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Trying times

Cleveland had a new management team in place in 1958 with William R. Daley as club president and Frank Lane replacing Greenberg as general manager. Notoriously known as "Trader Lane," Lane made 60 separate deals from December 2, 1957 to December 15, 1959 (one sending Maris to the Kansas City Athletics). In the process, the Indians vaulted back into contention in 1959, finishing a close second to the White Sox. The 1959 Indians led the A.L. in HRs, runs scored, batting average and slugging perc e n t a g e . Tribe home attendance was up 125%, trailing only the Y a n k e e s , D o d g e r s , and Braves.

Colavito and Lane
Rocky Colavito & Frank Lane (Cleveland Indians)

Lane dealt Tribe fans a crushing blow by trading Colavito to the Tigers for A.L. batting champion Harvey Kuenn on April 17, 1960. Rocky had been co-HR champ in 1959, blasted 129 homers over four seasons, including four in a game at Baltimore on June 20, 1959, and had become the most charismatic Tribesman of his era.

The brief, tempestuous tenure of Lane was followed by an era of Tribe baseball dominated by new general manager Gabe Paul. Paul was (at different times) g e n e r a l manager, part owner, and CEO of the club from 1961-73 and 1978-84.

Like Cleveland itself, the Indians suffered economically during the 1960s and 1970s. The club underwent seven ownership changes in 25 years (as many as occurred in the first 60 years of the franchise), and endured constant rumors that it would relocate to Seattle, Atlanta, New Orleans, or elsewhere.

Sam McDowell
Sam McDowell (Cleveland Indians)

Teams of 1962, 1965 and 1968 were perhaps a player away from serious pennant contention. The '68 team, owned by Vernon Stouffer, managed by Alvin Dark, and led by pitcher Luis Tiant, was the only Tribe team from 1960 through 1993 to finish as high as third place, but teams of '62 and '65 battled for first place beyond mid-season before fading. In a move aimed at the box office as much as the won-loss record, Colavito was reacquired following the 1964 season. His return sparked a good season and markedly improved attendance, but the cost included future stars Tommy John and Tommie Agee. Tiant's brilliant '68 season (21 wins, league leading 1.60 ERA) was followed by arm trouble and departure. "Sudden" Sam McDowell was a four-time strikeout leader during the 1960s. His 1965 season included a league-low 2.18 ERA, league-high 325 strikeouts (most ever by a Tribe lefty) and two consecutive one-hitters.

For all his brilliance, including a 20-win season in 1970, McDowell's inconsistency mirrored that of the Tribe during those times. Colorful Outfielder Ken Harrelson, 1968 A.L. RBI champ, was acquired amid much fanfare in 1969, broke his leg in 1970 and retired. Catcher Ray Fosse seemed destined for stardom until he was injured (by Pete Rose) in a memorable home plate collision to end the 1970 All-Star Game. Lack of stability and finances in this period placed an emphasis on immediate benefits rather than a long-range plan to achieve consistent success. Accordingly, there were memorable individual accomplishments but little team glory.

Gaylord Perry, acquired with Frank Duffy for McDowell in 1972, brought the Cy Young Award to Cleveland with a spectacular 24-win season. Perry worked for a new Tribe management including owner Nick Mileti and manager Ken Aspromonte. When Paul departed to run the Yankees, Phil Seghi became general manager of the Tribe in 1973.

Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson (Cleveland Indians)

Perry was even better during the first half of 1974, fashioning a 15-game winning streak (tying Johnny Allen's club record). The '74 Indians, managed by Aspromonte and featuring Perry, Buddy Bell, George Hendrick and Charlie Spikes, were just a half game from first place on July 4 and in second place as late as August 22 before falling to fourth. The 1974 season also featured the ignoble Beer Night fiasco on June 4.

On October 3, 1974, Executive Vice President of the Indians Ted Bonda introduced Frank Robinson as the first black manager in MLB history, giving Cleveland another giant first in baseball's integration efforts. Robinson's first at-bat, an opening day home run in 1975, was voted the most memorable moment in club history (by a poll of Tribe fans). His 1976 Indians were the first with a winning record since 1968, but a slow start in 1977 made Robinson another short-lived Tribe skipper. From the departure of Al Lopez to the arrival of Mike Hargrove (1957-1991) no Tribe manager lasted four full seasons on the job.

In the steal of the decade, Seghi obtained first baseman/designated hitter Andre Thornton from Montreal for pitcher Jackie Brown. Thornton battled injuries and personal tragedy to become one of Cleveland's all-time leading home run hitters and most respected players. Less successful was Cleveland's first foray into big-time free agency.

Andre Thornton
Andre Thornton (Cleveland Indians)
In 1976, the Tribe signed Pitcher Wayne Garland to a 10-year, $2.3 million contract. Garland hurt his arm and won just 55 games in five seasons with Cleveland.

F.J. "Steve" O'Neill rescued the financially troubled Cleveland franchise in 1978. O'Neill had been a minority stockholder in the club before departing, with Gabe Paul, to take an ownership in the Yankees in 1973. O'Neill brought Paul back to Cleveland as CEO of the Indians.

The first half of the 1980s were dominated by individual performances such as Joe Charboneau's rookie season and Len Barker's perfect game. Charboneau, Cleveland's third Rookie of the Year, was the star of 1980 and the subject of a book, song, and fan support unseen since Colavito. But, back trouble cut Joe's promising career short. Barker's gem on May 15 punctuated the striketorn 1981 season.

Joe Charboneau
Joe Charboneau (Cleveland Indians)

Cleveland took baseball's center stage on August 9 when it hosted the 1981 All-Star Game that signaled the end to the 50-day long players' strike. Cleveland set its third All-Star Game attendance record with a crowd of 72,086 at the Stadium. Despite an impressive pitching staff led by Barker, newcomer Bert Blyleven, John Denny, Rick Waits, and Garland, the Indians could not reach the top in either half of 1981's split season format.

The All-Star Game was but one indication that Cleveland was a city making a comeback. In 1986, the Indians were back with the best offense in baseball, leading the A.L. in runs for the first time since 1959 and attracting the highest attendance to the Stadium since then. Along with Thornton, who made his own courageous comeback in 1982 after missing all of the 1980 and most of the 1981 seasons, leading the Cleveland offense were Joe Carter, Cory Snyder, Brook Jacoby, Brett Butler, and Julio Franco. The Tribe improved by 24 games for its most wins since 1968.

This latest evidence that Cleveland would support an exciting, winning ballclub preceeded the sale of the franchise from the estate of "Steve" O'Neill to brothers Richard and David Jacobs. Any illusions that there was not much work left to do vanished in a woeful season of 101 losses in 1987. The Jacobs hired former Tribe Farm Director Hank Peters to begin a complete rebuilding process. The new leadership would emphasize player development. And, Dick Jacobs would make it clear that a new baseball park was essential to the survival of the Indians in Cleveland.

Read on:   Early Years | First World Series | Glory Years | Trying Time | Renewed Glory