The 1971 Tribe in a word: Unbelievable

You know, it seems like only yesterday the Cleveland Indians were getting ready for the 1971 season. Okay, that statement is obviously a stretch. It really feels more like the day before yesterday.

There was a lot going on in my life at the time. I graduated high school, although I’m sure there were many in the school system who took issue with the wisdom of setting me loose in society. Then again, not pushing me through meant having me around for another school year, which had to be terrifying (especially for the English Dept.). I was like the Freddie Kitchens of academics.

Regardless, after I was given my own walking papers in the form of a diploma, I’m pretty sure the school system completely re-designed their evaluation process. In an ironic twist, it pretty much mirrors what the Indians organization did during the 1971 season.

Anyway, 1971 marked the end of the Alvin Dark era. Dark was the golden boy of 1968, when he took the 1967 group of misfits and managed them an 86-75 record in 1968, good for third place in the American League (which also was the final year before MLB baseball leagues split into divisional play). After the success of 1968, Dark eventually also assumed the role of general manager, replacing Gabe Paul, who had feuded with Dark on several occasions regarding personnel decisions. Many point to this as the “beginning of the end” of the Dark regime and the beginning of the Dark Era (appropriately named, eh?) of Cleveland baseball, which would ultimately last a quarter of a century.

Dark’s tenure in Cleveland was a roller coaster ride: After the 86-75 “miracle” of 1968, the Indians nose-dived to 62-99 in 1969, rebounded somewhat in 1970 at 76-86, and then, well, 1971.

The Indians, incredibly enough, won three of their first four games that season, yet, more incredibly, still managed to finish the month of April with a record of 6-14. The Indians played so-so at times, as even the worst of teams do over 162 games, but ultimately Alvin Dark was fired when the Indians were mired at the bottom of the division at 42-61.

It wasn’t all Dark’s fault. For instance, Steve Hargan, one of the Indians’ better pitchers to emerge from the Tribe’s farm system in the ‘60s, who had recorded an 11-3 record with a 2.90 ERA in 1970, was injured during the year and continued to pitch anyway. He finished with a record of 1-13 (no, that’s not a typo) with an ERA of 6.19 (unfortunately, not a typo either). The team finished the 1971 season with a dismal 60-102 record.

The problems that plagued the Indians were many: As noted above, key injuries were one. Because they were always cash-poor (they only drew 591,000 fans in 1971 and TV revenue was not what it is today), they constantly traded the little talent they had for (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a bunch of less talented players with the hope one or two might make it (but rarely did they).   

Unfortunately, this cycle repeated itself many times, all the way up through the mid-'80s, when Dick Jacobs bought the team and concentrated on building a top-flight baseball organization, which didn’t begin to bear any fruit until the early '90s. The thing is, he went in knowing he had to spend money to make money.

Unfortunately, current ownership is only concentrating on the second half of that equation.

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 13, Issue 11, Posted 10:18 AM, 06.02.2021