The needs and wants of television – not to mention all the bags of cash TV forks over to major league teams – have stretched out baseball seasons long enough to transform the Fall Classic into the Almost Winter Classic. Still, the World Series remains one of our nation’s most cherished sporting events, thanks partly to contributions from former Spokane Indians.
Professional baseball in Spokane dates back to 1890, and the first World Series was held in 1903. A goodly number of former Spokane minor leaguers have played in at least one World Series, but thousands of other major league players and/or onetime Indians never shared the experience.
Seattle Mariners fans won’t be surprised to learn that Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki, who spent the bulk of their careers with the Mariners, played more regular-season games in the majors without reaching a World Series than anyone but Rafael Palmeiro. The latter played 2,831 games in 21 seasons. Griffey saw action in 2,671 games in 22 seasons, and Ichiro played 2,653 games in 19 seasons.
Which former Indian played in the most big league games without taking part in a World Series? Read on to find out the answer to that question and many more regarding the World Series history of former Indians players and managers.
•Two former Indians, relief pitcher Larry Sherry and third baseman Ron Cey, have won World Series Most Valuable Player awards. Sherry and Cey led the Los Angeles Dodgers to championships.
Sherry, a Dodgers and Indians teammate of brother Norm, went 2-0 with two saves while finishing all four Dodgers victories (in six games) against the Chicago White Sox in 1959. Sherry allowed just one run in 12⅔ innings to post a 0.71 earned-run average in his four appearances.
Cey, the former Washington State standout, shared the 1981 MVP award with teammates Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager. Cey blasted a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 3 to spark a 5-4 victory after the New York Yankees had won the first two games. Cey played in all six games and batted .350 (7 for 23) with the one homer and six RBIs.
•The World Series MVP award was introduced in 1955. That’s the only reason Hall of Fame pitcher Stan Coveleski did not become the first former Indians player to win the honor.
Coveleski, who would either laugh or cry if he saw how the workload of starting pitchers is limited nowadays, recorded complete-game victories in all three of his starts – spread over just eight days – in the 1920 World Series. Coveleski tossed five-hitters each time out, including a 3-0 shutout in the final game between his Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians) and the Brooklyn Robins (now the Los Angeles Dodgers).
One of the last pitchers legally permitted to throw spitballs, Coveleski gave up just two runs and 15 hits in 27 innings with a 0.67 ERA. More than a century later, his three wins remain tied for first in a single World Series.
•Of course, not every former Indian has enjoyed great success in the World Series. Example No. 1: Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
Buckner hit over .300 seven times during a splendid 22-year career in the majors, and he led the National or American leagues in assists by a first baseman four times. He is best known, however, for letting a ground ball slip between his battered legs to let in the winning run with two out in the 10th inning of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series. The New York Mets went on to win the Series in seven games.
Buckner received death threats afterward, but Red Sox fans later embraced him.
•Another ex-Indian who belongs on every World Series blooper list is Willie Davis, the 1960 Minor League Player of the Year for Spokane.
A three-time Gold Glove winner for the Dodgers, Davis was a fast center fielder who played with abundant grace, speed and skill for much of his career. In Game 2 of the 1966 World Series, however, Davis bobbled back-to-back fly balls in a blinding sun, then threw wildly to third base after the second play to set a Series record with three errors in one inning. The Baltimore Orioles went on to sweep Los Angeles in four games.
What could possibly be worse? Well, it turned out to be the final game played by star Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. As an added bonus, Davis – a .279 career hitter in 18 seasons in majors – went 1 for 16 (.063) at the plate during Baltimore’s four-game sweep of the Dodgers.
•Only three managers have won more than four World Series championships. Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, who started his managing career with the 1989 Indians, can tie Walter Alston and Joe Torre for fourth all time with a Series championship this year.
Bochy won three World Series with the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012, 2014). In 2019, Bochy “retired” after 13 years with the Giants, but he returned to the dugout this year for his 26th season as a major league manager.
Bochy stands sixth in World Series managing titles along with Tony La Russa, John McGraw, Sparky Anderson and Miller Huggins. Longtime Yankees managers Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel won a record seven championships, and Connie Mack won five times. When you’re at least a part-owner of the team you managed – the Philadelphia (now Oakland) Athletics – for a record 50 years, it was a wee bit easier for Mack to pile up titles despite having a losing career record.
•Baseball record books – well, baseball record online lists – are surprisingly limited in most career and single-season categories for the World Series. For example, only top-10 (or fewer) lists are provided for major categories like hits, batting average, home runs, RBIs, pitching victories, saves, etc.
With apologies to anyone we missed, we do know that Coveleski’s three wins in one Series ties for first; Jack Billingham (0.36 ERA) is second to Madison Bumgarner (0.25) for the lowest career ERA among qualifiers; Bob Meusel’s three career triples tie for fourth; Coveleski’s three complete games in one year ties for fifth; Jim Gantner’s four doubles in one Series ties for sixth; Netfali Feliz is tied for seventh with three career saves; Meusel and Tommy Davis are tied for seventh with two triples in one Series; Perez and Larry Sherry are part of a long line of pitchers that ranks eighth with two saves in a Series; and Billingham ranks ninth in innings pitched (13⅔) among those who posted a 0.00 ERA in a Series.
The highest single-season batting average we could find among ex-Indians who played regularly in a World Series (basically, a minimum of 18 plate appearances, according to BaseballReference.com), was Bill Russell’s .423 mark for the Dodgers in 1978. Steve Garvey hit .417 for the 1981 Dodgers. Mitch Moreland (2010 Rangers) and Tommy Davis (1963 Dodgers) batted .462 and .400, respectively, but each player had just 15 plate appearances.
•Don Newcombe made history in 1949 when he became the first Black pitcher to start a World Series game. The modern-day color line in the major leagues had been broken just two years earlier by Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson.
Newcombe and current Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander are the only pitchers who have played in a World Series and won Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award (pitcher of the year) honors.
Newcombe posted a dazzling 27-7 record in 1956, when he claimed his MVP and Cy Young awards with the Dodgers. Newcombe, who admitted to problems with alcohol, quickly tailed off before finding himself in the minors with Spokane in 1960. He wound up his playing career in Japan in 1961.
•OK, we’ve kept you guessing long enough. The former Indians player who played the most regular-season games in the majors without appearing in a World Series game? That would be Toby Harrah, who spent 2,157 games and 17 seasons (mostly with Texas) chasing the ultimate goal of everyone who wore a major league uniform.
Only 28 men have played more games than Harrah without reaching the World Series. The No. 28 player on the list is Spokane native Ryne Sandberg, who played 2,164 games over 16 seasons during his Hall of Fame career.
Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who pitched in more major league games (1,070, sixth all time) than any other ex-Indian, spent 21 seasons in the major leagues but only played in a World Series in his third season. Wilhelm made two scoreless relief appearances to help the New York (now San Francisco) Giants knock off Cleveland in the 1954 World Series.
Howie Stalwick is a former Spokane Indians beat reporter for The Spokesman-Review. He retired in his hometown of Spokane in 2016. Howie may be contacted at email@example.com.
Pitcher Neftali Feliz was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.