Believe it or not, something is happening in Cleveland.
Cleveland? You mean the river's on fire again? It stopped snowing? You got a new joke? C'mon, what do you mean, something is happening in Cleveland? The football season's been over for almost three months.
So it is, but baseball is just beginning, and this could be the year that....
What? Baseball in Cleveland? You gotta be kidding. Let me tell you something about baseball in Cleveland. Why, last year's team was the first in 10 years to finish higher than sixth, and it finished fifth. No team in that town has finished as high as third since 1968, and the last one to finish second was in 1959. The Indians haven't won a pennant in 33 years. Nobody plays for them anymore. They haven't had an MVP since Al Rosen in 1953. Their last batting champion was Bobby Avila in 1954. Their last home run champ was Rocky Colavito in 1959. The youngest guy on their alltime All-Star team is Bob Feller, and he retired in 1956. They've got the biggest stadium in baseball (74,208), but it's a dump and nobody goes there. They went 14 years, 1960 to '74, without drawing a million, and until last year they'd gone three straight years without even drawing 800,000. Look at '85—last-place team, 102 losses. Drew 655,181, lowest in the big leagues. In their first 33 home dates that year they had 16 crowds under 6,000. Don't talk to me about baseball in Cleveland.
True enough, but last season the Indians won more games (84) than they had in any year since 1968, and they passed 1985's attendance in their 38th home date. The fans are excited. It's like 1948 all over again. There's a feeling that this is the year. People, baseball people, are starting to talk.
So tell me about this year.
Sure. The Indians have quality players at every position, so many good ones, in fact, that first baseman Pat Tabler, a .326 hitter in 130 games last season, will not start against righthanded pitching; and leftfielder Mel Hall, a .296 hitter in 140 games, will not play against lefties. The regular infield averages 27 years of age and 87 RBIs. It's a team that is just approaching its peak.
Yeah, but how about pitching? Understand they've got some 48-year-old geezer starting for them.
Not just any 48-year-old. He's Phil Niekro. Knucksie. And they have some young guys, including a phenom, Greg Swindell, who throws hard. They also picked up Rick Dempsey, a smart catcher. He'll be a big help.