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Indians Indians Archive A Brief History of Tribe Homecomings: Top 10 Style
Written by Andrew Clayman

Andrew Clayman

fosse-returnCyclical creatures as we are, the last step out a door is often just the first step on the road right back to it. For Jim Thome, a 20-year journey as a pro ballplayer finally winds its way back to its origin point in Cleveland this weekend—nine years after the Tribe’s all-time home run king infamously designated himself for a more lucrative assignment. It’s the latest example of how-- in sports as in life— there are few burnt bridges that can’t be rebuilt… especially if it means a spike in ticket sales.

Fact is, if it took the Thome signing to teach you never to say “never,” you don’t know your Cleveland sports history too well. For decades now, it’s been a local tradition of sorts to welcome back our various prodigal sons for one more run. Sometimes, it’s a needless but bizarrely therapeutic move to heal old wounds from regrettable past transactions—a publicity stunt of sorts. In other cases, it’s a genuine effort to bolster a team’s competitive chances by adding a proven piece. In almost every “Welcome Home” scenario, however, the emotional payoff of seeing that old friend again has far outweighed the actual on-field benefits of the acquisitions.

Admittedly, few franchises in any sport are immune to this type of nostalgic straw-grabbing and merch-selling slyness. The Browns and Cavaliers have certainly barked up the tree before, bringing back past-their-prime versions of Paul Warfield (1976), Earnest Byner (1994), and Campy Russell (1984). The Cavs even managed to make a major event out of the “return” of Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 2010 after he spent a month or so hiding in a cabin in the woods as part of the Antawn Jamison deal. It’s the Cleveland Indians, though, that really have this tricky maneuver down pat. They’ve been doing it as far back as the 1930s, in fact, with some names just as noteworthy as Thome’s. So, for a quick primer on the Tribe’s history of remarriages, let’s do the standard Top Ten thing, including a look at how these ten prodigal sons performed in their first games back in Cleveland.

Top Ten Cleveland Indians Homecomings (Pre-Thome)

10. George Uhle
First Stint: 1919-1928 / Return: 1936
Known as the man who once intentionally walked a batter to face Babe Ruth (and struck him out, of course), George “The Bull” Uhle was a huge star for the Indians in the 1920s, winning 147 games across 10 seasons. A Cleveland native, Uhle was traded to Detroit in 1928, much to the dismay of the Forest City fanatics. But in 1936, aged 37 and way past his usefulness, Uhle— now a player/coach—took the hill again as an Indian for 7 more games. Unfortunately, an 8.53 ERA and 2.45 WHIP in 12.2 innings probably didn’t instill a ton of confidence in his pupils. Still, the Indians saw the PR value in re-animating their old timers, bringing back Uhle’s old battery mate Luke Sewell in a similar capacity three years later.
Uhle’s First Game Back in Cleveland: July 25, 1936. 3.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 1 BB in a 15-12 loss to the A’s.

baerga-return9. Carlos Baerga
First Stint: 1990-1996 / Return: 1999
Long before Thome or Lofton were dragged back via the waiver wire, the Indians tried to find some late season magic in the form of Carlos Baerga—a perennial all-star who’d devolved into a scrub seemingly overnight. While Baerga’s stunning trade to the Mets had sent Tribe fans into an uproar in 1996, his return was met with something closer to pity than excitement. In 1999 alone, he’d already been dumped by the Cardinals, Reds, and Padres. And his second go-round with the Indians proved equally brief (22 games, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .228 AVG). Still, no one with a heart could deny it was nice seeing Carlos in a Tribe uniform one last time.
First Game Back: August 16, 1999. 2-4 with a K in a 13-5 loss to Texas.

8. Early Wynn
First Stint: 1949-1957 / Return: 1963
After winning 163 games for the Indians across nine seasons, Wynn was traded to the White Sox in 1957 for Minnie Minoso—a deal that ironically brought Minnie back to the Tribe (where he’d started his career) after seven years in Chicago. Skip ahead another six years, and the nostalgia train was back on the rails again, as Cleveland picked up the now 43-year old Wynn off the scrap heap to close his career out back “home.” He only appeared in 20 games, but pitched admirably, posting a 2.28 ERA mostly out of the pen.
First Game Back: June 21, 1963. 9 IP, 2 ER, 5 Ks, 1 BB in 2-0 loss to White Sox.

7. Doug Jones
First Stint: 1986-1991 / Return: 1998
Might not be quite like bringing back your all-time homerun leader, but the Indians welcomed back then all-time saves leader Doug Jones in a fairly surprising midsummer ‘98 deal that sent similarly reliable right hander Eric Plunk to Milwaukee. The 41 year-old Jones pitched pretty well, too (3.45 ERA, 28 K’s to 6 BB), even adding one more save to his franchise leading total. As it happened, bringing back arms from the Tribe’s lackluster late ‘80s teams was actually a weird trend during the glorious ‘90s. Along with Jones, John Hart also re-signed the likes of Tom Candiotti, Greg Swindell, John Farrell, and Bud Black—none of whom quite found the fountain of youth.
Jones’ First Game Back in Cleveland: July 26, 1998. I ER, 3 H, and 1 K in 8-1 loss to Tigers.

