Indians players Bob Miller, Ted Uhlaender Graig Nettles, and Dean Chance, April 1970.

Indians players Bob Miller, Ted Uhlaender, Graig Nettles, and Dean Chance, April 1970.

If you’ve been paying attention to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, you may have noticed that a woman by the name of Katie Uhlaender is competing for the United States as part of the skeleton sled racing team. Indians fans of a certain age may recognize the name Uhlaender, because the Indians had a centerfielder named Ted Uhlaender in the early 1970s. Katie, who at age 30 will be competing in her third Olympic games, is indeed the daughter of Ted.

After the Indians’ disastrous season of 1969, in which the team went 62-99 and finished last in the six-team AL East, the front office made some moves to try to get some more offensive production from its outfielders. To that end, the Indians acquired Roy Foster from the Milwaukee Brewers to play left field, Vada Pinson from the St. Louis Cardinals to play right, and Uhlaender from the Minnesota Twins to play center. Uhlaender was one of four Twins to switch to the Tribe for the 1970 season, coming over with pitchers Bob Miller and Dean Chance and third baseman Graig Nettles in exchange for pitchers Luis Tiant and Stan Williams.

Overall the trades were a net positive for the Indians in 1970. Miller only saw 15 games with the team that year, but Chance was a reliable fifth- and spot-starter, as well as a serviceable reliever. Nettles, Pinson, and Foster hit 26, 24, and 23 home runs, respectively, and were a big part of why the Indians home run total went from 119 the year before to 183. Over 141 games, Uhlaender hit only 11 home runs (more about that later) with 46 RBI. The team went 76-86, avoiding the AL East cellar and improving their record by 14 wins over the 1969 total.

By the 1971 season, though, the trades may have seemed ill-advised. While Nettles had another solid year, hitting 28 dingers, Foster and Pinson hit only 18 and 11 respectively, while Uhlaender was good for only two. The Indians finished with a dismal 60-102 mark. Manager Alvin Dark was fired mid-season. In December of 1971, the Indians traded Uhlaender to the Cincinnati Reds for Milt Wilcox.

While Uhlaender saw only part-time action for the Reds in 1972 (the outfield for the Big Red Machine that year consisted of Pete Rose, Bobby Tolan, and Cesar Geronimo), the Reds had a great season, going 95-59 and winning the National League pennant. In Game 7 of the World Series that year, Uhlaender was used as a pinch-hitter, facing Catfish Hunter of the A’s in the 7th inning. He flied out to left, and the Reds went on to lose the game, and thus the Series. That was the last time that Uhlaender ever played in the major leagues. After being sent to the minor leagues in the offseason, Uhlaender went to work on a cattle ranch in Texas, coming back to the minors for part of a season three years later before finally retiring.

But Uhlaender wasn’t done with baseball, nor even with the Cleveland Indians. He served as first base coach for Indians manager Charlie Manuel in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, he took a job as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. Uhlaender was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and died of a heart attack in 2009.

While researching this post, I came across a tidbit which I’d overlooked or forgotten when it first hit the newspapers. According to a Plain Dealer story of August 2, 1980, former Indians players Eddie Leon and Jack Heiedemann, in Cleveland for an old-timers game, told a reporter that “a spy was hidden in the center-field bleachers in [the early 1970s] to steal the signals of the opposing team’s catchers.” The spy, former Indians batting practice coach Frank Keeney, explained how this was done. He sat in the bleachers with binoculars while wearing white socks. If a fastball was indicated, Keeney would do nothing. If a breaking ball was called, he would cross one leg so that the Indians batter could see his white sock.

Keeney told the reporter that “Ted Uhlaender hit 11 homers in 1970 and he probably wouldn’t have hit two if he didn’t know what pitches were coming.” I checked the stats and of the 11 home runs Uhlaender hit that year, ALL of them were hit at Municipal Stadium. He didn’t hit a single home run on the road that season!

Katie’s skeleton team competes on Thursday. We wish her well.

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