His elderly teammate, the high priest of the knuckleball, Phil Niekro, disagrees strongly. "Throwing the knuckler is a 24-hour-a-day job, seven days a week," he says. "You've got to go out there with the idea that the knuckleball is my pitch. I think Tom's future is with the pitch. He should be thinking about nothing else. I think he'll find that knuckleballers over the years have been pretty successful. I know it's kept guys like Charlie Hough and me around."
Niekro is 48, and the pitching staffs other ancient campaigner, Steve Carlton, is 42. They have a combined 644 wins. Together this year they are 10-10, but they are still considered the aces of the Cleveland staff, which says a lot about the state of pitching on the shores of Lake Erie. The graybeards at least know how "to keep us in a game for seven innings," says Corrales. "And they can pitch their way out of jams." And into them, right along with all the other Indian pitchers. Niekro is 5-6 with a 5.42 ERA, and Carlton, who has been released four times in the last year, is 5-4 with a 4.25 ERA.
The team had hoped Greg Swindell would fireball his way to stardom this season. At 22, he is young enough to be the son of either of his two venerable mound mates, and he has gotten his strikeouts—93 in 92⅓ innings. But he's 3-6 with a 4.68 ERA, which is lower than the team average but hardly of Mike Scott caliber. Swindell has also given up 17 homers, 5 more than Candiotti.
The pitching has been so miserable that vice-president Joe Klein feels obliged to explain at virtually every public gathering he attends just why his team did not trade for help in the off-season. At the luncheon meeting of the Wahoo Club last Wednesday, Klein recited his by now familiar litany. "We didn't feel the time was right for a trade," he told the sparse but critical audience of boosters. "We felt the replacements we had available for our regulars—players like Eddie Williams, Jay Bell and Dave Clark—were a year away from being ready. And the pitchers who were available this year were usually some other team's problem players. When our young players are ready in a year or two, we will be able to keep our best and trade others who can bring us good pitching. That is our future."
The future was never going to be now, anyway, Klein insists; it was always going to be wait until next year. "In '85 we set up our four-year plan," he told the Wahoos. "We expected this year's club to be on the verge of contending, and from now on we thought we'd be in contention." Last year's surprising success may have advanced that timetable prematurely. "The surprise element is gone now," says Klein. "It's no accident that we are always seeing the Roger Clemenses and the Jimmy Keys. Other teams are ready for us this year. But believe me, our turn is coming."
Bobby Bonds, ever the optimist, hasn't abandoned hope that their turn can be this season. "If we can just be in single digits out of first place by the All-Star break, then, as potent as we are offensively, I'll take my chances on us."
An "Indian Uprising" after all? Remember, you read it here first.