This begins a new series titled “Who Remembers……” that will be dedicated to recalling some of the more colorful players who also have some intrigue attached to their careers that hopefully will be entertaining to both young and old fans of the game.
Let’s begin simply with just the name Rocky Colavito. Doesn’t the name belong in a baseball lineup? Rocky! – and especially when it’s attached to a premier power hitter. COL-A-VIT-O………kind of like another great baseball name Paul Simon paid tribute to (“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you”)……. It just kind of belongs in the context.
The story of Rocky Colavito is entwined in perhaps the most controversial trade ever made in baseball history involving the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers. In fact, it had such an impact on the city of Cleveland that a book was later written titled “The Curse Of Rocky Colavito” that chronicled the next thirty years of the Indians less than noteworthy franchise history. So,let’s go back and take a look at what happened…….
In 1959, Colavito had completed two consecutive seasons of 41 and 42 home runs while also knocking in more than 100 runs. The fans loved him and by self admission he loved Cleveland. Around Christmas, Frank Lane, the GM of the Indians or (aka “Trader Lane” as he was known then) decided to put together a one for one trade with the Tigers. To put this in context, what would you think if you woke up one morning and learned that the Angels had traded Mike Trout to the Astros for Jose Altuve?………because that’s pretty much what happened here…..in fact Kuenn was coming off a season in which he hit.353 and won the AL Batting Title but that didn’t seem to matter much……Colavito was gone…..
As you might expect, the battle raged…….power versus batting average (Colavito had hit .257). Colavito took the trade much harder than Kuenn (upper right) who seemingly just plugged away in Cleveland doing what he did. He never achieved the height of a batting title again but he did reach a high of almost 40% on his highest Hall of Fame vote. He also went on to a career in managing with the Milwaukee Brewers until his death in 2006.
For “The Rock”, he had a couple of good years with the Tigers but it looked like something had been taken from him. His career total of 374 home runs fell short of what might have been. Known for his rifle arm in right field and somewhat sadly, he even played a season at the end of his career with the New York Yankees appearing in 39 games while even pitching in two games which in retrospect is similar to Bill Veeck sending a midget up to bat (watch video here)……..sad but sometimes the story doesn’t end the way we want to.
At the age of 80, he remains somewhat bitter but the city of Cleveland has not forgotten what he meant to the franchise. Accordingly, he returned when they honored him by throwing out the first pitch 50 years after the trade (watch the video here).
The story of Rocky Colavito proves once again that players who perform on the field for our entertainment are also human beings with the same feelings as we have about the ups and downs of life. as a Major League ballplayer ……………