Colavito a Hall of Famer in fans' eyes
Popular Indians slugger a candidate on Veterans ballot
CLEVELAND -- The trade lived long in the hearts of the Cleveland fans, who deemed it the cause of a curse, and in the mind of Rocky Colavito, who considered it a defining moment of his career.On April 17, 1960, the popular Colavito was dealt to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn, prompting absolute outrage from Tribe fans. Their resentment of the trade and the man who orchestrated it -- Indians general manager Frank "Trader" Lane -- was due to their affection for the power-hitting Colavito, who, the previous summer, had become the third player in history to hit four home runs in one game. And when Colavito's career, which went on to take him to the Royals, White Sox, Dodgers, Yankees and, yes, back to the Indians, came to a close eight years later, it was the memory of the trade that lived on. "I really believe this," Colavito once said in his characteristic, matter-of-fact tone. "If I would have stayed [in Cleveland], my numbers would have been much better. I don't know that to be a fact, don't get me wrong. But I retired at 35. I wasn't nearly ready to retire. But when you start getting bounced around and you know you can play, it's tough." The numbers seem almost secondary in any discussion of Colavito's career, because his rather pedestrian lifetime average of .266 has done nothing to diminish his iconic stature in Cleveland sports. But the numbers, nonetheless, are what Colavito will likely will be judged upon in the upcoming Veterans Committee vote for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Colavito has made several appearances on the Veterans ballot, to no avail. He garnered five percent of the vote in the 2005 vote. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Results of the 2007 Veterans Committee election will be announced Feb. 27, and the Induction Ceremony will take place July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y. In 14 big-league seasons from 1955-68, including eight with the Indians, Colavito was a nine-time All-Star and ranked in the top 10 of the American League MVP voting four times. He led the AL in slugging in 1958 (.620), home runs in 1959 (42) and RBIs in 1965 (108). His ability to crank out mammoth home runs with regularity, his Italian good looks and his willingness to stick around after games and sign autographs made him a hero to Tribe fans.
August Busch Jr.
"He was everything a ballplayer should be," Akron Beacon Journal columnist Terry Pluto wrote in his 1994 book, "The Curse of Rocky Colavito." "Best of all, he had a nickname. Baseball fans love nicknames, especially when they fit."That nickname, of course, was "The Rock," and it was, indeed, fitting for a man who served as the rock of the Tribe. But in 1960, "The Rock" was cast into new waters, much to his own chagrin. "If you think I still hold a grudge," he said, years later, "you're right." And if you think Indians fans were upset about the trade, you're right about that, as well. In fact, Pluto's book was the first written account of a long-held belief among Tribe fans that the Colavito trade prompted a decades-long curse on their beloved ballclub. From 1960 through 1993, the last year at Municipal Stadium, the Indians never finished within 11 games of first place. That was too much of a coincidence for fans to ignore. But the disgust over the 1960 trade that shipped Colavito out of Cleveland -- and, for that matter, the ill-conceived 1965 trade that brought him back -- never negatively affected fans' view of the man himself. Colavito, inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame in 2006, remains one of the most beloved players in the Tribe's long history. Colavito just wishes he could have stayed a little longer. "I would have been at home," he said with a tinge of bitterness. "I would have played longer."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.