Here is a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, who writes Double the fun every Saturday, examining one famous doubleheader each week. Today, Joe discusses on one of my favorite occurrences in baseball: When a well-known hitter takes a turn pitching.
But Dad always quietly rooted for another Bronx boy, even though Rocco Domenico Colavito played most of his career for the rival Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.
When he was 16 Colavito, who had played semi-pro ball since he was 9, dropped out of school to pursue baseball exclusively. Even though Colavito lived in Yankee Stadium’s shadow, the Bronx Bombers showed little interest in signing him.
Eventually, Colavito inked with the Cleveland Indians. Because of his prodigious power, good looks and willingness to sign autographs for hours, Colavito became an immediate fan favorite.
Little wonder fans loved Colavito. In June 1959, the Sporting News touted Colavito as the “American League player most likely to emulate and possibly surpass Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in one season.”
That bold prediction followed Colavito’s June 10th four home run, six RBI performance against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium that propelled the Indians to an 11-6 win. Properly described as cavernous, the old ball park measured nearly 450’ from left center to right center field.
Power numbers notwithstanding, the Indians abruptly and infamously traded Colavito to the Detroit Tigers just before the 1960 season for Harvey Kuenn.
In 1959, Colavito led the American League in home runs with 42; Kuenn was the batting champion, .353. Read one gleeful Detroit post-trade headline: 42 Home Runs for 135 Singles!
By the time Colavito arrived in Detroit, the city had a well developed love affair with Al Kaline. So although Colavito averaged 35 homers during his four Tigers’ years, fans never embraced him.
But a bigger reason Colavito never developed the Detroit fan base he enjoyed in Cleveland was a manufactured feud instigated by popular Detroit Free Press sports writer Joe Falls.
Falls considered Colavito a “self-ordained deity.” Accordingly Falls, often the Tigers’ official scorer, never missed a chance to berate Colavito. As a sidebar to his columns, Falls created the RNBI (run not batted in) to publicly keep track of runners Colavito stranded. Falls’ open scorn understandably infuriated Colavito.
For the 1964 season, Colavito landed in Kansas City. Then to the delight of Indians’ rooters, he returned to Cleveland for 1965 and 1966. Colavito’s 108 RBIs in 1966 lead the American League.
By 1967, Colavito was a part-time player, his best years behind him. After short stays with the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, in midseason 1968 Colavito latched on with his boyhood favorite Yankees for his final baseball fling.
On August 25, 1968 the Yankees played a doubleheader against the Tigers in what would be one of Colavito’s final career appearances.
On a steamy Sunday afternoon in front of 32,000 both first game starters, the Tigers’ Pat Dobson and the Yankees’ Steve Barber got shelled. Dobson gave up five runs in the bottom of the sixth while Barber had allowed five after 3-1/3.
Houk called his bullpen. To the fans’ surprise, out strode Colavito. Like everyone in baseball, Houk knew that Colavito had a rifle arm. The Major was eager to give his veteran a shot at pitching.
Colavito exceeded expectations. By allowing only a double to Kaline and two walks during his 2-2/3 stint before giving way to Dooley Womack and Lindy McDaniel, Colavito (1-0) earned the credit for the 6-5 Yankee win.
Now a healthy 77, Colavito remains one of the Indians’ favorites. In 1976, Colavito was voted the most memorable Indian player. He was elected to the Indians’ All Century team in 2001 and to the Indians’ Hall of Fame in 2006.
Best of all, devoted Colavito fans have established a website to promote his Cooperstown candidacy.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org