Book Review: The Curse of Rocky Colavito

Outside of Cleveland, even casual baseball fans may not know who Rocky Colavito is, but in Northeast Ohio there was a time that he was practically Babe Ruth. Colavito was a hard hitting outfielder for the Tribe in the 1950s. Before being traded away for Harvey Kuenn in 1960, he was solidly the fan favorite of the team. In this 1994 book, long time Cleveland area writer Terry Pluto examines the plight the Indians faced in the wake of trading Colavito and the decades of cellar dwelling that followed.

Pluto’s premise of the book is an examination of whether trading Colavito put a curse on the ball club. Much like the Curse of the Bambino with the Red Sox or the Billy Goat Curse for the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps because of the smaller market, or because the Tribe didn’t even have any flashes of success for so long, during the mind 90s, there wasn’t much popular talk of a potential curse. Even last season when the Tribe went to the World Series, while there was certainly talk of ending a long championship drought with their last title being in 1948, there was practically no mention the team could have been cursed.

 Pluto’s chronicle starts with the trade in 1960 and follows the team through three and a half decades of peril until the story stops in 1994. The year of 1994 was one that many thought could have been THE year for the Tribe. They had a new ballpark in downtown Cleveland and the Indians were good. Really good. In fact, they were in first place late into the season for the first time in, well, as long as anyone could remember. This had to be their year. They were going to win the Series. And they may have, had there been one. But in the year where the Indians were destined to win, the players and owners couldn’t come to an agreement and for the first time in history, the post season was cancelled. The Indians were champions of a season that basically never happened.

Pluto’s research on the team during the three plus decades is in depth and enthralling. He was able to find many instances of potential bad luck since the trade of Colavito. A few or those being: June 1964-third baseman Max Alvis has an attack of spinal meningitis on a team flight, June 1874-drunken fans pour themselves onto the field during ten cent beer night forcing a forfeit, July 1981-Cleveland is to host the All Star Game, but it is delayed due to a player’s strike, April 1987-Sports Illustrated picks the Indians to win the pennant in a season where the Indians lost 101 games and finished in last place, and March 1993-two pitches die and a third is injured in a boating accident.

The Indians certainly have had more fortune in the 20 years that have followed than the time featured, but one thing has stayed the same: they still haven’t won a World Series, so in many ways, the curse is still in place.

Like most of Pluto’s books, it is hard to put down. A very entertaining read that provides both a compelling story and a complete history of a downtrodden time in Indians history. Pluto ends the book by sitting a survey including a poll of Cleveland sports fans asking them which of their teams they wanted to most see win a title. The Tribe lead the way 3 votes to 1 over everyone else.

Baseball Reflections Rating: 4/5

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