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Indians Indians Archive Tribe Game Vault: 4/19/60. Rocky Colavito Returns as a Detroit Tiger
Written by Greg Popelka

Greg Popelka

rocky colavito sport magazineThrough the spring, the 1960 season's Opening Day held much promise for Cleveland Indians fans. Sure, the 1959 season had concluded in a disappointing fashion, but the team came close to winning the American League pennant. Tito Francona hit over .400 into the middle of August, and pitching ace Cal McLish won 19 games. When former Tribe owner Bill Veeck’s “Go-Go White Sox” came to town for a four game series over three days at the end of August, the two teams were in a virtual tie for first place. Chicago swept the series, and the pennant chase essentially was over. The Tribe would eventually pull to within two games before finally succumbing.

The 1960 season opener finally arrived. Armed with signs and a chip on their collective shoulder, the Cleveland Stadium partisans were primed to shout their support for the crowd favorite, Rocky Colavito. ‘The Rock’ took his position in right field- in the bottom of the first inning, wearing the uniform of the Detroit Tigers.


frank lane with jimmy piersallI once caught a portion of an Oprah Winfrey interview of Michael Jackson. She told the singer that one of her favorite questions was borrowed from the late movie critic, Gene Siskel.

“What do you know, for sure?”

When it comes to the Cleveland Indians, there was a reason they were so bad for so long, and it was not due to a curse. I know-for sure- it was largely because of Frank Lane. He was known as “Trader” Lane, or “Frantic Frank.” In the 21st Century, the Indians’ General Manager of the late 1950s would surely have been known as Frank “Effing” Lane. (Photo at right: Lane with Indians OF Jimmy Piersall.)

I have thought about that question from time to time, over the years: What do you know, for sure? I have always hoped that if asked, I’d man up and state that I know that as a human, I am a miserable sinner who deserves nothing. But out of His love, God sent his Son to take on the burden of my sin and sacrifice Himself in a torturous death for me- and all people- so that we will not perish but have eternal life. Because if it were up to us to earn our way to heaven, we’d fall short, every single day. Also: at the end of history, God wins.

It’s not easy to share this belief in 2012. Many resent such testimony. It is as though the disdain is borne of rebellion, which is puzzling to me since we are in the post-Christian era anyway.  Look at the backlash against Tim Tebow. That has won him many more admirers than he’d otherwise have had. People like me root for the guy because he does not try to bury who he’s always been. Tebow  just does not care if people dislike how he lives his life.

As with anyone who has had life experiences, I ‘know’ some other stuff, too…


rocky colavito stretchIt was surreal, almost like Colavito had never left. He’d just trained with the Tribe in Arizona, and started the Indians’ exhibition game against the White Sox two days prior, in Memphis. After reaching base on that Easter Sunday in 1960, manager Joe Gordon removed him from the game, telling Colavito he’d been traded. Either apropos of nothing, or as a symbolic, apocalyptic sign, the historic Memphis ballpark in which that game had been played burned to the ground later that evening.

Colavito was perhaps the most popular Cleveland Indian of all time. He’d hit over 40 home runs in each of the prior two seasons, tying Harmon Killebrew for the league title in 1959. He clubbed four home runs in one game in June, transforming a lethargic Tribe season into one of pennant contention. He was a top candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player award. Colavito also boasted perhaps the finest outfield arm in baseball, and accommodated fan requests for his time. He routinely spent hours at a time signing autographs.

OK, here is something else I ‘know’. When attending a middle school band concert, it is imperative to will into submission the instinct to applaud. Music stops? Just sit there. A few parents begin to clap? Just. Sit. There. It is distinctly possible the musical piece is not finished. This is the only reason the conductor is up there, standing in your way. Otherwise, it would be a lot easier to count how many ‘chairs’ better your little Suzy is than smug little pretty-boy Brandon, who gets away with teasing her in the lunch room. The conductor will complete some sort of obvious gesture when it is time for applause.

(Brandon, what the heck is a self-respecting boy doing learning clarinet, anyway? Woodwinds aren’t very… masculine. As my boyhood friend’s father once told him, “Son, get your ass in brass.”)


rocky colavito harvey kuennTo be fair, Trader Lane did swing a rare successful deal during his three-plus years at the helm of the Indians franchise. The Tito Francona acquisition was a nice one. But in turning the entire roster over in the first two years as GM, Lane sent away such notable players as Early Wynn, Roger Maris, Norm Cash (traded five days prior to Colavito), Ray Narleski and Don Mossi, Minnie Minoso, and Herb Score.

