Talk about dedication? I’ve survived whooping cough, an aorta-smashing sweep, and writing two stories at the expense of Jose Mesa…in a lifetime of chasing dreams and World Series title with the Cleveland Indians. The tease continues!
Englewood – It was 1948 and my dad drove a powder blue Studebaker Commander, I could buy a 12-ounce glass bottle of Royal Crown Cola for a nickel at Helsel’s Square Deal Grocery — if I could find a nickel — and Corsair fighter planes flew over our house on Hobart Avenue in Akron.
A headline in the Chicago Tribune declared, “Dewey Wins,” in the presidential election. Unfortunately for the Trib, Harry S. Truman won.
I was eight at the time of the 1948 World Series, bed-ridden with the whooping cough and I gagged and gasped between pitches as I listened on the radio.
The Cleveland Indians hadn’t won a World Series since 1920 when they beat the Brooklyn Dodgers during which Tribe second baseman Bill Wambganss concocted the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.
A friend recently asked me if I covered that 1920 World Series, and I don’t think he was being facetious, so I said, “Yep and I had a great interview with Bill Wambganss.”
So it had been 28 years since the Indians won a World Series when they beat the Boston Braves.
My health took a turn for the worse when Bob Feller held the Braves to two hits in Game One, but Boston won, 1-0, as 70,402 watched in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
But the Tribe came back and won in six games, finishing it with a 4-3 win in Boston behind pitchers Bob Lemon and Gene Beardon. My dad even let me have a sip of Erin Brew, “The standard beer,” as broadcaster Jimmy Dudley used to say during commercials.
And who knew the Tribe would not win another World Series through 2015?
IT WAS 1954 and I was 14, collecting baseball cards and searching hard for an Al Rosen card. I kept buying bubblegum. No Rosen card. I was buying Bowman cards and only years later did I discover Rosen wasn’t in the Bowman set. He was in the Topps collection.
The New York Yankees won 103 games in 1954 and finished eight games behind the Tribe, who won an American League record (at the time) 111 games. Pitchers Mike Garcia and Early Wynn each won 23 games, Bob Lemon won 19, Art Houtteman won 15 and Bob Feller won 13.
The New York Giants won 97 games to win the National League pennant, but the Indians were prohibitive favorites, just as the 1990 Oakland A’s were odds-on picks to beat the Cincinnati Reds.
Talk about a smashed aorta. Just as the Reds swept the A’s in 1990, the devilish Giants swept my Indians and it was truly unfair.
Vic Wertz hit a 450-foot cloud-scraper to center field in the Polo Grounds in Game One and Willie May, with his back to the infield, made a wide receiver catch. To this day I don’t like Willie Mays.
Meanwhile, a guy named Dusty Rhodes pinch-hit for Monte Irvin in the 10th-inning of Game One and hit a three-run walk-off home run off Bob Lemon, a ball that traveled about 220 feet shorter than the ball Mays caught off Wertz. The right field corner in the Polo Grounds was only 258 feet. Rhodes’s home run barely cleared the wall. And he hit another one just like it later in the Series. His two home runs barely traveled farther than Vic Wertz’s one blast that was a long, loud out.
Dusty Rhodes is a dirty phrase in the McCoy household.
AND THEN THE LONG, long drought. The Indians didn’t make it back to the World Series until 1995. Their opponent was the Atlanta Braves. The Braves won 14 straight National League East titles, but only one World Series. Guess whom they beat? Yep, my Indians.
I was in the press box for all six games, covering for the Dayton Daily News, and since there is no cheering in the press box, I had to do what Archie Bunker always told Meathead, “Stifle yourself.”
Atlanta won that World Series, four games to two. Five of the six games were decided by one run, including the final game, 1-0, when Tom Glavine and Mark Wohlers combined for a one-hitter. Cincinnati native David Justice hit a sixth-inning home run off Jim Poole for the game’s only run. To me, there is no Justice.
IN 1997, I WAS National President of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which meant I was one of the official scorers for the All-Star game (played in Cleveland) and for the World Series, played between the Indians and the then Florida Marlins.
The Tribe again was heavily favored against the first wild card team to make the World Series.
And it went seven games. The Tribe led, 2-1, going into the bottom of the ninth. I began furiously typing a story, “The Cleveland Indians win their first World Series since 1948.”
I just finished the story when Cleveland relief pitcher Jose Mesa (Joe Table) gave up two hits in the bottom of the ninth and a sacrifice fly to Craig Counsell to tie it, 2-2.
I furiously began writing a story about how, “The Florida Marlins become the first wild card team to win a World Series.”
So, by the time the 11th inning rolled around, I had two stories in my computer — Tribe Wins and Marlins win.
In the bottom of the 11th the Indians had starting pitcher Charles Nagy on the mound. Bobby Bonilla singled to open the inning.
Gregg Zaun tried to bunt and popped out. One out. Craig Counsell hit a grounder to second baseman Tony Fernandez. An inning-ending double play? Nope. The ball went through Fernandez’s legs for an error and Bonilla took third.
With two outs, Edgar Renteria singled to center, a walk-off Series-ender. Don’t mention Fernandez or Renteria within my earshot.
I sent the correct story to the paper, “Marlins win,” but as I left the press box I wondered if I had mistakenly sent the “Tribe wins” story. It could have been “Dewey Wins” all over again. I had sent the right one, but the editor of the paper, a huge Cleveland fan, asked me to send him the “Tribe Wins” story. He had it framed and hung it in his office.
NOW IT IS 19 YEARS later and the Tribe is trying to win the team’s third World Series trophy in its entire existence.
So far, the Indians are doing everything right and everything manager Tito Francona does comes up orchids and champagne.
But I’ve been here before. Do they still make Erin Brew, ‘The Standard Beer?’