When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the Cleveland Indians lineup included such players as Duane Kuiper, Tom Veryzer, Jerry Dybinski, Andre Thornton, Buddy Bell, Toby Harrah, Rick Manning, Dennis Eckersley, Bert Blyleven, Bernie Carbo, Joe Charboneau, Don Hood, Rico Carty, Boog Powell, and Rick Wise. Some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t. Some greats and a couple Hall of Famers, and some who were fortunate enough to play baseball at the highest level for a few years and then went on to have a whole other life outside of baseball.

My favorite player was first baseman (later designated hitter) Andre Thornton. I’m not sure why my nine-year-old self glommed on to him. Did I play first base because he played it, or did I notice he was our first baseman after I decided that’s where I wanted to play? Memory fails now. But he was my hero. He had a calm but powerful presence. For a kid who might now be called ADHD (back then they said I was “enthusiastic”), calm was something to which I aspired but rarely achieved. As far as powerful, well, little girls aren’t supposed to be powerful. Thornton was one of our better players for many of my growing up years–an All-Star in 1982 and 1984, Silver Slugger Award in 1984 too. He also won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1979, which is given to  “the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” This was two  years after his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash that he and his young son managed to survive. Maybe it was his courage after the crash that made him my favorite player.

Thornton played on some pretty bad Cleveland teams. He joined the team in 1977, when they finished 6th of 7th in the AL East with a 71-90 (.441) record. The club’s best record in the 10 years he played here was .519 in 1986. Through it all, Thornton played his heart out, was active in the community, and was known a model for class and dignity. If you’re looking for a role model, he’s a fine choice.

Why am I writing about the Indians of 30+ years ago now? I guess because I just watched the Tribe lose big for the fourth time in a week (fifth loss, fourth OMG What Is Going On? loss). That was something I routinely did when I was a kid. The difference between then and now is that this team knows it can win. It has the tools to win–it spent the first seven weeks of the season doing a whole lot of winning. That’s a huge difference. For years, the Indians were expected to lose. My brother and I would watch the games religiously, and every win was a cause for celebration because there weren’t that many of them.  I think some of the incredulity surrounding  their tremendous start this year is that few people believed that the Indians–the Indians?–could be so dominant. But they can be. They have been. Hopefully this losing streak is a blip. If Acta can use it to pinpoint and correct the weak spots in the lineup and the rotation, they’ll remain in contention. Who knows? Maybe the first seven weeks of the season were a blip and this is the real 2011 Cleveland Indians.  If so, I’ve just lived out at least one childhood fantasy–watching the Indians strut around first place for an extended period. I still haven’t gotten my signed Andre Thornton bat, but one thing at a time.

11 Comments

  • JudahMaccabbee says:

    Thank you so much for that post.

    It is nice to know that I am not the only one who proudly says that Thornton was my favorite player. On teams where winning was scarce, class became the most important ingredient of any player. If you ever read anything about his life, you quickly realize that he is just better than most of us. Thornton experienced heartbreak after heartbreak and refused to become a victim or wallow in self-pity as many of us would have done.

    One of my favorite memories of Thornton has to be the All-Star game he played in the mid 80s (I think it was in Oakland, but I could be wrong). He was on second, there was a hit and he was waved in to score. The third base coach clearly didn’t do his homework because “speed” was not an adjective used to describe Andre. The throw beat him by a good 20 feet. As a big man, Thornton could have easily tried to knock the catcher into tomorrow hoping to dislodge the ball. But he didn’t, he simply eased up and let the catcher tag him out. The announcers were aghast at this noble move of surrender. But even I, as a kid of about 10, knew the two words that explained Thornton’s action: Ray Fosse.

    Perhaps, if I were a little older, I would not have been a huge Thornton fan. If I were college-aged at the time, Charboneau’s exploits would have endeared me to him. A little younger, I probably would not have understood Thornton’s quiet dignity. Sure the teams stunk then, but there were still memorable moments that still stay with me that make me smile.

    Unlike Jose Mesa….

