This week at Winter Meetings, Ron Washington got a pop quiz.
“Four other members of your 1988 club are now current Major League managers, just like you. Can you name them?”
The Rangers skipper, approached with this informal test by MLB.com, thought for a moment. “Terry Francona,” he said. Francona, the new leader of the Indians, hit .311 in 62 games that season, primarily as a designated hitter. “John Farrell,” Washington continued. Farrell, who jumped from the Blue Jays to the Red Sox this winter, was a 25-year-old starter who won 14 games that year. “Um,” said Washington, looking momentarily stumped, until the memory clicks. “Charlie Manuel was the hitting coach!” Long before he won a World Series with the Phillies, Manuel was, indeed, the hitting coach on this particular club.
Nonetheless, Washington was still short one.
“Buddy Black!” Washington exclaimed. Black, principal of the Padres, was a midseason rotation acquisition for the 1988 Indians. “See?” said Washington. “I don’t have Alzheimer’s!”
Nope. He does not. What Ron Washington does have is a spot in one of baseball’s trickiest trivia questions. MLB.com challenges you to ask your friends the following… Can they name the five active managers who were on the same squad at one time? Doubtful they’ll immediately guess the 1988 Cleveland Indians.
I couldn’t and when I tried this question with my friends, no one could do it either. I am also pretty sure that at least one person mentioned Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
He doesn’t count.
“Little did we know,” said Farrell to MLB.com, “that the fertile soil of the shores of Lake Erie was cultivating five future managers.” “That,” said Francona, “was such a bad team.” Francona, never one to mince words, is right. The 1988 Tribe went 78-84, had a minus-65 run differential and finished sixth in the AL East.
That wasn’t even the worst team of that era for the Indians. That honor belongs to the 1987 club touted by Sports Illustrated (which put Cory Snyder and Joe Carter on its cover) as one ready for an “Indian Uprising.” That club proceeded to lose 101 times and finish 37 games out of first. The 1988 club looked like the Yankees of the late 90s in comparison.
To the team’s credit, Carter hit 27 homers and Snyder hit 26. They gave the Indians a legitimately potent middle of the order. Julio Franco, in the final year of his first Cleveland stint, batted .303. Farrell (14-10, 4.24 ERA), a 23-year-old Greg Swindell (18-14, 3.20) and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti (14-8, 3.28) gave them the makings of a solid rotation. And Doug Jones (2.27 ERA, 37 saves) was one of the better closers in the game.
They didn’t have much else. “Other than Jones, we were lacking a bullpen that year,” Manuel said. “Our bullpen was [awful]. Also, we had some injuries in our infield.” The injuries were why Washington, who made the move the previous winter from Baltimore to Cleveland, just like team president Hank Peters, got a little more playing time at age 36 than anticipated. It’s also why Francona got on the Major League radar in Spring Training and was later called up in July.
“I went from, like, Field 11 to Field 1 in Spring Training, because those guys were going down like flies,” Francona recalled. “And [clubhouse manager] Cy Buynak didn’t have any lockers available. Cy put me in a closet. So every morning, I would dress, and the guys would come over to rub up the [baseballs] and be like, ‘Excuse me, can you move over?’”
With a club this bad, you would think the team would have been at each other’s throats. “We were so bad,” said Francona, “that we couldn’t have a whole lot of arrogance. It was a team that genuinely liked each other. We just got beat up.” Lessons must have come from the beatings, though, because quite a few guys on the 1988 Indians went on to leadership roles.
Snyder managed in the independent Golden Baseball League from 2007-09, followed by a stint with Na Koa Ikaika Maui in the North American League. Franco has managed in the Venezuelan Winter League and has often expressed his Major League aspirations. Jay Bell is the new hitting coach of the Pirates and Brook Jacoby is the hitting coach for the Reds. Dave Clark is the first-base coach for the Astros and was the team’s interim manager at the end of 2009. Still, for five members of a single club to wind up in the full-time managerial ranks in the Majors is certainly a quirky coincidence. One that will guarantee you’ll win at bar trivia.