Archive for category Indians Baseball

An entry from a book I’m working on: Gene Bearden

I’m always working on sports writing, even if it’s not on a daily blog. Here’s an entry from a book that I’m working on about knuckleball pitchers throughout baseball history. This particular entry is about a gem pitched by war hero and Cleveland baseball hero Gene Bearden.

Rookie Bearden Wins Season Debut En Route to 20-Win Campaign

May 8, 1948: Cleveland Indians 6, Washington Senators 1 At Griffith Stadium

Gene Bearden:  8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO.

Making his season debut, Cleveland Indians rookie knuckleballer—and war hero—Gene Bearden pitched 8.2 innings of three-hit ball to beat the Senators 6-1 at Washington’s Griffith Stadium.

Bearden, who’d made his major-league debut the year before with one relief appearance, was making his second big-league appearance and first major-league start in this outing against the Senators. 

The fact that Bearden was pitching on a major-league mound was remarkable. Although he was a rookie, he was also a war hero who also won a Purple Heart in World War II. A machinist’s mate, Bearden was among the survivors when three torpedoes hit the USS Helena in the South Pacific in July 1943. “Somebody pulled me out,” he later told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They told me later it was an officer. I don’t know how he did it. The ship went down in about 17 minutes. All I know is that I came to in the water some time later.” Badly wounded, he was hospitalized for two years, and forever after carried a steel plate in his head.

On this afternoon, Washington left fielder Gil Coan had two of the hits off Bearden, who walked four and struck out five. The Cleveland knuckleballer was in control until the bottom of the ninth, when he issued all four of his walks. Following his fourth free pass of the inning—a bases-loaded walk to Tom McBride to break up the shutout—Bearden was lifted for reliever Russ Christopher, who recorded the final out without incident.

It was quite the season debut—and first big-league start—for Bearden, who through the first eight innings had a three-hit shutout while facing 26 Senators hitters, two batters over the minimum.

Bearden would win six of his first seven starts in 1948, tossing four complete games and a pair of shutouts in that stretch.

It was the way he would end the season, though, that was most impressive.

During the final month of the season, Bearden won each of his final seven starts, pitching two more shutouts and winning the one-game playoff against the Red Sox at Fenway Park to capture the AL pennant for Cleveland. By season’s end, he would have 20 wins—including six shutouts and 15 complete games—and an American League-best 2.43 ERA.

He’d then defeat the Boston Braves with a 2-0 shutout in Game Three of the World Series, before recording the final five outs in the Game Six clincher. It was Cleveland’s first title since beating Brooklyn in the 1920 Series. To date, the Indians still have never won another World Series. “He won the pennant and World Series for us,” Indians Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Feller reflected in 2004. “If it hadn’t been for Gene Bearden, Cleveland would not have a world championship since 1920.”

But it all started on this date in Washington, where the knuckleballer won his 1948 debut en route to a 20-win campaign as a rookie. “Nobody showed me,” Bearden said that season of the knuckler. “I was just fooling around to see if I could add another pitch to my fastball and slider. I found the batters didn’t like it, so I kept on using it. Now it’s my main pitch. The fastball and slider are just mixed in, now and then, for variety. I use it so much my fingertips develop calluses.”

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Classic Look-back: Candy Man wins in return to Cleveland in 1999

Candy Man Wins in Second Debut with Cleveland

July 3, 1999 

Cleveland Indians 9, Kansas City Royals 8 At Jacobs Field

Tom Candiotti:  5.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO. 

Tom Candiotti, who’d previously pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1986 to 1991, made a triumphant return to the ballclub, winning his first game for the franchise in eight years. 

Signed by Cleveland on June 29 after spending the first three months of this season with Oakland—he was let go when the A’s called up Tim Hudson from Triple-A—Candiotti was making his first appearance of his second stint with the Indians in the first game of today’s doubleheader against Kansas City.  

In his previous stint with Cleveland, he went 72-65 with a 3.53 ERA for five-and-a-half seasons before being traded to Toronto on June 27, 1991. He also pitched for the Dodgers and A’s before rejoining the Indians this season.  

Brought back this season to shore up the Cleveland bullpen, Candiotti entered today’s contest in the third inning with the Royals already ahead 8-3. The score was actually 8-0 at one point—Kansas City battered starter Charles Nagy for eight runs in two innings—but the Indians struck for three runs in the bottom of the second before giving the ball to Candiotti. 

