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The Curse of Rocky Colavito is a jinx that is believed to prevent the Cleveland Indians from achieving success at different levels of play. The curse is tied to the unpopular 1960 trade of Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers.
How did the Curse of Rocky Colavito Begin?
In 1960 the Cleveland Indians were part of a somewhat unusual trade, sending 1959 home run champion Rocky Colavito to the Tigers in exchange for 1959 batting champion Harvey Kuenn. This trade outraged Indians’ fans who had witnessed general manager Frank Lane trade away every single player he had found at the team since taking over two years earlier.
The idea behind the sale was to save money and to get rid of a player who he felt was did not deserve a raise. The idea of the curse took hold following the release of the book The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a 33-Year Slump by Terry Pluto, a former writer for ‘The Plain Dealer.’ In the book, Pluto attributed the 33-year stretch in which the Indians were unable to finish within 11 games of first place to the trade. From then on, the Curse of Colavito became a common reference by the press and fans.
Effects of the Curse of Colavito
By the time Pluto popularized the Curse of Colavito, the Indians had not won the pennant since 1954 and had not been in contention since 1960. Questionable trades and strange incidences affecting star players were largely to blame for the misfortunes of the Indians. In 1965, the Indians signed Colavito back from Kansas City Athletics in exchange for rookie outfielder Tommie Agee and pitcher Tommy John to the Chicago White Sox.
At that point John had won two games in the major leagues but went on to win another 286 with different teams, reaching the World Series with four teams. Agee meanwhile would blossom into a respectable outfielder and helped the New York Mets win the 1969 World Championship. Sam McDowell, one of the most potent pitchers in the 1960s was forced to leave the game at the young age of 32 due to alcoholism, leaving the Indians short in that department. In 1970 first baseman Tony Horton suffered mental illness and had to resign after failing to recover sufficiently.
In 1976, following a 20-7 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the Indians signed pitcher Wayne Garland hoping to improve their fortunes, but their new acquisition suffered a shoulder injury in spring training. He ended up retiring in 1980, just four years into his 10-year contract. In 1984, the Indians traded pitcher Rick Sutcliffe in exchange for Met Hall and Joe Carter from the Chicago Cubs. Sutcliffe blossomed in Chicago, helping the Cubs to win the division title while Carter failed to reach the heights reached by Sutcliffe and was eventually traded to the San Diego Padres.
Just before the 1987 season, the remarkable duo of Sluggers Carter and Cory Snyder known as ‘The Tribe’ featured on the cover of Sports illustrated with Cleveland hailed as the greatest team in the league. That season, the Indians would suffer the worst record in the league, losing 101 games. In 1993, a tragic boating accident resulted in the deaths of relief pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin while starting pitcher Bob Ojeda barely survived. The only remaining pitcher was Kevin Wickander but he seemed to be affected by the accident and never really got going.
During the 1995 season, the Indians made their first World Series appearance since 1964 after having won 100 games in regular season, but they lost the series in 6 straight games to the Atlanta Braves. In 1999, the won the Central Division but they lost the division playoffs to the Boston Red Sox in 5 games despite having won the first two games of the series.
That was the fifth straight year they failed to win a World Series after having won the division title. Since then to date, the Indians have not made consecutive playoff appearances and they have not had consecutive winning seasons since 2001. They have not won a World Series since 1948 and they have only won the league pennant twice since 1954.
In 2010 in an interview with Terry Pluto, Colavito revealed that though he was incensed with the trade fifty years earlier, he still loved the Indians and he had not placed a curse on the team. He still had some nasty words for Lane claiming that the Indians coach had traded him out of pure ego.