Friday, November 25, 2011

1977 Cleveland Indians

The novelty of having Frank Robinson as manager wore off as the team entered year #3.  Robby had the team at 26-31 and someone strangely thought that they were underachieving.  That same someone compiled one bad judgement on top of another by replacing Robby with Jeff Torborg who went 45-59.  The team finished a combined 71-90 and clinched itself another 5th place finish.  After finishing 81-78 in 1976 hopes were high for 1977.  What ownership and the fan base failed to realize was that the team completely overachieved.  This was a franchise stuck right in the middle of a 30+ year funk, so the fans were desperate for anything.  From 1961-1977 the Tribe would finish higher than 4th place only once (1968).  During the 1970's they would finish last or next to last 6 times.  The "Curse of Rocky Colavito" was firmly in place.  The hopes of the franchise sat firmly on the right shoulder of high priced free agent Wayne Garland, who won 20 the year before in Baltimore.  Quickly on Garland realized that Cleveland was no Baltimore.  Garland logged 282 innings and had a decent 3.60 ERA, but was rewarded with a 13-19 record in what would turn out to be the best year of his Cleveland experience.  22 year old Dennis Eckersley was 14-13 (3.53) and "Big" Jim Bibby was 12-13 even though he had a 3.57 ERA.  After the "big 3" the Indians were in trouble.  Pat Dobson (3-12) was on his way out the door and Al Fitzmorris (6-10, 5.41) was a half step behind him.  Jim Kern was the closer with 18 saves, but he was just as adept at blowing a save as putting one in the books.  He was supported by a pair of lefties, Rick Waits and Don Hood, who both did an admirable job.  Waits split his time between the pen and the rotation.

The offense was nothing to write home about.  They finished 9th in run scoring and 13 in homers in a 14 team league.  Andre Thornton (28) was the only regular with more than 20 homers.  The enigmatic Rico Carty had 15 homers as the DH, but brought along enough baggage to get charged a premium by any airline.  25 year old Buddy Bell brought his gold glove and a solid .292 average, along with 10 homers.  What truly haunted this team was it's dreadful outfield.  While the trio of Bochte, Norris and Dade hit a combined .285, they had zero pop.  11 homers between 3 starting outfielders is bound to doom any team.  Gold Glove centerfielder Rick Manning's average dropped 70 points in a year, which relegated him to 4th outfielder status.  Manning hit .285 and .292 in his first two full seasons as a 20/21 year old.  He peaked early and never reached the potential prognosticators put on him.  Larvell Blanks did a great job as a utility man hitting .286 with 6 homers in 322 AB's.  Ray Fosse and Fred Kendall split the catching chores until Fosse moved over to Milwaukee later in the year.  Johnny Grbb and Ron Pruitt were great additions to a crowded outfield brigade and the bench.

When all is said and done this team maybe could have won a few more games, but not many.  With attendance 13th in the league players played half of their games in an empty Municipal Stadium that was dank and cavernous.  The highlight of the season was on May 30th, when Dennis Eckersley tossed a no hitter vs the California Angels.  Pennant fever in Cleveland was once described by Mike Lupica as "lasting 48 hours".  In 1977 it might not have lasted that long.

I added 15 new cards to complete this set, plus I updated 4 existing cards that had bad airbrush jobs or even worse BHNH shots.

Garland was the big free agent signing that turned into a huge bust over the lifetime of the contract.  In fact he became the post child for everything that was wrong in Cleveland during the forgotten decade of the 1970's.  Garland pitched better than his record indicated in 1977, then became disinterested as well as injured.  His original 1977 Topps card was a horrible BHNH with Garland sporting that horrible 'fro.  This updated card makes full use of the Sporting News' cover that he was on previewing the season.  Nothing said "bad softball uniform" better than those red jersey/pant combos that the Tribe sported during this era.

Fitzmorris was traded by the Jays to the Cleveland Indians (after being selected in the expansion draft) in exchange for Alan Ashby and Doug Howard. The Indians released him in 1978.  He was an original KC Royal and had 8 solid years in KC (70-48, 3.46).  By '77 he was nearing the end of the line as evidenced by his 6-10, 5.41 record.  His original 1977 Topps card had him wearing a horribly airbrushed cap.  I cut an pasted a new cap on him to make it look a bit more realistic.