And Rocco Domenico Colavito. Lane further infuriated Clevelanders by insisting he'd traded “hamburger for steak.” He would insist throughout the rest of his life that he was right in making that deal (and he was known to throw in an Italian slur for emphasis).

This is not to disparage the player received in return for the slugger. Harvey Kuenn had won the AL batting title in 1959, with a .353 average. But manager Joe Gordon agreed with Lane:  Kuenn would be a better all-around ballplayer than Colavito, who only looked to hit the longball.


Obviously, the Brandons of the world- and there will be a few- tease the girl they ‘like’. Don’t worry, dads- moms are all over this. We dads typically remain clueless. But this leads me to another thing I ‘know’. Dads, you may find comfort in intimidating boys who may associate with your daughter. I love hearing about how a dad is going to one day be sharpening his knives, or cleaning his guns, when a gentleman caller rings the doorbell. Good for you. Whatever helps you sleep at night. The reality is that it is that boys do not ‘choose’ girls. Think about your own wife, or girlfriend. Girls ‘let’ boys choose them, and they generally control how relationships develop. It becomes a matter of how well you raised your daughter. A neglected girl might submit to boys, looking for a father figure. A spoiled girl might move from boy to boy, never satisfied. And the parents’ role in shaping their daughter’s personality ends at around age 12, at which time it begins to be up to her whether to choose to change. Clearly, gun cleaning will have almost exactly zero bearing on little Suzy’s experiences with boys.


rocky colavito swingDetroit Tiger Rocky Colavito strode to the plate for the first time on Opening Day in 1960 to a thunderous Cleveland ovation. It was the top of the second inning, with the score 0-0. Following an Al Kaline walk, Tribe starter Gary Bell struck out Colavito. In the fifth inning of a still-scoreless game, the crowd favorite flied out to left. In the seventh, Kaline had walked again, and stole second base. Colavito whiffed yet again.

The game was remained scoreless into the 10th inning. With one out, Colavito walked- but was gunned down in a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. The Tigers pushed two runs across in the 11th inning, on a bases-loaded single. In the home half of the 11th, the Tribe scored a pair of their own on Jimmy Piersall single with the bases loaded.

Rocky Colavito struck out to lead off the 12th. He also went down swinging in the 13th for the third out in that inning. In the 15th, after a Kaline single that scored two, Colavito hit into an inning-ending double play.

The Tigers won, 4-2, in a game that tied the record for the longest opener. Mudcat Grant took the loss for the Tribe. Rocky Colavito finished the game 0 for 6, with four strikeouts (a rare 'platinum sombrero') and a double play. He also misplayed a fly ball in the outfield into a base hit. Harvey Kuenn went 2 for 7 with a double.

Colavito suffered through some tough times with the Tigers. Detroit fans did not hold him in as high esteem as did the fine people of Cleveland, and there were incidents such as when he reacted to verbal taunts they hurled at his wife and father. Overall, he was still a feared power hitter. Kuenn lasted one season in Cleveland before he also became a casualty of Trader Lane.

In the latter portion of the 1960 season, Lane got downright creative: he dealt Tribe manager Joe Gordon to Detroit, for Tigers manager Jimmy Dykes. The deal was unprecedented in the history of baseball. Gordon became reunited with the his disposable slugger, Colavito. 

And so was born the Curse of Rocky Colavito. But don’t we all ‘know’: the trouble with the Cleveland Indians of the late 1900s was not the result of an actual curse. Rather, the reason they were such a terrible franchise for so many years was why all bad teams struggle. The people in charge made crappy decisions.


Thank you for reading.

The first photo below is of Colavito robbing a New York Yankee of a home run in Yankee Stadium, near where he grew up.

The second photo is with Herb Score, in 2006.

rocky colavito action in field

rocky colavito herb score 2006















Below, with Roger Maris, Norm Cash and Mickey Mantle. Mantle is the only player in the photo not to have once been in the Indians' organization.

rocky colavito maris cash mantle










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