Rocco Domenico Colavito is back in Cleveland Municipal Stadium after a five-year hiatus in Detroit and Kansas City. Loved for his power hitting and handsome face, Rocky should bring plenty of customers into the park and send plenty of baseballs flying out of it. He is still young (31) and a good bet to have a season's home run total higher than his age. He is one big reason for an atmosphere of super spring optimism in the Indians' war councils, moderated by Manager Birdie Tebbetts.
Another reason for optimism, and perhaps an even more important one, is Outfielder-First Baseman-Second Baseman Chuck Hinton, an acquisition from the Washington Senators who played with Colavito on the American League All-Star team last year. Hinton is a solid .280 hitter with good speed and, hopefully, he will not be bothered too much by being used at various places around the infield and outfield. Tebbetts will put him somewhere, even if he has to invent a new position. And Hinton and Colavito are not the only hitters around, not with Leon Wagner on hand. "Daddy Wags" hit 37 homers three seasons back while playing all his home games for the Angels in Chavez Ravine, where four-base hits are almost as rare as water fountains. Third Baseman Max Alvis was struck down by spinal meningitis in July, was still weak when he returned to the lineup and lost more than 20 points from his 1963 batting average of .274. Now he is healthy again, and Tebbetts looks for him to be "one of the real fine ballplayers in the country." Venezuela's Vic Davalillo already is one of the finest players in Tebbett's opinion. The little outfielder, who does not have too much power, has hit .292 and .270 in his two major league seasons. Shortstop Dick Howser hit only .256 in 1964 but led the club in hits and runs scored.
The Indians had one of the best winning percentages in the league for the last half of the season, and much of the credit goes to the young pitchers who came through amazingly well. Tall (6 feet 5) left-hander Sam McDowell, 22, came up from Portland, where he had an 8-0 record and a 1.18 ERA, and continued merrily on without much change. He won 11 and lost six for the Indians and struck out 177 batters in 173 innings. Right-hander Luis Tiant, 24, was 15-1 at Portland before he came up and finished 10-4 with the Indians. It may be too much to expect but, if these two maintain such effective pitching for a whole season, Cleveland could be the surprise team of the league.
Lefty Jack Kralick (12-7), who had one of his best seasons last year, will be the third starter, and the fourth probably will be hard-throwing Sonny Siebert (3.23 ERA in 156 innings). Help is expected, too, from Dick Donovan and Yankee castoff Ralph Terry, who is disappointed that he is no longer with an organization that counts on World Series checks as though they were guaranteed annual dividend. In 1964 Terry lost his spot in the New York starting rotation and never did get back in. He thought he pitched well enough to stay with the Yanks, but off he went to the Indians—which is not a prison sentence but is disappointing to a onetime Yankee hero. He'll get plenty of opportunities to pitch with Cleveland. Relief man Don McMahon, 35 and less than svelte around the middle, was the Indians' "Man of the Year" in 1964, with a 2.41 ERA in 70 games.
Who's on first? Cleveland is the Abbott & Costello team this year. It could be Fred Whitfield, or Colavito, or Hinton. It could not be Wagner, who had to be removed from the position in spring training to keep him from getting killed by a low throw. "It took me seven years to learn how to play left and three more to learn right," said Wags philosophically. "That's all you need, two positions." He will play left. Davalillo is an exceptionally fine center fielder, an obvious prerequisite for a man scheduled to play between Wagner and Colavito. Hinton, who probably will be at second base most of the time, is only adequate there—and probably less than adequate on the double-play pivot—but his bat has to be in the lineup. Howser is good at shortstop. Alvis at third is fine, but he has an erratic arm. The team is mediocre at catcher without John Romano, who went to the White Sox in the complicated Colavito trade; the catching job will be shared by Joe Azcue and Camilo Carreon.
The Indians seem certain to have sound hitting, good power and impressive pitching, but it is dangerous to rely on so many youthful players, some of whom have yet to put in a complete major league season. "They're not all going to make it," says Tebbetts. "But we got guys on the bench ready to step in. For the first time since I've been here our club has extra ballplayers of major league ability." The optimistic Birdie may be seeing a strong bench that isn't there, but he certainly does have some good-looking young players. The Indians are even dreaming of beating out the Yankees and winning the pennant—which would be a sweet homecoming for Colavito and sweet revenge for Terry. That's a tall order, but the Indians do have the potential to move up sharply into the middle of the race.
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