Wednesday, June 12, 2019

1968 Indians Up and Back Down

TRIVIA QUESTION: Sudden Sam McDowell finished his career in the city where he was born. Where was that city?   

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN:   While the San Francisco Giants trio of Mays, McCovey and Hart amassed 302 home runs from 1965-1967, no other team in the NL came close using the same three players during those three years. The Chicago Cubs threesome of Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks finished second with 251 while the Braves trio of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre were third with 246.

In 1959 the Cleveland Indians looked like a team to be reckoned with. By 1960 they were the old Cleveland Indians and for the rest of the decade, save for two seasons, they were no better than a .500 club at best. They ended the decade of the 1950's with a second place finish and 89 wins only to turn the corner into the 1960's almost into oblivion.
(The Tribe of the 60's summed up, Who's on First?)
The Tribe of the 60's was an enigma. They had power and they had pitching but never at the same time, or so it seemed. When 1968 rolled around, the year of the pitcher, it seemed the Cleveland Indians might be ready for a resurgence, or were they?
They didn't hit home runs. Led by Tony Horton's 14 and Duke Sims 11, no one else on the club hit in double figures. They finished 9th of 10 teams in dingers. They didn't hit for average resting in with non pitchers at .234 which was good for 5th in the 10 team league. They did steal bases, and were no. 2 in the league in steals. Led by Jose Cardenal's 40 and Dave Nelson's 23, they were a running team. But the adage remains; "you can't steal first base."

Pitching is where this club stood out. It's not often a team has four pitchers toss 200 innings and while the Indians didn't, they did come close. Led by Sam McDowell's 269 and Luis Tiant's 258, Sonny Siebert had 206 and Stan Williams finished with 194, the starters were innings eaters. They had to be, aside from Vicente Romo and Eddie Fisher in the bullpen, they pretty much sucked. 

They finished third in team defense which was pretty special for the time. Max Alvis at third, and the dependable Horton at first anchored the infield. The rest of the team, Chico Salmon, Dave Nelson, Cardenal, Larry Brown and Sims were adequate enough. 

This team's starting pitching however, is where it was at. They didn't need a lot of defense as Sudden Sam McDowell struck out 283 and Tiant added 264 more.  McDowell was his usual wild thing (borrow that from "Major League") by putting it "just a bit outside" a lot, issuing 110 walks. 
Tiant led the staff with 21 wins (21-9), McDowell was 15-14, Siebert 12-10 and Williams 13-11.  Young Steve Hargan (25) still showed promise despite a 4.15 ERA and a record of 8-15 in 27 starts. It was backslide for him after winning 27 games in the two previous seasons combined. McDowell and Tiant completed 30 games between them. The staff finished first in the AL in ERA 2.66, shutouts 20, strikeouts and fewest hits allowed. 

Cleveland would finish with a record of 86-75 good for third place in the AL, and just one win fewer than their best of the decade in 1965. They were victim to the 1968 Tigers and finished 16.5 games back. If they could have only beaten Detroit. The club was a dismal 6-12 against the eventual AL champs. They were just as bad against the mid-league A's at 6-12 and 7-13 against the bottom dwelling Senators.

However, even with the promise of an uptick and division play in 1969, the Indians were destined to fall back again. The new 1969 season saw them fall back to 62-99 finishing last in the AL Eastern Division.
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