After 2 season in Baltimore, Hood spent 5 years in Cleveland logging innings out of the pen and adding not much at all to the mix.  On June 15, 1979 he was traded by the Tribe to the Yankees for surly slugger Cliff Johnson.  A quick stop in St. Louis in 1980 found him out of baseball in 1981 until he caught on with Omaha (Triple A for KC).  Due to his hard work he wound up getting called up to the Royals and played 2 more seasons in the "biggs" before being released at the end of the '83 season.  In '77 Hood went 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 41 games (105 IP) out of the pen.  His original Topps card had him w/out a cap and wearing those flashy red on red uni's.  I updated the card using a signed photo I found while doing a Google search.

Before season's end, Laxton had been traded to the Cleveland Indians, and after the 1977 season would never pitch in the majors again.  He started the 1978 season in the minor leagues with the Portland Beavers. The Indians traded him in midseason, sending him back to the Padres for Dave Freisleben. He finished the year with the Hawaii Islanders, then retired.  Laxton found new life in 1977 due to expansion as a reliever on the Seattle Mariners.  In 2 games in Cleveland he had no decisions and a 5.40 ERA in 1 2/3 innings of work.  I took his 1977 Topps photo that had him wearing an airbrushed Seattle Mariners hat and cut and pasted an Indians cap on top of it.

Camper played for the Cleveland Indians from September 11, 1977 to October 2, 1977.  He compiled a 1-0 (3.86) record in 3 games (1 start).  Camper had a horrible year at Toledo (AAA) going 11-10 (5.34).  His record in Portland (AAA) the following year was even worse (6-8, 7.40).  Still he got a final chance in the Philly chain and when he failed to impress he was released in 1979 at the age of 26.  I used his 1978 rookie panel card photo for this updated 1977 card.

In 11 games out of the pen Andersen was 0-1 (3.14) and no saves.  He gave up just 10 hits in 14 inning  He would go on to have a long (17 seasons) and distinguished career as a slider throwing reliever for 6 different franchises.His best seasons were in Houston and Philadelphia.  He pitched until he was 41.  I found this autographed photo during a Google search.

Monge arrived on May 11th as part of a trade with the Angels along with Bruce Bochte.  He went 1-2, 6.23 in 33 games and basically stunk up the joint.  He would rebound nicely and have 4 solid seasons in Cleveland before being sent to Philadelphia, where he gave up future HOF'er Tony Gwynn's first MLB hit.  Monge would spent 10 years on the big league level and save 56 games.  1979 was his best year.  He went 12-10 (2.40) for the Tribe and save 19 games in 131 innings. I found this autographed photo on ebay.

Alfredo began his career as a member of the Cleveland Indians, who signed him as an amateur free agent in 1973. On December 5, 1978, before having played a full season in the majors, he was traded, along with Phil Lansford (minors), to the Toronto Blue Jays for Víctor Cruz. Alfredo made an immediate impact, sharing the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1979 with John Castino.  As an 19 year old call up he got into 14 games at short and hit .146.  Griffin would go on to play 18 seasons in the biggs and would get the moniker "the Ozzie Smith of the AL" from Mike Scioscia, but he won just one Gold Glove (1985).

After a crappy half season in Montreal where he hit .191 in 183 AB's the Expos dumped Thornton, who was 27 at the time, on the unsuspecting Indians for banjo hitting second baseman Jackie Brown.  Little did the Indians know that they were about to make one of the best deals in the history of their franchise, or at least the past 30 years.  Thornton responded with 10 solid years as the team's regular DH.  He made 2 All-Star appearances, won 1 silver slugger and hit over 20 homers 6 times.  Thornton emerged from the shadows and became one of the top DH's in the AL.  In '77 he actually split time between 1st base and DH and hit .263 with 28 homers and 70 RBI in 433 AB's.  He was know to be one of the classiest men in all of baseball.  This card was updated with a great 8x10 autographed shot.

Since Thornton is the true star of this team I decided to put together a second card for him.  This one came from that late 70's "Sportscaster Cards" that were sold off of TV.  Some pretty good action shots came from this set.  I actually had this set, but my mom decided to get rid of it when we moved.

After appearing in just 50 games for the Indians in 1977 and hitting .241 with no homers, Bill Melton retired quietly from baseball.  At 31 Melton should have been in his prime, but a back injury that occurred in 1972 when he was just 26 caused herniated disk that robbed him of his power and flexibility.  Prior to that Melton was a young phenom.  What most folks don't know is the fact that Melton incurred this injury while saving the life of his young son, who was in the process of falling off a garage roof.  Prior to the injury He hit 23, 33, and 33 homers in 3 consecutive seasons.  He led the AL in homers in 1971, while playing half his games in Comiskey, a pitcher friendly park.  While never a great fielder, Melton's fielding abilty go worse with his lack of flexibility.  In his post baseball career he returned to the White Sox to become an community relations rep and then a post broadcast analyst.  I found this photo on ebay.  It clearly represents Melton during the '77 season, where he clearly knew it was over, but he was trying to make the best of it.