  • Susan Petrone says:

    @JudahMaccabbee: Thank you for your wonderful comment.

  • Jas Scarff says:

    Susan,
    Thanks for this sweet, eloquent and clear-eyed assessment of what this year means–whatever the outcome. As a Cleveland sports fan from Columbus, I’ve always felt like I was standing outside with my nose pressed to the windowpane; I went to few games and leaned instead on the radio and the newspaper. But you echo my feelings so often that I feel like a real Cleveland insider. You’re really a fine writer.

  • C.A.B. says:

    Nevermind your post. You gave us a friggin’ B+ after the month of May on ESPN’s website??? Have you been watching this team at all???

    Let’s see…the Yankees’ bloggers gave their underachieving, overspending team an A-, but our team has bloggers that can’t rate a team picked to finish last in the division with at LEAST an A due to having the best record in the AL? Because we’ve gotten whipped a few times, and had a few 2 or 3 game losing streaks in between ALL THOSE WINS???

    Typical Cleveland/Ohio sports fans…never satisfied. Consider this my first and last time visiting your blog.

  • Susan Petrone says:

    @Jas: Thanks very much for your kind words.

    @C.A.B.: I do think we were too harsh. We were originally going to give them an A. As passionate fans (like you obviously are), I can say that I personally let my frustration at watching the guys who are supposed to be our aces essentially throw BP and watching our offense crumble repeatedly. I stand by our comments that Masterson and Carmona do need to start locating their pitches better. Our hitters do need to put together better at-bats. If the offense falls apart whenever we face strong aces like Price, Lester, or Papelbon, the rest of the season is going to be rough.

  • Mike H says:

    @CAB – you’re right, they were too harsh, and the end of May happened to be a harsh time for the Indians, thus bad timing. Having said that, you’re missing out if that takes you away from the blog. And you’re also wrong if you think that if Masterson keeps nibbling and missing, and the timely hitting that carried us through the first 6 weeks of the season remains MIA, the Indians aren’t in trouble.

  • DebShattuck says:

    Thanks for the memories, Susan. I grew up watching the Indians beginning in the late 60s. (I saw my first live game when I was in 5th grade and I fell in love with the Tribe after that.) My favorite player was Ray Fosse. I was horrified when Pete Rose bowled him over in the All-Star Game and never forgave Pete for that.

    You reminded me that one of my annual rituals in later years of losing seasons was to watch the movie Major League and celebrate like we had really made it to the World Series. Here’s hoping we have a real live Major League experience this year.

    • Susan Petrone says:

      @Shat5: I’ve never forgiven Pete Rose for that either. In interviews, he’s seemed arrogantly unrepentant about the incident. Bah.

  • Nick Tozzi says:

    I enjoyed the article and it brought back some nice memories for me, as well. Do you recall that Andre had his own candy bar? He sure did, just like Reggie Jackson. I think Andre’s was only sold in Cleveland but that was still a neat thing for a guy who played on bad and mediocre teams here.

    One sweet memory I have is my dad taking my siblings and me to the airport to meet the team back in the 70′s. While my sisters Lisa and Denise waited for their respective heartthrobs Buddy Bell and Dave Duncan, my brother and I, in baseball uniforms, acquired the autograph of Jim “Mudcat” Grant. He was a broadcaster then but I can still see him in my mind’s eye. Kneeling down to sign his name, he complimented us on our Tribe uniforms as a bead of sweat ran down his cheek.

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories of my youth! The Indians were such a big part of it and I hope that today’s “whippersnappers” will some day reflect on some Tribe memories of their own.

  • Susan Petrone says:

    @Nick: The Thunder Bar! Yes, those were really good. I remember looking in every drugstore my pre-adolescent self could get to before I found a Thunder Bar. I remember it being caramel-y and yummy. Let’s call Malley’s and have them make a Cabrera Bar.

  • DebShattuck says:

    Buddy Bell! I forgot all about him! He was another favorite shipped off to the hated Yankees like so many of our other talented players.

Previous Post
«