And the knuckleballer turned back the clock like it was 1991 again, pitching 5.2 shutout innings with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw curveballs and fastballs in his first two innings, and then threw more knucklers as the game progressed. “He was really tough,” said Royals rookie Carlos Febles of Candiotti. “He threw a soft one and a hard one and they were really moving.”

Whatever Candiotti threw worked. He retired the first nine Royals he faced, allowing his first base runner when Febles led off the sixth with a bunt single. A passed ball and sacrifice bunt moved Febles to third, but Candiotti struck out Carlos Beltran and Joe Randa swinging to keep the deficit at 8-3. 

Perhaps sparked by that clutch pitching, Cleveland rallied for five runs off Jay Witasick and Alvin Morman to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning. Candiotti returned in the seventh and got three quick outs, and then watched Tribe slugger David Justice homer off Marc Pisciotta in the bottom of the seventh for a 9-8 lead. In the eighth, Candiotti retired the first two Royals before Febles—that man again—doubled, only the second base runner the knuckleballer allowed, and “Candy Man,” as he is called, walked off the mound to a standing ovation by the Jacobs Field crowd of more than 43,000. Fortunately, reliever Ricardo Rincon retired the next batter, keeping the lead intact. Stopper Mike Jackson closed out the ninth, preserving the victory and giving Candiotti his first win with the franchise in eight years.

This win was Candiotti’s 151st and final victory in the majors. Although he never won another major-league game, this appearance was a fitting way for Candiotti to end his career. “After every inning, I’d get a standing ovation from the crowd every time I got back to the dugout. They gave me four loud ovations when I was out there. I mean, it was really spectacular for me. It goes to show that the people in Cleveland really respected me,” he reflects now. “It was like, I was in one last go-around, and all the fans were acknowledging me for all those years in the 1980s when I had to suffer [on those bad Indians teams when the club played at Cleveland Stadium]. It really brought a tear to my eye, seeing how the fans were appreciative of all the years I’d given them.”

Speaking of debuts, exactly eight years earlier, on this date, July 3, 1991, Candiotti recorded his first victory with the Blue Jays. Traded to Toronto on June 27, the knuckleballer pitched a quality start the following day with six innings of three-run ball against the Mariners but the Blue Jays lost 3-1 to Bill Krueger. But on this date, July 3, he pitched seven shutout innings of six-hit, three-walk, seven-strikeout baseball to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0. With Candiotti on the staff, the Blue Jays went on to capture the AL East crown. 

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Time to reflect back on the publication of “A Life of Knuckleballs”…

candiotti coverI’m not one who toots his own horn. I rarely do that. But, in the era of social media and getting your name out there, I suppose it’s become a necessity to do so. After all, if you’ve written a book, you want people to know about it — and these days, it’s essential to use social media and the Internet to promote your works.

So, this brings me to this post today: I can’t believe how fast time has flown, but it’s been nearly five years now since my book about underrated knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti, A Life of Knuckleballs, was published by McFarland & Co.

I’m still blown away to see people buying a copy here and there. I mean, I’ve always thought that Candiotti didn’t get the accolades that he deserved in his career. So, to have a book about him published — albeit it a little too late, in my opinion, as it came out 15 years after his retirement — is an amazing thing.

It wasn’t an easy process, to be sure. Having a book published isn’t a simple matter of the writing part. It’s also listening to what the publisher wants. There were many stories that Candiotti told me which I originally included in the manuscript, but the publisher has a word limit and all that, and wanted a lot of those stories excluded in the book.

Perhaps some day I will post those stories that didn’t make it into the book on this website. We shall see.

But it’s been nearly five years since the book came out. Time to pat myself on the back.

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Vintage Tom Candiotti interview from 1988

Here’s a vintage video of a Tom Candiotti interview. Candiotti, then with the Indians, discuses his pitching style the day following a 3-1 win over the Brewers on May 10, 1988.

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Doug Jones Story

The Single-A season in Minor League Baseball has just started, and I’m pleased to share that my story on former Indians closer Doug Jones made it into the 2016 Vancouver Canadians program book. Check it out starting on page 48 here.

Get a copy of the program book for $5.00 if you’re at the ballpark!

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