Monday, August 3, 2009

Is it Rocky Colavito all over again?

The past week or so has been depressing and difficult for Tribe fans. This fan included.

That is especially true coming, as it does, on the heels of last year's forced dumping of CC, and his eventual donning of pinstripes.

Cleveland fans are justifiably angry by the team's performance, and even more so by it's dismantling.

Fans, for whatever reason, become emotionally attached to the guys wearing their city's colors - much more so than the other way around.

But with Victor Martinez, that was clearly not the case. His emo
tional goodbye and just the pride on his face each day as he wore the Tribe colors seem to prove that the fondness the fans had for Victor was felt equally strongly by our now-departed hero.

With the trading of Victor and Cliff Lee, and to a much lesser degree of Ryan Garko, Raffie Betancourt, Ben Francisco and Mark DeRosa, the hue and cry from the fans has been loud and long.

Again, justifiably and understandably so.

I was 3 1/2 years old when Rocky Colavito was traded to the Tigers on the eve of the 1960 season, so I'm not going to pretend to know the level of fan outrage at the time. But as we have all read (and some experienced), it was considerable.

(The PD's online archives go back only to 1991 at this point but the above link is a clip from a paper called the Eugene Register-Guard. I can only assume the paper is from Eugene, Ore. If you double-click on the link to open it, then left-click and hold on the clip itself, you can move the page around and find that even in Eugene, the trade was big news and that one of the articles was about the fan reaction to the deal in Cleveland).

It wasn't until at least the following season, and maybe the one after that, that I was old enough to have any tangible memories of the Tribe or any real understanding of what was going on on the field. But I do remember the bitterness of the fans that pervaded the city for most of my formative years.

In my own family it was tangible.
My grandpa would wear his wishbone-C Tribe cap, but would almost always have a funny, yet sarcastic, comment about the team and those who ran it. My uncle and older cousin would go to several games a year and bring me along with them - but we expected the worst and were rarely disappointed.

Anger at the Indians for the Colavito trade lasted a long time in Cleveland and shaped the attitude of an entire generation of Tribe fans.

We were serious fans, with hope every April, but with the deep-down knowledge that no matter how many game-winning hits Gomer Hodge had in the first two weeks of a season, the bottom half of the standings is where we were heading before the year was out.

Just as with the trades of Lee and Victor, Tribe fans have threatened many times to boycott the team - or at the very least just follow them on the radio, or TV.
But in the early 1960's, these anger-induced declarations turned out to be more than idle threats. And they may or may not play out again in the 2010's.

In 1959, the year Colavito won the HR crown wearing a Tribe uniform, the
Indians drew 1.5 million fans to Municpal Stadium, compared to an American League average of 1.1 million.

In 1960, the year the Colavito deal was made just before opening day, 951,000 fans came to the stadium, compared with a league average of 1.2

By 1961, Tribe attendance was down to 9,000 a game, or 726,000 for the season. The league averaged 1 million fans that year.
Attendance cratered in 1963 at 563,000, or just under 7,000 a game.

(Attendance numbers are rounded for easier reading.)

So, in the year of the trade, attendance at Tribe games dropped 36.5% from 1959. The following year it dropped 52% from Colavito's last year on the team (the first time around). And at it's low ebb - in the fourth Colavito-less season of 1963 - attendance was off 62% from 1959.

During roughly the same period as the Colavito trade, the Indians traded off other eventual stars in the big leagues - among them Stormin' Norm Cash (also to the Tigers for Steve Demeter) and Jim Perry (for Jack Kralick) and Mudcat Grant (for George Banks and Lee Stange) to the Twins in separate deals.

During the years mentioned above, the team's record dropped with the attendance. The team ended 1959 with an 89-65 record, but finished a few games short of .500 every year after that until 1965.

Fans, of course, blamed the trade(s) for the big drop-off and stayed away in droves.

There were rumors of the team being moved because attendance was so low and the fan base so turned off.

The team, run then by Gabe Paul, was so desperate to turn things around with the fans (and resurrect the attendance and revenue levels) that they reacquired Colavito by trading two youngsters - Tommy John and Tommie Agee.

While Colavito (league-leading 108 RBI) and the team (87-75) had a solid season in 1965, it was a hefty price to pay to say the least. John won 288 games and played another 20 seasons (minus the years recouping from the surgery named after him) and Agee was rookie of the year in 1966 and a chief cog on the Mets' 1969 World Series championship team.

Still attendance did increase dramatically that season (43% from the prior season) as the fans came back to see The Rock. The team - for the first time since 1959 - outdrew the league average.

So, while the threats of angry fans who say they aren't coming back, - that "they're done with these bums" or will never again put money in an owners pocket - have often been idle threats, history shows that it has happened here in the past - at least for a long-enough period to be quite damaging.

The question is whether the anger pouring from Indians fans now is deep enough to allow history to repeat itself.

It is certainly understandable that it would be, and I hold at least some fear that this current generation of Tribe fans, like their grandparents, may have been pushed too far too often.


Tribe Fan in Germany said...

I've read more venom spewed by fans since these trades than I have ever read or heard before. I'm like you and know myself too well to think that I'll leave the Tribe out in the cold (which my instincts are truly telling me to do). But, it would not surprise me at all to see a drop in attendance similar to the years after the Rocky Colavito trade. What I don't understand is how the Dolans could possibly have thought this would actually save them money. Tribe fans are notoriously fickle and fair-weather (right ot wrong), but if that's the way they are, an owner has to know he can't make the product on the field worse and expect fans to continue to pony up the money for tickets.

I dread it, but I see a horrible cycle of bad attendance, low revenues, and the continued loss of players who the club can't afford to pay. The MLB system sucks, bottom line.

Anonymous said...

team looking good 2 of 3 from detroit and minny

look out could make a run at the top

Anonymous said...

moose said

another W- 5 of 7 against the division only out can you say colorado 2007

double talk - last friday shapiro says not salary dump bettering the team - in friday 8/7 PD paul dolen says " the reality is we were suffering financially before these deals etccc"

bottom line salary dump - just tell the fans - things are tight inside the front office - lots of other non baseball budget cuts .

maybe they will take away mustard, catsup, and onions at the ballpark

got to give the players credit for hanging in there.

See datz kissing up to his boss wedge in today's PD - " its atribute to wedge holding this team together" he says - wher ewas wedge in April / May

speaking of dumps - peralta, hafner, and wood would be gone also but found no takers is my take

Ron Vallo said...

If by getting rid of mustard, onions and catsup at the stadium you mean those idiots running around in costumes, I'm all for it.