Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 29- Cleveland Indians

I was shuffling through my ITunes account tonight, trying to find something to help string this post together. For the most part a lot my posts are written with classical music playing in the background to help keep me from rushing through things. The last thing I want to do is leave out an important piece of information. Classical music also doesn’t have a lyricist. Every now-and-then when I listen to anything with lyrics I tend to get my sentences jumbled by writing the lyrics to the song down as opposed to whatever thoughts are going through my head. So, since I’m writing about the Cleveland Indians, nothing I had in my arsenal was really helping me out creatively.

As much as Cleveland has been dumped on over the years I can honestly attest to say that most of it is exaggerated. Funny, but exaggerated. I am probably one of the very small percentage of people who had Cleveland in their “Top-five cities to visit” list last season, which is something that I had been looking forward to doing for the better part of a decade. I grew in a family that loved Rock and Roll. From Chuck Berry to Elvis. From The Beatles and Rolling Stones to Cheap Trick and The Darkness. Rock and Roll is the lifeblood of my family, well, on my mother’s side at least. I’m not going to go into detail on it now, but visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was very high on my “must do” list. While I was there I of course brought my IPod along to really live the experience more intently. The most important song on my playlist, this one.

My Uncle Tim and I have a kindred love for Ian Hunter which dates as far back as when he was originally in Mott the Hoople singing “All the Young Dudes.” This song though, and not the Presidents of the United States of America version that was used for “The Drew Carey Show,” just radiated my experience in that city. Even more interesting is the story behind the song. Mott the Hoople was doing a tour with David Bowie on the East Coast and at every venue they were met with half-filled crowds and were received rather negatively. When they got to Cleveland they were met with a pack house and amazing fans. Hunter states on his web site, "the inspiration for 'Cleveland Rocks' goes back to the old days when people used to make fun of Cleveland. Cleveland was 'uncool' and LA and NYC were 'cool'. I didn't see it that way. Lotta heart in Cleveland." The song was first released in 1977 under the title "England Rocks" on a single in the United Kingdom, predating the release of the "Cleveland" version by two years. Hunter has maintained, however, that Cleveland was the original subject of the song, stating on his web site, "I originally wrote 'Cleveland Rocks' for Cleveland. I changed it later to 'England Rocks' because I thought it should be a single somewhere and Columbia wouldn't release it as a single in the U.S. (too regional). 'Cleveland Rocks' is Cleveland's song and that's the truth." The response to this day is still overwhelming as it’s used as a victory song for all of their sports franchises and it serves as the unofficial theme song for the city. In recognition of "Cleveland Rocks", Hunter was given the key to the city by Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich on June 19, 1979.

The main reason I bring all of this up, besides the fact that I’m writing about an Indians hat, is because of the line, “I’ve got some records from World War II! I play them just like me granddad do! He was a rocker and I am too! Oh Cleeeeveland Rocks. Oh Cleeeeeveland Ro-ocks!” In lieu of my Stars and Stripes posts I couldn’t think of a more fulfilling line and song for this piece.

The Indians, like a lot of teams throughout Major League Baseball, offer military discount tickets and sometimes free tickets on special days when active, retired and off duty soldiers arrive in uniform. In 2012 the Indians held “Marine Week” from June 15-20 to pay tribute to the men and women brave enough to join the Marines. The event featured Marine rock bands, on-field celebrations and auctions featuring autographed by Hall of Fame Indians for charity.

One of the more interesting military stories involving the Indians over the last five years involved All-Star outfielder, and South Korean international, Shin-Shoo Choo who was nearly called back to his homeland to fulfill his country’s military obligation duties. Luckily, for his sake, things worked out for the better.

Since 1971 the Indians are one of the few teams in MLB to have a losing record on Memorial Day. Their 19-20 record featured a 1976 doubleheader with double wins against the Baltimore Orioles, not mention the Indians also had four of those days off due to travel and off days. The Indians also boast some of their weirdest streaks when it comes to Memorial Day. The first I noticed is that from 1971-1999 the Indians went 5-0 against the California Angels; however, after the Angels changed their name to the Anaheim Angels in 1997 they met up again in 2000 where the Angels finally walked away with victory. In 2004 AND 2005 the Indians had Memorial Day off; however, in both of those years they played the Oakland Athletics over the weekend. In both years the Indians swept the Athletics. As an ardent Athletics supporter I really hated finding this stat.

