By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: In the late 1950s, Rocky Colavito was everyone’s favorite Indians player, an icon whose popularity probably increased after he was involved in one of the Tribe’s most infamous trades.
“I was standing on first base at Memphis in a spring training game,” Colavito said Saturday. “[Manager] Joe Gordon came out and told me I’d been traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn.”
According to legend, Colavito is supposed to have said, “Kuenn and who else?”
“I would never have said anything like that,” said Colavito, who is the Tribe’s guest for the weekend on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
Colavito was the home run champion in 1959 and Kuenn was the batting champion, but the trade never worked out for the Indians. However, Colavito hit 139 home runs in four seasons for the Tigers.
“I always felt that this was my town,” said Colavito, who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania. “I love Cleveland; it’s my favorite town in the world.”
Colavito has noted the changes in baseball and abhors the game’s pre-eminent scandal: PED use.
“They’re cheaters,” he said. “They cheat. When I played, we never even heard of steroids. Lyle Alzado [who played for the Denver Broncos, Browns and Oakland Raiders] melted down to nothing. He begged people not to do it [use steroids].”
Colavito fears that stars who have been labeled steroid users — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, among them — have stained an entire generation of baseball.
The assault on the record book and the shifting standard as to what constitutes a legitimate power hitter is something Colavito takes personally.
“What bothers me the most is — and I say this with all modesty — is that in my best year I hit 45 [homers],” he said. “Sosa hit 60 three times, McGwire hit 70 and Bonds hit 73. It makes us look like we were mediocre. I resent that. I don’t want kudos, but I don’t want to look mediocre.
“They [steroids] not only helped you that way, but when you had a day game after a night game, you were more refreshed.”
Colavito obviously does not think players who used steroids to pump up their numbers belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “If a guy does the right thing, God bless you.”
Colavito also thinks the baseball travels farther these days, even for players who don’t use PEDs.
“To me, the best era of baseball was the ’50s and ’60s, maybe even the ’40s,” Colavito said. “I think they should separate this era of the live ball. Now they use oak and maple bats, and the ball comes off the bat faster. I think that’s another advantage.”
The specialization that characterizes the modern bullpen also is foreign to Colavito’s experience as a player.
“You don’t want him [the closer] to get more than three outs?” he said. “That blows my mind. Are you kidding? Goose Gossage would throw two or three innings.”
Cabrera getting hot?
Maybe the bottom of Asdrubal Cabrera’s slump was Wednesday night, when he went 0-for-6 in the Indians’ 6-5, 14-inning loss to the Detroit Tigers.
But in his last at-bat, he flied out to the center field track, foreshadowing hitting the ball hard in his next two games. In those games, Thursday and Friday night, Cabrera was 3-for-8 with two doubles, a home run and three RBI.
Even his outs were hit with authority Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels, when he lined out twice.
“I think I’ve been hitting the ball pretty good for a month,” Cabrera said. “I haven’t had any luck.”
Complaints about him hitting in the cleanup spot were beginning to get loud.
“I know what I have to do [there],” he said.
Scott Kazmir will get a few days off from starting after admitting he has a “dead arm,” a malady pitchers talk about in spring training.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Like guys have in their third or fourth start of the spring.”
Carlos Carrasco will take Kazmir’s start Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins. When Kazmir will return to the rotation is uncertain.
“We’ll back him up a couple of days at a minimum and four days maximum,” Francona said. “But if somebody gets knocked out early, we’ll have to revisit it.”
Kazmir has not pitched a full season since 2010 but has not missed a start this year.
“It’s so commendable on his end that he’s done what he’s done,” Francona said.
Arm and hammer
Yan Gomes has thrown out 54 percent of would-be base stealers, and arm strength isn’t the only reason.
“He’s always had the arm strength,” Francona said. “But his footwork is exceptional, and his transfer [from glove to throwing hand] is so quick.”
Matt Carson hit his 12th homer of the year and singled driving in three runs, as Columbus defeated Louisville 4-1 in Class AAA. Paolo Espino (2-4, 4.23 ERA) gave up one unearned run and five hits in 5⅓ innings. … Cody Anderson (9-4, 2.34 ERA) pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits and one walk in Carolina’s 12-1 win over Frederick in Class A. Jordan Smith homered, singled twice and drove in two runs. Bryson Myles had three hits and two RBI, and Tyler Naquin had two doubles. … Richard Stock hit his seventh home run of the season and singled, driving in four runs, as Lake County lost to Dayton 9-7 in Class A. Joe Sever had two doubles and two RBI. … Paul Hendrix doubled twice and singled, driving in two runs in Mahoning Valley’s 3-2 win over Hudson Valley in Class A. James Roberts had three hits and one RBI. Caleb Hamrick gave up one run and six hits in five innings.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.