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75 Years and Counting: The Story of the 1979 Cleveland Indians

The end of a decade brings some new faces, and the same mediocre baseball

Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In each entry I try to find at least one interesting story or anecdote from the season to add some context and intrigue. Unfortunately there isn’t really much in the way of narrative to discuss. The Cleveland Indians were an average team in 1979 finishing 6th in the AL East with a record of 81-80, overperforming their -45 run differential by 5 wins.

There were a handful of interesting newcomers to discuss. Bobby Bonds (yes, that Bobby Bonds) was acquired before the season and had an excellent year with the Indians (his last productive year as a player). Bonds hit 25 home runs, stole 34 bases, led the league with 23 caught stealing, and slashed .275/.367/.463. Bonds’ combination of power and speed made him one of the most exciting players in the game, and even at 33 years old he still had enough left in the tank to provide a badly needed spark to the Indians’ lineup. Not enough to get them to the playoffs, but, ya know, baby steps.

The Indians also made a handful of midseason trades to acquire first baseman Mike Hargrove and designated hitter Cliff Johnson. Johnson had a stellar second half for the Indians swatting 18 home runs in only 72 games en route to a massive .538 slugging percentage! Hargrove was also incredibly productive and led the team with a 152 OPS+. Mike Hargrove is a player that I’d be very curious to see what the narrative surrounding him would be if he played in todays game. He was a first baseman with limited power, typically not a profile that equates to success at the big league level, but he walked at an absurd rate. In 12 Major League seasons Hargrove eclipsed 100 walks 4 times, leading the league twice. His career OBP is a hair under .400 but outside of a season where he hit 18 long balls he never hit more than 11, often ending up in the single digits. A career 122 OPS+ is definitely nothing to scoff at either. As I said, I’d be curious to see what the modern fan would think of him as a player in the era of advanced metrics given his non traditional profile.

Unfortunately the newcomers on offense weren’t enough to overcome a dreadful pitching staff that allowed 5 runs per game. Hindsight is obviously 20-20 on trades but I can’t imagine that it helped matters watching Dennis Eckersley have a second spectacular season with the Red Sox, winning 17 games and placing 7th in the Cy Young voting. It’s hard not to look at that trade as one of the worst in franchise history, especially as Rick Manning struggled to be even post a single win above replacement level.

The Indians did acquire some pitching help, however, in the form of Len Barker, but control issues kept him from realizing his full potential, except for one night in 1981, but we’re not there yet.

Anyway, join us tomorrow as we kick off a new decade with the 1980 season.