Today in Cleveland Indians History: Tragedy in Florida

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Baseballs and a bat sit on the field during a Miami Marlins workout on February 23, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Baseballs and a bat sit on the field during a Miami Marlins workout on February 23, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) /

“The Curse of Rocky Colavito“, as it has come to be known, began in 1960 after brash Cleveland Indians General Manager Frank Lane traded star slugger Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers.

Over the next thirty plus years, the Indians would stumble, tumble, and flat-out stink their way to the end of each campaign. From 1960 to 1994, Cleveland finished higher than fourth place just once (1968, third place).

In addition to poor play, the organization was plagued with low attendance, bad luck and unfortunate circumstances. Among them, a devastating boating accident that occurred during Spring Training of 1993 which left two pitchers dead and a third severely injured.

Reasons for Optimism

Fresh off of a competitive 76-86 record in 1992, Indians fans had reason to be optimistic for 1993 and beyond. The Tribe, with rising stars Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, and Carlos Baerga looked to send the aging Municipal Stadium off in style and put the Indians on the cusp of contention for the first time in nearly half a century.

With a new ballpark on the way, the Cleveland faithful were ready to experience the most exciting period of baseball the city had seen since 1954. Great results would of course follow, but in March of ’93, “the curse” struck one final time.

On the evening of March 22, Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin, Tim Crews, and Bob Ojeda decided to go boating on Little Lake Nellie, located in Clermont, Florida, some 22 miles west of Orlando. Olin, 27, was a submarine-style pitcher who excelled as the Indians closer in ’92, posting a 2.34 ERA with 29 saves in 72 games that year.

Ojeda, 35, and Crews, 31, had signed with Cleveland during the offseason after spending the previous year with the Dodgers. All three were expecting to play key roles for the Indians during the upcoming season. Tim’s wife Laurie would later say in an interview with USA Today that “they were just goin’ gator huntin’.”

Sadly, Tim Crews would not live to officially don a Cleveland Indians uniform.

Tragedy on the Lake

Crews, the pilot of the boat, slammed into a dark, unlit pier at an estimated 40 miles an hour. The crash was catastrophic. Olin was killed instantly and was rumored to have been nearly decapitated. Indians strength coach Fernando Montes, the first man on the scene after the crash, disputed this claim.

Crews was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support, but died the following morning. His blood-alcohol level was measured at .14, well over the legal limit in Florida. Authorities also discovered alcohol on the watercraft.

Only Ojeda survived, but not without suffering severe head lacerations and major blood loss. In a 2012 essay for The New York Times, Ojeda wrote that he “escaped being killed by a half-inch” simply because he was slouching in his seat. He said in the same essay that the event “shook him to his core.”

Ojeda would recover and appear in nine games for the Indians that year, going 2-1 with a 4.40 ERA. He then made two appearances for the Yankees in 1994 before retiring.

Crews left behind a wife and three children, while Olin was survived by his wife, daughter, and two twin boys.

Following their deaths, the Cleveland Indians wore a patch on the sleeve of their uniforms during the season. The dock has since been re-built and can still be visited today.

Next: The current and future state of the payroll

Rest in peace, Steve and Tim.