6. Julio Franco
First Stint: 1983-1988 / Return: 1996
The ageless Dominican—who’d primarily been a shortstop during his initial run with the Tribe—rejoined the club during the “Era of Champions” as a new, much bulkier man. In 1996, after a year in the Japanese league, the 37 year-old replaced Paul Sorrento as Cleveland’s everyday first baseman and proved very productive in 112 games: .322 AVG, 14 homers, 76 RBI, .477 OBP, and .877 OPS. Julio also wound up spending 11 more years in the Majors.
First Game Back: April 2, 1996. 1-4 with 2 walks and a strikeout in 7-1 loss to Yankees.

jim-perry-return5. Jim Perry
First Stint: 1959-1963 / Return: 1974
Talk about a long hiatus! Eleven years after the Indians traded their homegrown righthander Jim Perry to Minnesota for Jack Kralick, he was finally back in the fold, acquired in a 1974 trade that would put him in the same starting rotation as his younger brother Gaylord. And the Perry Bros. did not disappoint. In fact, as a 38 year-old, Jim nearly matched the sterling numbers he’d put up as a young phenom with the Tribe in the early ‘60s, finishing 17-12 with a 2.96 ERA (a nice complement to Gaylord’s 21-13, 2.51 ERA campaign).
First Game Back: April 10, 1974. 8.1 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, 5 BB, 1 K in 6-4 loss to Milwaukee.

4. Ray Fosse
First Stint: 1967-1972 / Return: 1976
The argument could be made (and often has been) that beloved catcher Ray Fosse was never the same after Pete Rose bowled him over at the 1970 All-Star Game. That said, Fosse was an All-Star again in 1971, and still a productive catcher when the Tribe made the unpopular move of shipping him to Oakland in 1973 for Dave Duncan and George Hendrick. As it turned out, Fosse struggled mightily with the A’s in three seasons, and came back to Cleveland as a frustrated 29 year-old on his last legs. In that ’76 season, though, Ray found at least a little of his old punch at the plate, hitting .301 in 90 games—his highest average since 1970.
First Game Back: April 10, 1976. 0-2 with 1 BB and 1 K in a 3-1 loss to Detroit.

3. Kenny Lofton
First Stint: 1992-1996, 1998-2001 / Return: 2007
In recent memory, the return of Jim Thome is certainly most remindful of the Indians’ waiver wire acquisition of the franchise’s all-time stolen base leader Kenny Lofton back in 2007. Though he’d been reduced to a part-time player in Texas at age 40, Kenny had never really stopped hitting. And in Cleveland, his role proved much more vital than occasional pinch running duties. In fact, Kenny only stole 2 bases for the Indians that year. Instead, he served as the much-needed tone-setter for the bottom of the line-up, hitting .283 with a .344 OBP in 52 games. He also hit .375 in the Division Series against the Yankees, and—save for a Joel Skinner stop sign—might have scored the clinching run in the ALCS against Boston.
First Game Back: July 27, 2007. 3-5 with 1 RBI and 1 K in a 10-4 win over the Twins.

2. Larry Doby
First Stint: 1947-1955 / Return: 1958
He broke the American League’s color barrier, helped lead the Indians to the ’48 Championship, and ranked among the greatest sluggers in team history. So naturally, the return of Larry Doby was a welcome one, even if he was 34 and a shadow of his former self. Doby, who’d been dealt to the White Sox after the 1955 season, was brought back just before opening day in a trade that sent Dick Williams and Gene Woodling to Baltimore. His second tenure at Municipal Stadium was brief and less than electrifying (13 HR, 45 RBI, .283 AVG in 89 games), but he proved a good influence on young outfielders Woodie Held, Roger Maris, and Rocky Colavito.
First Game Back: April 16, 1958. 2-4 with 1 BB in a 5-0 loss to the A’s.rocky-return

1. Rocky Colavito
First Stint: 1955-1959 / Return: 1965
Some say the trade that brought The Rock back to Cleveland was just as bad as the one that shipped him out. But that might be a little unfair. Yeah, keeping Tommie Agee, John Romano, and Tommy John around might have been the wiser move, but putting Rocky Colavito back in an Indians uniform was sort of a necessary type of catharsis for the franchise and its fan base. And he wasn’t exactly washed up, either. At 31, Colavito put up good numbers in his homecoming season of ’65, playing a full 162 games and cracking 26 homers with 108 RBI, a .287 AVG, and .383 OBP. Things started to go south quickly after that, but at least for one moment in time, the Beatles were invading America, and Rocky Colavito was back where he belonged.
First Game Back: April 21, 1965. 1-4 with a HR and 2 RBI in a 6-5 win over the Angels.

Let’s hope Jim Thome has a similar homecoming homerun in the works… supposing we’ve all now agreed to root for him.

P.S. Did you notice the Indians lost 8 of the 10 homecoming games above? Maybe another good reason to keep one's expectations in check.

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