Joe Gordon is the manager and Rocky Colavito (left) hits the home runs, but the star of the Cleveland Indians is Frank Lane. This spring he was everywhere, in Florida watching a Yankee intrasquad game with George Weiss, in Arizona telling everybody with ears that Bucky Harris of the Red Sox had hoodwinked him out of a catcher. He was loud, he was vulgar but he was marvelous because he was alive. And who can argue that he has not helped Cleveland? They were a sixth-place team when Lane took over as general manager in November of 1957. He traded players. They finished fourth the next year. He traded more players. They finished second last year. Now he has traded even more players, making more than 60 transactions since he took over, and certainly the Cleveland Indians are ready to run for the pennant.
•BEST INFIELD AROUND
If infields were all that mattered, Cleveland could start selling World Series tickets now. They have the best in the league. At first base is Vic Power, a very fancy fielder. Power likes to make his catches one-handed, and sometimes after he fields a ground ball he will slide into first base, but despite the show he is the best defensive first baseman in the American League. He is also an adept hitter. He knows how to make a pitcher work. He can pull to left or go to right. He has fair power and his average is always near .300.
To Power's right is Johnny Temple, the Cincinnati second baseman of eight years' standing. He, too, can field with the best and he hits at or near .300. Temple is the leader type, and he should be a good influence on the ball club. He will make an excellent double-play partner for Shortstop Woodie Held, who last year improved from inning to inning. Held's arm is strong and he has good range. Cleveland thinks of him as the second-best shortstop in the American League (first, of course, even in Cleveland, is Aparicio). And Held can hit. Last year he had 29 home runs, more than any other American League infielder except Harmon Killebrew.
Part of the good defense of the Chicago White Sox last year was Bubba Phillips at third base. Now Phillips plays third for Cleveland. There are better ones in the league, but Phillips will do nicely. He is not a strong hitter—he's the .260 type—but he is fast and therefore an asset when he is on base.
That is the infield, and Lane likes to remind people that when he took over, the infield consisted of Vic Wertz, Bobby Avila, Chico Carrasquel and Billy Harrell. Even Lane's critics will admit that the difference is impressive.
•ROCKY THE HERO
The Cleveland outfield, beginning in right, features Colavito, the home-run hitter, the man who sets the girls in the upper grandstands to sighing. Last year Rocky hit 42 homers and drove in 111 runs, but his batting average was a disappointing .257. Like most home-run hitters, he gets anxious when the pitches are bad and often fishes for them. Defensively, Rocky's arm is perhaps the strongest in baseball, but not the best. His throws are magnificent to behold, but often stray wide of—or go completely over—the target.
Jimmy Piersall plays center field and he manages to get more than his share of fly balls. The last few years have not been good for the erratic, colorful Piersall, but he is still a magnificent fielder. It is said that Lane wrote Piersall a letter last winter telling him to cut out the antics and stick to baseball. Piersall's serious play in camp this spring indicates a comeback.
In left field is Tito Francona, Lane's greatest coup. Before last season Tito had played in the majors two years and had hit .233 and .254. Lane traded Larry Doby for Francona, and Tito hit .363 for the Indians. (Doby was out of action most of the season.) Francona has good power (20 home runs) but his fielding is only fair.
The big question, of course, is whether or not he will revert to
the old Tito. The Indians do not expect him to hit .363 again, but neither do they expect him to fall to .233. Halfway between would be just fine.
•CONFUSION OF CATCHERS
The Cleveland bench is not strong, except in catchers. Russ Nixon, who bounced like a ping-pong ball between Cleveland and Boston this spring, is a good left-handed hitter despite his .240 average last year. But Nixon is weak defensively—and he may still wind up in Boston, or elsewhere. Ed Fitz Gerald has 13 seasons of major league experience, but he is almost 36 and never was a strong hitter. Young John Romano, a second-stringer on the White Sox last year, could develop into the team's best catcher on his hitting alone.
The rest of the bench consists of people like Norm Cash, George Strickland and Gene Leek. Both Cash and Leek lack experience. Strickland can be counted on to fill in the infield in case of an injury.
•TROUBLE ON THE HILL
It is pitching which is Cleveland's greatest weakness. To get his good infield, Lane has had to trade pitchers. Since he came to Cleveland the pitchers who have departed could staff an All-Star team. Early Wynn, Bud Daley, Don Mossi, Hoyt Wilhelm and Cal McLish are the five best. Last year they totaled 89 victories among them. They are gone, however, and it is up to the likes of Gary Bell, Jim Perry, Jim Grant and Herb Score to carry the season. Score, of course, was great before his eye was injured in 1957. Since then he has had a succession of arm ailments and has not regained the winning way. This spring he looked good under the guidance of Ted Wilks, the old Cardinal pitcher, but then he developed an ear infection. Nothing serious, but the kind of problem Score seems continuously dogged by. Bell, 23, Grant and Perry, both 24, can all throw "hard and each had a winning season last year. Bell was 16-11, Grant 10-7 and Perry 12-10. Help is also expected from Bobby Locke, who split last season between Cleveland and San Diego.
•BUT WHO COMES NEXT?
But after them there is a sharp decline. Old Ernie Johnson and Leo Kiely, late of Boston, are counted on for relief, but don't count too hard. Jack Harshman, who pitched for three American League teams last season, will be used in spot starts. Even Bob Lemon, now almost 40, was pitching in exhibition games this spring, seeing if he couldn't regain the magic.
Cleveland is optimistic about its rookie pitchers—no one in particular, but all of them generally. Bell and Grant were rookies in 1958, and Perry last year, so perhaps there will be one or two good ones this season, too—maybe lefty Carl Mathias or righty Carl Thomas.
It is on this uncertain pitching staff that the fate of the 1960 Indians depends. The infield and outfield are pennant-winning caliber. The bench is not strong but probably sufficient. But Frank Lane may find that in trading for the fine team he now has, he has left himself too many boy pitchers for a man's game.
ED FITZ GERALD
1959 TEAM PERFORMANCE
RUNS BATTED IN