The great collapse of 1969

For the last two years – and the first quarter of this season – the Indians have been trying very hard to make us forget 2016.

There is no arguing that we have been taking large steps in reverse ever since we took the Cubbies to 7 games before falling in the Fall Classic, and it got me to thinking about other times our hopes were raised, only to be dashed by a huge dose of what we shall lovingly refer to as "Indians reality." 

The first time my perennial Tribe hopes were really, really crushed was in 1969, which means this is the 50th anniversary of the "great flop." (Parade, anyone?) Let me set the stage for you ... 

Coming off a disappointing (but, to be truthful, back then almost every season was disappointing) 1967 season, the Indians shocked the baseball world (and probably shocked themselves even more) with a pitching staff that was among the best in baseball, accompanied by a weak offense. Sound familiar?

It would be wrong not to note that baseball was at the tail end of the "dead ball" era, since most teams had excellent pitching staffs. In fact, after the 1968 season Major League Baseball would lower the pitching mound (which would slow the speed of the pitched baseball) because fans were complaining about falling asleep at "dull" baseball games. (My feeling: It’s never dull if you win, folks.)

Anyway, the Tribe won 86 games in 1968, a Herculean feat for an Indians team of the 1960s. (Back then, any year they didn't lose 100 games was considered a "good" year.) Tribe pitcher Luis Tiant won 21 games and led the American League with a 1.69 ERA, and the Indians finished third in the American League (understand that there was no divisional play until the following year) in a 10-team league. Pretty lofty heights for an Indians team and their small but loyal following (reminds me of my readers today).

My favorite player was left fielder Leon Wagner, or “Daddy Wags” as he was known back in the day. He earned the nickname because of the unusual manner in which he wiggled his hips before swinging the bat. He had some big years for the Tribe in the mid-60s but by 1969 his best days were behind him.

Needless to say, the success of 1968 had everyone interested in baseball again. All we needed was a good start, and the momentum of 1968’s success would ensure that, right?

You know how this story ends, don’t you? Yes, you do, but you don’t realize just how badly the Indians flopped. Our beloved Wahoos, who stunned the world in 1968 by playing great baseball, did the old switch-ola the following season. The Indians staggered out of the gate. Actually, “staggered” doesn’t capture the essence of their level of play, as they lost 15 out of their first 16 games – a record only Hue Jackson could love. 

They went on to lose 99 games that season, and it would be many years (try 1986) before anyone gave the Indians a decent chance to win anything. 

But how about we rehash that disaster another day?

Like on its 50th anniversary.

Jeff Bing

Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 10:28 AM, 05.21.2019