).

After an 18-year playing career, Torre would compile a 29-year career managing the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers. His Yankee teams would win four World Series and six American League pennants.

 

 

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The Lefty After Whitey

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Fritz Peterson

When long-time Yankee ace Whitey Ford retired in May of 1967, his southpaw replacement was already on the roster. Fritz Peterson stepped into Whitey’s place in the Yankees’ rotation and provided solid starting pitching for the team until he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1974.

Fritz Peterson's best season with the New York Yankees came in 1970, when he was 20-11 with a 2.90 ERA

Fritz Peterson’s best season with the New York Yankees came in 1970, when he was 20-11 with a 2.90 ERA

Peterson was signed by the New York Yankees in 1963 and advanced steadily through the Yankees’ farm system until his debut in New York in 1966. He was 12-11 for the Yankees in his rookie season, posting a 3.31 ERA and two shutouts for a team that finished last in the American League. He struggled in his second season, starting out 0-8 with a 4.35 ERA over the first three months of the 1967 season before finishing at 8-14 with a 3.47 ERA.

Peterson bounced back in 1968 to go 12-11 with a 2.63 ERA, and then went 17-16 in 1969, leading all Yankee starters with a 2.55 ERA. He had his best season in 1970, going 20-11 with a 2.90 ERA. He won 15 games in 1971 and 17 games in 1972. From 1968 through 1972, Peterson was 81-66 for the Yankees with a 2.88 ERA. In each of those seasons, he posted the lowest walk ratio in the American League (1.4 walks per nine innings over that five-year period).

After an 8-15 season in 1973, he was traded with Fred BeeneTom Buskey and Steve Kline to the Cleveland Indians for Chris ChamblissDick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. He went 9-14 for the Indians in 1974 and bounced back in 1975 for a 14-8 season with a 3.94 ERA. He was 1-3 combined for Cleveland and the Texas Rangers in 1976, and retired after that season.

Peterson was 109-106 with a 3.10 ERA in nine seasons with the Yankees. His career totals were 133-131 with a 3.30 ERA in 11 seasons. He was named to the American League All-Star team in 1970.

 

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Leading with Hands and Heart

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Red Schoendienst

In more than 60 years in a major league uniform (as a player, coach and manager), no individual was unanimously more respected for his talent and his heart than Red Schoendienst. He was a good hitter and a great fielder, a leader of winners whether on the field or from the dugout.

Red Schoendienst led the National League with 26 stolen bases as a rookie with the Cardinals in 1945. His .342 batting average in 1953 was second to Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo.

Red Schoendienst led the National League with 26 stolen bases as a rookie with the Cardinals in 1945. His .342 batting average in 1953 was second to Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo.

Schoendienst played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, batting a combined .289 and was named to the National League All-Star team nine times. His best season offensively for the Cardinals came in 1953, when he batted .342 with 15 home runs and 79 RBIs.

In 1956 Schoendienst was traded by the Cardinals with Jackie Brandt, Dick Littlefield and Bill Sarni to the New York Giants for Al Dark, Ray Katt, Don Liddle and Whitey Lockman. He hit a combined .302 in 1956 and hit .309 in 1957, playing the last 93 games with the Braves after being traded to Milwaukee for Ray Crone, Danny O’Connell and Bobby Thomson. He finished the 1957 season with 200 hits, tops in the major leagues. He was a key ingredient in the Braves’ success, being named to the All-Star team for the tenth time and finishing fourth in the Most Valuable Player balloting.

Red Schoendienst led the National League with 26 stolen bases as a rookie with the Cardinals in 1945. His .342 batting average in 1953 was second to Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo.

Red Schoendienst led the National League with 26 stolen bases as a rookie with the Cardinals in 1945. His .342 batting average in 1953 was second to Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo.

Schoendienst played four seasons in Milwaukee, hitting a combined .278, and was released by the Braves following the 1960 season. He signed with St. Louis and finished his career where it started, hitting .300 in 1961 and .301 in 1962 as a part-time player. He retired six games into the 1963 season to become a Cardinal coach and, later, the team’s manager.

Schoendienst finished his 19-season career with 2,449 hits for a .289 batting average. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

 

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Shaw Me the Money

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Shaw

Right-handed pitcher Bob Shaw was a battler on the mound and, when necessary, a guy who wasn’t afraid to stand up to management in his own defense. In many ways, he was fashioned from the mold of his former Chicago White Sox teammate, Early Wynn, though not quite as talented, or nearly as irascible.

After a 5-4 rookie campaign in 1958, Bob Shaw was 18-6 for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. His .750 winning percentage was the best in the American League.

After a 5-4 rookie campaign in 1958, Bob Shaw was 18-6 for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. His .750 winning percentage was the best in the American League.

Shaw was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1953 and made his debut in Detroit at the end of the 1957 season. He opened the 1958 season with the Tigers but was demoted to the minors, and when he refused to report over a bonus payment dispute, he was traded with Ray Boone to the White Sox for outfielder Tito Francona and pitcher Bill Fischer.

It was a career-transforming move for Shaw, partly because he got the opportunity to pitch, and partly because of the influence of his roommate, the Hall of Fame bound Wynn. Shaw went 4-2 for the White Sox over the rest of the 1958 season, pitching primarily out of the bullpen.

The bullpen was where he started in 1959, but by the end of the season, Shaw was the number two starter for the American League champions behind the 1959 Cy Young Award winner, his mentor Wynn. Shaw went 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA, his .750 winning percentage the best among American League pitchers.

Shaw was 13-13 for the White Sox in 1960, and in 1961 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics with Wes Covington in a deal that brought pitcher Ray Herbert to the White Sox. Shaw was a combined 12-14 in 1961, and after the season’s end was traded again, this time to the Milwaukee Braves in a deal that brought Joe Azcue, Manny Jimenez and Ed Charles to the A’s.

