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75 Years and Counting Part XVIII: The Story of the 1966 Cleveland Indians

The Indians are average.... again....

Portrait of Rocky Colavito

When I set out to write this series I didn’t realize how often I’d be writing the exact same thing over and over again. The 1960’s have been like groundhog day, it feels like every day I’m finding a new way to say “the Indians had an insane, month long hot stretch and we’re mediocre the rest of the way, finishing at or around .500.” The 1966 season was another in a long line of mediocre seasons with a brief stretch of brilliance, in this case it was the start of the season. The Indians bolted out of the gate to a 14-1 start, including a 10 game winning streak to start the season. Unfortunately they finished below .500 every month the rest of the way.

I just don’t understand, I don’t understand how every single year a team can go on an extended streak where they win something like 90% of their games and then play sub .500 baseball the rest of the season. Seriously, how? One year is fine, it happens, but it’s happened literally every year of the ‘60s. As far as I can tell the biggest culprit was, once again, their complete lack of offense. As a team they only gave up 589 runs on the season, an absurd 3.6/game pace. Unfortunately they only scored 574 runs on the year. Remember how bad we were offensively last year? We still scored 662 runs. Imagine last years team being a full run worse per game, that’s what the ‘66 team was. The fact that they were even close to .500 is a testament to the sheer dominance of their pitching staff.

Of their 5 starting pitchers, Bell, Siebert, McDowell, Hargan, and Tiant, only Bell (3.22) had an ERA above 3. Luis Tiant had one of the most absurd stats I’ve ever seen. Tiant only made 16 starts on the year but still somehow had 5!! shutouts on the year. That’s a shutout every 3 starts, truly an absurd number. McDowell tied with him for the team lead, posting 5 shutouts of his own. McDowell also had back to back one hitters in starts on April 25th and May 1st.

The offense was top heavy, but even the guys at the top were disappointing. Wagner and Colavito led the way, but both had disappointing seasons by their standards, both of them posting an OPS+ around 120. Colavito still had his trademark power but his consistency was starting to wane with age and his batting average fell 40 points from the previous year. He still hit 30 home runs but was starting to show signs of aging, 1966 would be his last productive season as a player and he would be traded away the following year for two players that would see a combined 22 plate appearances for Cleveland.

The ‘66 season would also be the last that saw Birdie Tebbetts at the helm in Cleveland. Tebbetts had battled poor health his entire tenure in Cleveland including a heart attack that kept him sidelined for much of the ‘64 season. After a disappointing August, Tebbetts resigned as manager and George Strickland finished the season.

Tebbetts tenure as manager was, as we’ve discussed, marked by mediocrity but with flashes of brilliance. It just felt like if the Indians ever figured out their offense or found a way to put it all together they’d have a championship caliber team, their pitching was truly one of the most dominant units in the sport, but they just couldn’t hit well enough to get over the hump.

Join us tomorrow as we take a look at the ‘67 season and Joe Adcock’s single year in the Cleveland dugout as manager.