Upon looking at the numbers I marked on my hat I quickly realized that my “Cleveland Rocks” reference makes much more sense. All three of the players I’m paying tribute to spent time in the military during World War II. Now, Just as a heads up I’m not going to talk about their stats much due to the fact that I writing about all three again down the road.

#14- In 1942, at the age of 17, Larry Doby won the Negro National League batting title with a .427 average. It was his first year in professional baseball as a second baseman with the Newark Eagles.

Doby hit .325 with the Eagles in 1943 and entered military service at the end of the season. He served with the Navy at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, where he played with the Negro baseball team. He was later stationed at Ulithi Atoll in the Pacific. Doby's early experiences in relatively integrated northeast New Jersey could not prepare him for the discrimination that awaited him in other places. He often spoke of how stunned and embarrassed he was when he arrived for training upon induction into the Navy in 1944 only to be segregated from whites he had played with and even served as captain for on teams while growing up.

Doby was back with the Eagles in 1946, batting .360, helping the team to the Negro League World Series title, and attracting interest from major league scouts. Doby began 1947 with the Eagles but signed with the Cleveland Indians on July 2, 1947, the first African-American to play in the American League. That same year he also signed with the Patterson Panthers of the American Basketball League as the first African-American in that league. Doby is rarely ever talked about when it comes to his life’s accomplishments. I found a quote by Bob Feller which best describes it, "He was a great American, he served the country in World War II, and he was a great ballplayer. He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was the second African-American player in the majors behind Jackie Robinson. He was just as good of a ballplayer, an exciting player, and a very good teammate. He helped us win the World Series in 1948. He was a great ballplayer, a great American and an excellent teammate."

With that be sure to expect a full article dedicated to Doby in the future.

#19- Bob Feller went through a few number changes before he stuck with #19. Oddly enough, Doby’s #14 was one of them from 1937-1938, a decade before Doby was signed to the Indians. Feller played from 1936-1941 and had been in the Top-three for the American League MVP award in his last three years before becoming the first MLB player to enlist in the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I found an article he wrote about his reason for leaving baseball, even if for a short time, and his time in the Navy. I figure why not let him tell it:

I never have to strain my memory to recall the day I decided to join the Navy. It was 7 December 1941. I was driving from my home in Van Meter, Iowa, to Chicago to discuss my next contract with the Cleveland Indians, and I heard over the car radio that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. I was angry as hell.

I'd spent almost six full seasons in the major leagues by then, with a record of 107 victories and 54 losses, and I had a family- related draft exemption, but I knew right then that I had to answer the call. I arrived in Chicago late that afternoon to meet Cy Slapnicka, the Indians' general manager, who had come there to talk about my contract for 1942, and told him about my decision. I then phoned Gene Tunney, the former world heavyweight boxing champion and an old friend. A commander, Gene was in charge of the Navy's physical training program. He flew out from Washington and swore me in on Tuesday, 9 December.

After my basic training, the Navy made me a chief petty officer and assigned me as a physical training instructor. It was valuable in its way, but I wanted to go into combat. I'd had a lot of experience with guns as a kid, so I applied for gunnery school and sea duty. After four months of naval gunnery school in Newport, Rhode Island, I was assigned to a battleship, the USS Alabama (BB-60), as a gun-captain on a 40-mm antiaircraft mount that had a crew of 24.

Action in the North Atlantic -- and the Pacific

I got what I wanted. The Alabama spent six months escorting convoys in the North Atlantic, and then -- in August 1943 -- went through the Panama Canal and headed for the central Pacific. Over the next two years, we saw action off Tarawa, and in the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Philippines. We bombarded beaches to support amphibious assaults, served as escorts for aircraft carriers, and fended off kamikaze attacks. Two enemy bombs hit the ship during the Marianas Turkey Shoot, and we survived a typhoon that pummeled us with 80-knot gusts off the Philippine coast. The Alabama never lost a man to enemy action. The people we had on the gun crews were very good shots.

