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75 Years and Counting Part XXI: The Story of the 1969 Cleveland Indians

My goodness they were bad

1969 All-Star Game Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

The 1969 Indians started 2-15, and it got worse. The end.

There, I just saved you from having to read more about how awful this team was. Not only was it awful, but it was one of those seasons where everything that could go wrong went wrong.

1969 was a big year for baseball as 4 teams were added, the Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers), Montreal Expos (Washington Nationals), Kansas City Royals, and San Diego Padres all joined Major League Baseball. On top of the new teams, 1969 was the first year of divisional play and playoffs. Two divisions in each league (the east and west) would play each other in a 7 game series to determine who got to go to the World Series, a novel idea at the time.

The Indians only lost two players in the expansion draft, both to Seattle as the Pilots selected Chico Salmon and Lou Piniella (later traded to Kansas City). Notably this was the second time that Cleveland had lost Piniella in an expansion draft as he’d been selected by the Washington Senators in the ‘62 draft. Apparently they didn’t get the message other teams were trying to send that Piniella was a valuable commodity. Not choosing to protect him would come back to bite them as he would go on to win AL Rookie of the Year and have a solid MLB career. Safe to say though that most remember him for his time as a manger.

The Indians blew 50 leads in 1969. A pitching staff that was one of the best in the history of Major League Baseball was suddenly near the bottom of the American League in runs allowed. How was the offense? Well on a positive note we can say, for one of the first times in this series, that they were better than the Yankees! Unfortunately that’s because the Yankees had one of their worst offenses in franchise history finishing second to last in the AL in runs scored. But hey! It’s still nice to beat the Yankees at something.

The offense at least saw some improvement as newcomer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson tied Tony Horton for the team lead in home runs with 27, nearly twice as many as the 14 homers that Horton led the team with the year before.

Ray Fosse, the team’s top prospect, got an early season audition with the club but was unspectacular in what was, for all intents and purposes, his first real big league action. He had gotten a small handful of at bats the previous two years, but this was his first chance to really see big league pitching. Fosse would go on to have a spectacular year in 1970 (more on that tomorrow) but the growing pains were evident for the 22 year old as he struggled to adjust to the Major League level.

Seeing Ray Fosse’s name crop up in baseball reference as I was looking at the ‘69 season reminded me of the fact that we’re now in the Amateur Draft era of Major League Baseball. Gone were the days of scouts running around like college football coaches throwing gobs of money at top amateurs hoping they’d sign. Now teams selected players in reverse order of the standings. Fosse was the first draft pick in franchise history. I figured over the course of this series I might as well include a little blurb on who our first rounder was each year and maybe any notable other draft picks.

With the 15th overall pick in the 1969 Amateur Draft, the Cleveland Indians selected Alvin McGrew, outfielder from A.H. Parker HS in Birmingham, Alabama. Now I wouldn’t blame you if your first reaction reading that was “Who?” as McGrew never made it past AAA. He did hit .316 across two levels as a 22 year old in 1974, including .333 in ~60 games at AAA, but he never made it to the majors.

According to a linkedin page of a man named Alvin McGrew from Birmingham, Alabama, he works as a contracts manager for a nuclear powerplant.

The best player drafted by Cleveland in the ‘69 Amateur draft would be David Gus “Buddy” Bell out of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Though his best years came outside of Cleveland, Bell put up a sneaky 66 bWAR over the course of his career.

Join us tomorrow as we move on to the 1970’s and talk about the 1970 season and the derailing of the careers of two of the few bright spots in the Cleveland lineup.