Continuing our look at the week in Tribe history. Part one can be found HERE!
October 3, 1974
After establishing himself as one of the best players in his generation, Frank Robinson set out to continue his time in baseball as a manager. Toward the end of his playing days, he managed during the winter leagues to pick up the experience he needed to helm an MLB franchise in the future. Robinson’s trade from the California Angels to the Indians midway through the 1974 season came as a result of his open campaigning for the manager’s job, held at that time by Dick Williams.
After finishing the 1974 season in fourth place in the American League East with a record of 77-85, the Tribe parted ways with manager Ken Aspromonte. Aspromonte’s firing gave the Cleveland Indians a chance to do something that no other MLB organization had done, hire a black manager. After breaking the color barrier in the American League with the signing of Larry Doby 27 years earlier, the Tribe continued to break barriers as it hired Frank Robinson to be the first black manager, technically, he was a player-manager for the upcoming season.
Incredibly, Robinson homered in the first at-bat of his first game as player-manager. Robinson continued in both roles through the 1976 season. After retiring as a player, he managed the Indians for part of the 1977 season, when the Tribe fired him after a 26-31 start. During his time with the Indians, Robinson amassed a record of 186-189. Robinson overcame many obstacles as he tried to lead the Indians. After his firing, Robinson was resentful of his treatment by players and the front office during his time in Cleveland. While some with the Tribe countered that he was not grateful for the team’s willingness to break the managerial color line. However, as the old adage goes, time heals all wounds. These concerns were laid to rest on May 27, 2017, as the Tribe unveiled Frank Robinson’s statue at Progressive Field, honoring his time with the team.
The Hall-of-Famer (class of 1982) went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals. While with the Orioles, he earned AL Manager of the Year in 1989. He ended his managerial career near the .500 mark, going 1065-1176.
October 3, 1995
After 41 agonizing years, the Tribe faithful finally saw their team back in the playoffs. A raucous 44,218 fans witnessed a five-hour marathon that pitted the Tribe against Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox. It was a night to be remembered.
Clemens stymied the Tribe’s explosive offense for the first five frames, while the Red Sox were able to score a pair on John Valentine’s homer in the third against Indians starter Dennis Martinez. The Indians’ offense finally woke up in the bottom of the sixth, scoring three runs thanks to RBI-hits from Albert Belle (double) and Eddie Murray (single). The 3-2 score held until the top of the eighth inning when Tribe reliever Julian Tavarez gave up a leadoff home run to right field to light-hitting Red Sox second baseman Luis Alicea. Both teams threatened to break the stalemate over the next two innings but were unable to do as they headed to extras.
The tenth saw Jose Mesa walk the first two batters, but he was able to induce a lineout and an inning-ending double play. The 11th saw the Sox take the lead as Tribe pitcher Jim Poole gave up a go-ahead homer to Tim Naehring. Things looked bleak for the Indians as they headed into the home half of the inning, but Albert Belle’s leadoff bomb off new Red Sox pitcher Rick Aguilera to deep left field tied the game. Afterward, Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy requested that Belle’s bat be confiscated to check for corking. Belle responded by pointing to his flexed bicep, indicating that cork was not the reason behind the power displayed.
The Red Sox threatened in the 12th inning as they had men on first and second with only one out. Fortunately for the Tribe, Poole and Ken Hill were able to strike out Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco, respectively. The Indians were poised to win the game in the bottom of the inning. Mike Maddux hit Kenny Lofton to leadoff the inning, while Alicea’s error on Omar Vizquel’s sacrifice bunt allowed Lofton to reach third as Vizquel made his way to first. After Carlos Baerga’s pop fly to short, the Red Sox elected to intentionally walk Belle to load the bases. Sadly for Tribe fans, Murray hit a fielder’s choice which left Lofton out at home, while Jim Thome grounded out to first to end the threat.
After allowing a leadoff single to Mike Greenwell in the 13th, Hill cruised through the next three hitters to end the top half of the inning. Looking to extend the game, the Red Sox brought in Zane Smith who made quick work of Manny Ramirez and Herbert Perry, needing only six pitches to get the first two outs. Tony Pena, who replaced Sandy Alomar in the 11th, stepped up to face Smith. Pena, known more for his defense than his bat, jumped out ahead in the count. Sitting on a 3-0 fastball, Pena sent Smith’s offering deep into the October night as it cleared the left-field fence for a Tribe 5-4 victory.
After a long playoff drought, this game for the ages delivered as fans saw two rain delays, Albert Belle’s bat confiscated, two Tribe comebacks and finally a walk-off homer. It was one of those nights that made one happy to be a fan of Cleveland sports.