In March 1945, I was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center and managed the baseball team there. In the third week of August, just 15 days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, I went on inactive duty. It was back to baseball after that. I rejoined the Indians on 23 August and pitched eight games. I won five and lost three.

Serving in the military is almost always a defining moment for any young man or woman. You're young and impressionable. You meet a lot of new people, and you travel to new places. You learn to be on time, how to follow and, eventually, how to lead.

You Never Forget Combat

But it makes a difference when you go through a war, no matter which branch of the service you're in. Combat is an experience that you never forget. A war teaches you that baseball is only a game, after all -- a minor thing, compared to the sovereignty and security of the United States. I once told a newspaper reporter that the bombing attack we lived through on the Alabama had been the most exciting 13 hours of my life. After that, I said, the pinstriped perils of Yankee Stadium seemed trivial. That's still true today.
You and your comrades never lose touch. I've gone to my share of Alabama reunions, and all of us treat each other as shipmates no matter what else we've done or accomplished -- or haven't -- over the years. I still remember with pain the sailor who stopped by my compartment to talk baseball during one of our North Atlantic convoy runs. A few minutes later, he was missing. Apparently he'd fallen overboard into rough seas -- an accident of war.

Like anyone who has been under fire, I'm certainly not a war-booster. But I still believe, as I did that grim Sunday afternoon in December 1941, in a strong and well-equipped military and in the values that being in the service instills in the young men and women who don the uniform. I'm well aware of the hardships that our service members are enduring right now.

Serving Your Country

For myself, I wouldn't be unhappy if they re-imposed a draft -- not just because we need more troops to meet our needs, but because going through military training is such a character-builder for young people. Everyone ought to serve his or her country for a couple of years or more, even in times of peace.
I was at Great Lakes Naval Training Center a few months ago, where I'd been invited to speak to the graduates of the Navy's basic school, and someone asked whether I'd urge my grandson to sign up, as I had done. My answer was a resounding yes.
I'm still a Navy man at heart. And I'm proud to have served. –

Feller would go on to play 12 more season, all of which came with the Indians.

#42/6- There’s a reason I did this, and it has a rather simple explanation. Bob Lemon Made is MLB debut in 1941 as the #38, but it was changed in 1942 to #42. It would be the last number he’d wear until after returning from three years in the war in 1946 where he adopted the #6, which he only wore for one season. I picked them for the sake of him going away one person and coming home another.

He was born in San Bernardino, California on September 22, 1920. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a third baseman in 1938, and played in their minor league system until entering military service with the Navy in 1943.

Lemon served at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California for the first two years of his service. In 1945, he was sent to Aiea Barracks in Hawaii, and it was there that he made the conversion from infielder to pitcher.

All three players: Doby, Feller and Lemon served their country at the same time, and won the second World Series trophy in Indians’ together in 1948. All three are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame together, and all three a true heroes within the Cleveland community.

KT- I wouldn’t be right to not mention this person in regard to Memorial Day, especially with his ties to the Indians Organization. Kevin Tillman, the brother of former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman, was originally a 30th round draft pick by the Houston Astros back in 1996 out of Leland High School in San Jose, California. Not wanting to pass up on college, he enrolled at Arizona State University with his brother and was once again taken in the draft, this time by the Anaheim Angels in the 31st round of the 1999 Amateur Draft, which he was then picked up by the Indians.

Tillman played one season in 2001, splitting his time with the Burlington Indians of the Rookie League and the AA Akron Aeros of the Eastern League. He hit .241 with six home runs, six doubles and 24 RBI.

After the tragedy which took place in New York City on September 11, 2001, both he and Pat enlisted in the US Army with the Army Rangers, which they both completed. The two were then assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion in Fort Lewis, Washington and deployed together to South West Asia as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Kevin was in the convoy right behind his brother’s on April 22, 2002, the day that Pat was killed.

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