by Terry Pluto
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If you can, think back to the spring of 1960. Colavito was twenty-six years old. He already had 123 big-league homers and would hit 251 more. Yet the Indians traded him for thirty-year-old Harvey Kuenn, who would hit 87 homers in his fifteen-year career.
"The Indians traded a slow guy with power for a slow guy with no power," said Gabe Paul.
Paul knows a bad trade when he sees one because he made so many himself during his twenty-five years running the Tribe -- some say running it right into the ground. One of those deals was in 1965. Colavito was thirty-two and three years away from retiring to his mushroom farm. To bring him back, Paul gave up Tommy John and Tommie Agee. John had won only 2 games as a rookie with the Indians. He would win 286 more after he was traded. Agee would become a solid center fielder and a World Series hero -- with the New York Mets, not the Indians.
It was so typical of the Tribe: They trade a guy too soon, and then they get him back too late, both times giving up more than they should.
"I had to make the Colavito deal to save the franchise," said Paul. "We were dying at the gate. We needed to create some fan interest. If we didn't do something dramatic, the team would have moved."
Okay, so what was Frank Lane's excuse in 1960?
"I don't know," said my dad when I asked.
That's because with Lane there was no "why." He'd rather trade than explain. He traded everybody. He even wanted to trade his entire team for the entire Chicago White Sox, and Chicago was considering it until the American League said, "No you don't." Discovering that he couldn't trade the whole team and not wanting to fire the manager, as most general managers do in that situation, Lane became the first and last guy ever to trade managers. He sent Joe Gordon to Detroit for Jimmie Dykes.
We Indians fans often seek refuge in flights of fantasy. We think of 1961, of Cash, Colavito, and Maris in the same Cleveland lineup. In 1961, Maris was setting a major league record with 61 homers -- for the Yankees. Cash was batting.361 with 41 homers -- for Detroit. Colavito had 45 homers and 140 RBI -- for Detroit.
But back to 1959. That was the last time the Indians went into September with even a chance to win a pennant. Boston Red Sox fans whine about the curse of the Bambino, about losing in the World Series. Losing in the World Series? You call that suffering? What Indians fans would give for a repeat of 1954 -- the Indians' last World Series -- when they were swept in four games!
Copyright © 1994 by Terry Pluto. Excerpted with permission.