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75 Years and Counting, Part XV: The Story of the 1963 Cleveland Indians

Birdie and Them Boys Come Up Short... of .500

Baseball Card Of Birdie Tebbetts Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians started 1963 by trading their best hitter from 1962, Chuck Essegian, for a mediocre pitcher named Jerry Walker. Essegian stunk, so did Walker, and so did the 1963 Cleveland Indians. The end.

The Indians tried some new things in 1963 - they had players wear sleeveless jerseys with more red and they painted the lower stands citrus yellow (because what goes better together than red and yellow). These efforts were so successful they had the lowest attendance of any season since 1945 of 562,507 fans.

The 1963 season was notable in that Cleveland hosted the MLB All-Star game, a game chock full of Hall-of-Famers including Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn and Carl Yastrzemski. The only Cleveland player to make the roster was Mudcat Grant, the Indians’ third-best pitcher in 1963, who didn’t appear in the game. You can listen to the game here. Cleveland turned out only 44K fans for the game, emphasizing the apathy of the city for the team and the game of baseball in general. One wonder if this is the time period in which Cleveland became firmly a football town. Rumors that the Indians would move continued to swirl as new majority owner and GM, Gabe Paul, continued a constant roster churn strategy that, unsurprisingly, did not produce consistent performance.

Jack Kralick (125 ERA+) and Pedro Ramos (117 ERA+) were the best pitchers on this 79-83 team. First Baseman Fred Whitfield had a 122 OPS+ and Woodie Held had a 121 OPS+. The Indians made one of their few good trades in acquiring catcher Joe Azcue who proceeded to consistently put up 2 wins a year at the catching position. Props to Azcue, but that being the best trade of a decade is... not good.

Some fun things that happened in this unmemorable season:
- On June 14th, Willike Kirkland hit two extra-inning homers to help the Indians win 3-2 in the 19th inning.
-The Indians signed old friend, Early Wynn, on June 3rd, allowing him to end his Hall of Fame career in Cleveland and get his 300th win on July 13th.
-Al Luplow made an amazing catch and flipped over a fence in Fenway Park, ala Austin Jackson, on June 27th.
-Pedro Ramos struckout 15 batters and hit two home runs in a win against the Angels on July 31st.
-Tito Francona hit a home run to tie a game 1-1 in the bottom of the tenth against the Red Sox, and then knocked in the winning run with a single in the 15th on August 25th. I like to imagine his four-year old son watching this game and deciding he wanted to manage in Cleveland someday. It’s also neat to imagine Terry Francona remembering walkoff hits from his dad when his players hit their own in Cleveland some 50-60 years later.

With that said, the best thing about the 1963 season is that it did not end up being the last for professional baseball in Cleveland. The bad news is that means they were set up to run it back for another “meh” finish in 1964.