#TBT: The Curse of Rocky Colavito still haunts the Cleveland Indians after 55 years


Five-and-a-half decades later and the Cleveland Indians’ World Series curse remains unbroken

Supposed curses are abound for the Cleveland Indians these days.

It was exactly 55 years ago tomorrow that Tribe slugger Rocky Colavito found out he had been traded to the Detroit Tigers. With Colavito standing on first base during an exhibition game in Memphis, Tribe manager Joe Gordon emerged from the dugout and informed the New York native he had been traded to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for reigning AL batting champion Harvey Kuenn.

While the trade was incredibly unique, as it involved flipping the 1959 home run champion for the 1959 batting champion, it was remarkably unpopular among Indians fans. Fans were outraged by trade-happy general manager Frank “Trader” Lane, who had traded nearly every inherited member of a successful 40-man roster in just two years.

The curse was first acknowledged by Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer whose book The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a 33-Year Slump suggested the trade led to a stretch between 1960 and 1993 when the Indians didn’t finish within 11 games of first place. 50 years after the trade, Pluto again interviewed Colavito, who was still steamed about the trade and said:

"“I loved Cleveland and the Indians,” he said. “I never wanted to leave.”Then Colavito said some very nasty words in connection to Lane, the man who not only traded him — but also dealt Roger Maris, Norm Cash and Score during his tenure with the Tribe.“It was ego,” Colavito said. “Pure ego, that’s why he traded me.”"

In his book, Pluto points out a number of misfortunes that have cast their shadow over the Indians since the trade, including:

-Cleveland re-acquired Colavito in a three-team trade that sent Tommy John and Tommie Agee to the Chicago White Sox. John, who had won two games to that point, went on to win 288 games and played on four World Series teams. Agee went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1966 and helped the New York Mets win the 1969 championship.

-The Tribe traded pitcher Jim Grant to the Minnesota Twins in 1964. Grant won 21 games in 1965, helping the Twins win their first ever AL pennant.

-One of the game’ top pitchers, Sam McDowell, struggled with alcoholism as a member of the Indians and left the game at just 32 years old. Similarly, dynamic power hitter Tony Horton couldn’t handle the stress of playing in the majors and left the game in the middle of his age 25 season.

-After going 20-7 for the Baltimore Orioles in 1976, the Indians signed free agent pitcher Wayne Garland to a 10-year contract, but he hurt his should during his first spring training with the team and finished his career with a 55-66 record. He was out of the league in 1980.

-The Indians traded pitcher Rick Sutcliffe to the Chicago Cubs in 1984 in exchange for Joe Carter and Mel Hall. Sutcliffe went on to help the Cubs win the division title, earning the NL Cy Young Award along the way. While Carter became one of the top sluggers in baseball, the Indians never had a pitcher as good as Sutcliffe during that stretch. Carter was eventually traded to the San Diego Padres in 1989 — for Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga — and flipped to the Toronto Blue Jays, where Carter went on to lead the Jays to back-to-back World Series wins.

-Just as they were this season, the Tribe graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before the 1987 season. Sluggers Carter and Cory Snyder, along with the words INDIAN UPRISING, appeared with the headline, “Believe it! Cleveland is the best team in the American League!” The Indians posted the worst game in Major League Baseball that season, losing 101 games and leading some to believe in the supposed “SI cover jinx.”

-Cleveland tragically lost relief pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews in a boating accident in 1993, and starter Bob Ojeda was nearly killed as well. Reliever Kevin Wickander was reportedly so bothered by the loss of Olin that he never regained effectivenes, causing the Tribe to lose four pitchers in one accident that offseason.

A number of other horrific postseason failures have doomed Cleveland since the book was published, including:

-Despite being heavily favored in the 1995 World Series, following a season in which they won 100 games, the Indians were topped in six games by the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta made five trips to the World Series during the decade and was only able to defeat the Indians.

-The Indians made the World Series again in 1997, facing off against the Florida Marlins in a series that went seven games. Cleveland led 2-1 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and dynamite closer Jose Mesa was on the hill. Mesa, however, was unable to get the last two outs and the Marlins went on to win in 11 innings.

-Cleveland squandered a 2-1 series lead in 1998, dropping the final two games of the ALCS to the New York Yankees at home. Again in 1999, the Indians fell in the series after going up 2-0.

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-In order to retain Ramon Vazquez, the Indians cut infielder Brandon Phillips in 2006. Vazquez was eventually cut by the Tribe, while Phillips moved to Cincinnati and won three Gold Gloves (2008, 2010, 2011), a Silver Slugger Award (2011) and became a two-time All-Star (2010, 2011).

As it continues, the Indians have not won a World Series since 1948 and have claimed just two American League pennants since 1954. Reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and AL MVP candidate Michael Brantley appeared on the cover this season’s Sports Illustrated, much to the disappointment of Indians’ fans, and have gotten off to a rough start to their 2015 campaign.

Is it the SI cover jinx? Does the Curse of Rocky Colavito still cloud the success of the organization? Are the Indians tempting fate by becoming entangled in a big mess of curses?

Or is this finally the year the Cleveland Indians break the curse?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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