Bochte arrived from the Angels on May 11, 1977 along with Sid Monge in exchange for Dave LaRoche and Dave Schuler.  In 112 games as the team's regular leftfielder he hit .304 (119-392) with 5 homers.  The Tribe did not re-sign him as a free agent at the end of the season and he moved on to Seattle as a free agent.  Bochte would go on to be an All-Star with the Mariners in 1979 and knock in 100 runs.  He abruptly quit baseball in protest of escalating salaries, which he thought were ruining the game he loved.  After missing the 1983 season, due to his protest, he returned in 1984 to play 3 more years, with the Oakland A's.  Bochte's post-baseball life is much more interesting than his 12 year career where he was a line drive hitting machine (career .282 avg).  He became an avowed environmentalist and agnostic, who has worked long an hard to save the planet from destruction.  I used his 1978 Topps photo for this card.

Oliver originally signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1973 after being selected in the third round of the June draft, and his only trial in the major leagues consisted of seven games with the 1977 Indians. He batted 22 times, collecting seven hits, including a triple, three runs batted in, and four bases on balls. His batting average was .318. He returned to the Cleveland farm system and played through 1980, then became manager of the Indians' Batavia farm club.  After 1980 Oliver has spent his career coaching and managing on bot the major and minor leagues.  I used his 1978 Topps rookie panel photo for this card.
Known primarily for his 10 years as a San Diego Padre catcher, Kendall arrived in Cleveland thanks to a December 8, 1976 trade along with Johnny Grubb and Hector Torres, that send George Hendrick to the Padres.  In his one season along Lake Erie, Kendall hit .249 with 3 homers in 103 games behind the plate.  He was dealt in a multi-player trade to the Red Sox the following season, the returned to San Diego for the final 2 years of his 12 year career.  I used his 1978 Topps photo for this card.

After spending 6 seasons buried in the Cleveland minor league system Norris finally got his chance with the parent club.  Playing all 3 outfield positions allowed Norris to get into 133 games.  He hit .270 with just 2 homers and 37 RBI's in 440 AB.  In 1978 he would reprise his role and hit .283.  In '79 his average fell to .249.  The Tribe couldn't carry a starting outfielder with so little power and declining average, so they traded him to the Rangers in a deal involving marginal players and minor leaguers.  He hit .247 in his one season in Texas (1980) and was given his release.  I used his 1979 Topps card photo for this update card.

Grubb didn't last long in Cleveland.  After 5 decent seasons in San Diego he was was part of the George Hendrick trade, which sent him to Cleveland.  In just 24 games he hit .275 (28-93) with very little power.  Grubb would move on to Texas as part of a waiver trade the following season.  He spent 4 seasons in Arlington then moved to Detroit for 5 season, including the 1984 World Championship season.  All in all Grubb hit .278 in 16 seasons as a platoon outfielder and part time DH.  I found this autographed photo while doing a Google search.

As an offseason free agent signing Dade pay dividends hitting .291 in 134 games.  He had above average speed (16 SB), but little if no power (3 HR).  The following season he hit just .254 and saw his playing time reduced considerably.  The tribe dealt him to the Padres midway thought the '79 season for a man who would eventually lead their franchise to 2 AL pennants (Mike Hargrove).  For this updated card I used his '78 Kellogg's 3D card photo, which is why it's a bit blurry.

Known as a charismatic/gifted hitter, Carty's career was marked with frequent battles with injuries, illnesses and teammates.  Carty's run-in's with management and his peers were legendary, including his fights with former Brave teammates Hank Aaron and Ron Reed and Cubs teammate Ron Santo.  Twice during his career he missed two full seasons (1968 & 1971). In his 4 years as Cleveland's regular DH he hit .303.  In 1977 he hit .280 with 15 homers and 80 RBI in 461 AB's.  He hit a career high 31 homers the following season, which was split between Toronto and Oakland.  For most of his career Carty walked more times than he struck out.  In seasons where his BA dipped, his OBP stayed relatively the same.  I used this autographed photo that I found on ebay for his new '77 card.

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