Schneider pens book on 'bad old days'
"Whatever Happened to 'Super Joe?'" reflects on Tribe past
They won't be found on any Cooperstown roll call. To get into the Hall of Fame, they'd probably have to pay admission.But in Cleveland, where they plied their trade on teams best defined as "lovable losers," they became household names. They weren't all bad players, but they most certainly played on some bad teams. They are, as former Plain Dealer sportswriter Russell Schneider dubs them, "good old guys from the bad old days of the Cleveland Indians," and they are profiled in Schneider's entertaining new book, "Whatever Happened to 'Super Joe?'" ($14.95, Gray & Company). The book, named after the legendary Joe Charboneau, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1980 shortly before the demise of his career, is an expansive collection of 45 "Where are they now?" stories. But it really reads as a trip down memory lane. Schneider updates us on the lives of former players and managers, such as Cory Snyder, Chris Chambliss, Pat Tabler, Tom Candiotti, Brook Jacoby, Ken Aspromonte, Doc Edwards, Gary Bell and Jeff Manto. And in doing so, he rehashes the stories and games that made them memorable characters in Indians lore. The 210-page book is a breezy read, and when it's at its best is when the players are candid about their days at cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium. For instance, in the chapter on Richie Scheinblum, who played for the Tribe in 1965 and 1967-69, the outfielder recounts a particularly brutal 0-for-35 stretch at the plate in '69. "I should have known it was going to be a bad season because of what happened in Spring Training," Scheinblum tells Schneider. "One day I hit for the negative cycle -- I got thrown out at first base, I got thrown out at second base trying for a double, I got thrown out at third base trying for a triple, and I got thrown out at home trying for an inside-the-park homer, all in the same game." Equally funny is the story told by 1960s-era catcher Joe Azcue, who told Schneider of a time when he forgot to put on his catcher's mask when he went behind the plate and nobody noticed until after the first batter was retired.
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"Oh, my God, I could have been killed!" says Azcue, who now runs a detail shop at a car dealership in Kansas City. The book isn't always humorous, though. The chapter on Harold "Gomer" Hodge tells of the former infielder's forced "retirement" from a coaching job in the Montreal Expos' farm system and his subsequent battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease. The popular Hodge lost his battle with the disease earlier this month. Some of the players Schneider gets in touch with come across as somewhat bitter about the way the game passed them by, or, more often, the way their peak salaries pale in comparison to today's Major League minimum. "I hope players today realize that one of the reasons they're doing so well is because of what we did in the past," says former pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant. "Our hard work and sacrifices helped them get where they are." Hard work didn't amount to many victories for the Indians teams of the 1960s, '70s, '80s and early '90s, but that doesn't mean the bad old days didn't have some good old guys worth remembering. Schneider's book, then, is a good prescription for those Tribe fans looking for a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.