Bob Shaw split his 11-year major league career between starting and the bullpen. He was effective in both roles. In 223 starts, Shaw was 85-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 14 shutouts. In 207 relief appearances, Shaw was 23-17 with a 3.20 ERA and 32 saves.

Bob Shaw split his 11-year major league career between starting and the bullpen. He was effective in both roles. In 223 starts, Shaw was 85-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 14 shutouts. In 207 relief appearances, Shaw was 23-17 with a 3.20 ERA and 32 saves.

Shaw had an excellent season for the Braves in 1962, going 15-9 with a 2.80 ERA and 12 complete game. He slipped to 7-11 in 1963, posting a 2.66 ERA and pitching mostly out of the Braves’ bullpen. In December of 1963 he was traded with Del Crandall and Bob Hendley to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey, Billy Hoeft and a player to be named later. As a relief specialist, Shaw led the Giants in appearances with 61 and saved 11 games with a 7-6 record, posting a 3.76 ERA. In 1965, he moved into the Giants’ starting rotation and went 16-9 with a 2.64 ERA.

In 1966, the Giants sold Shaw to the New York Mets, and he finished the season at 12-14 combined. His last season was 1967, split between the Mets and the Chicago Cubs. Shaw went 3-11 with a 4.61 ERA.

In 11 major league seasons, Shaw was 108-98 with a 3.52 career earned run average. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1962.

 

 

 

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Johnny Clutch

 

The Glove Club – Johnny Edwards

For more than a dozen years, Johnny Edwards was one of the best defensive catchers in the National League.

Johnny Edwards was the National League’s Gold Glove catcher in 1963 and 1964. He led the league in fielding percentage four times.

Johnny Edwards was the National League’s Gold Glove catcher in 1963 and 1964. He led the league in fielding percentage four times.

Edwards was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1959 after playing in college for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He was called up to Cincinnati in 1961, batting .186 in 52 games as the backup to Jerry Zimmerman. By 1962, he was Cincinnati’s starting catcher, hitting .254 with eight home runs, 50 RBIs and a career-best 28 doubles.

From 1962 through 1965, Edwards averaged 130 games per season and batted a combined .265. He also averaged 11 home runs and 56 RBIs per season, while appearing in three All-Star games. He also won the Gold Glove in 1963 and 1964.

His best season with the Reds came in 1964. Edwards batted .281 with seven home runs and 55 RBIs.

In February of 1968, the Reds traded Edwards to the St. Louis Cardinals for Pat Corrales and Jimy Williams. In his lone season in St. Louis, Edwards batted .239 with three home runs and 29 RBIs. Then he was dealt to the Houston Astros for Dave Adlesh and Dave Giusti. In his six seasons in Houston, Edwards batted a combined .237 while averaging four home runs and 33 RBIs.

What kept Edwards in the lineup was not his bat as much as his durability and his defense. He averaged 126 games from 1969 through 1972, and during that period he led the league twice in assists and in putouts in 1969. Edwards led the league in assists four times during his career and once more in putouts (1963).

Edwards retired after the 1974 season with a .242 career batting average.

 

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Success in the Shade of a Palm

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Dave Giusti

Dave Giusti had two pitching careers spanning 15 major league seasons. Starting out with the Houston Colts, he was an innings-eating starter who had limited success with a team of decidedly limited abilities.

Then after seven years as a starter, Giusti became one of the most effective relief pitchers in the National League once he was transplanted in the bullpen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A young Dave Giusti was the ace of the Houston Colts pitching staff in the mid-1960s. He was 15-14 in 1966, leading the Colts in wins, starts (33) and shutouts (4).

A young Dave Giusti was the ace of the Houston Colts pitching staff in the mid-1960s. He was 15-14 in 1966, leading the Colts in wins, starts (33) and shutouts (4).

Perfecting the off-speed palm ball transformed Giusti into a devastating reliever, and made him a critical part of the Pirates’ success in the early 1970s.

But prior to his big breakout in Pittsburgh, Giusti was a promising young starter in Houston, the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 1961. He made his major league debut in 1962, and earned a permanent spot on the Houston pitching roster in 1964, finishing the season as a long reliever and occasional starter with an 8-7 record and a 4.32 ERA. By 1966 he was the ace of the staff, going 15-14 with a 4.20 ERA, and pitching over 200 innings, which he would repeat in each of the next two seasons.

Giusti won 11 games in both 1967 and 1968, and then was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Johnny Edwards. He struggled to a 3-7 record with the Cardinals, and was subsequently dealt to Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh, Giusti found immediate success as the team’s closer. He was 9-3 in 1970 with a 3.06 ERA and 26 saves. He led the National League in saves with 30 in 1971, and recorded more than 20 saves in both 1972 and 1973. From 1970 through 1973, Giusti averaged 61 appearances and 24 saves per season, with a combined ERA of 2.61.

Dave Giusti was one of the National League’s most effective closers during the early 1970s. Pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Giusti led the league with 30 saves in 1971.

Dave Giusti was one of the National League’s most effective closers during the early 1970s. Pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Giusti led the league with 30 saves in 1971.

In 1975, Giusti was now 35 and his fastball had lost some of its zip, but he still managed to go 5-4 for Pittsburgh with a 2.95 ERA and 17 saves. He repeated with another 5-4 record in 1976, but with only six saves and a 4.32 ERA.

Giusti was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1977, but despite a 2.98 ERA, he saved only six games with a 3-3 record. Giusti finished the 1977 season with the Chicago Cubs and retired with a career record of 100-93 and a 3.60 ERA. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1973.

 

 

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