Hey baseball fans!
Matt Nadel here with another guest blog post for More Than A Fan and something totally new. Today, I am introducing a new series called ML“whatwould”B, where I will take famous events that happened in baseball history and tell you what would have happened if things had gone a different way. This post will be about the Boss and Chief Wahoo’s team:
In 1973, George M. Steinbrenner III bought the Yankees and led them to over three decades of success, but what would have happened if he bought the first team he was looking at, the Cleveland Indians? After a fifth place finish in the AL East in ’72, Cleveland owner Vernon Stouffer would have sold the Indians to Steinbrenner, and would have bought the Yankees from CBS before the 1973 season. Vernon’s first move would have been to get Cleveland’s first-round pick of the 1972 draft, Dennis Eckersley, back on his roster, so he trades the Alou brothers, Mattie and Felipe, to Cleveland. Back in C-Town, the Boss gets the hottest player on the free agency market, Catfish Hunter, from Oakland. Catfish had heard about the owners’ swap and wanted to make the Tribe a competitor in the AL. Because of this, Hunter’s old teammate, Reginald Martinez “Reggie” Jackson, decides that he wants to fill the vacant outfield hole in center that Felipe filled in the prior year for the Bronx Bombers, so the Yanks sign him. The last move that Stouffer makes for New York before the start of the season is to get third baseman Graig Nettles back on his roster from Cleveland for some prospects.
Opening Day 1973 begins great for both teams, as Catfish leads the Tribe to a 6-1 win over Detroit with the Alou brothers each getting two hits. On April 9th, the two teams meet for New York’s Opening Day, where New York scorches Cleveland 12-3, thanks to a three-homer day from long-time Yankee Bobby Murcer. Actually, because Ron Bloomberg has to be in right, since Reggie is in center, Bobby becomes the first DH in baseball history. Anyway, when the season ends, the Yanks are in first in the AL East, while the Tribe gets third. New York sweeps heavily-favored Oakland in the ALCS, with Jackson hitting out four homers in the series. They meet up against the New York Mets in the World Series and win in six, with Jackson hitting out four more homers on four consecutive pitches, one in his last at-bat in a loss at Shea in Game 5 and the other three at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 to clinch the Series. He, of course, wins the World Series MVP. With Oakland unable to recover from their loss in the 1973 ALCS, they never win another World Series in the future.
The next year, the Indians get hot when Catfish has a Cy Young Award-winning year, going 21-5 with a 3.06 ERA. However, Dennis Eckersley gets called up from Triple-A for the Bronx Bombers and has a Rookie of the Year-winning year, going 14-7 with 15 saves, 220 innings pitched, and 205 strikeouts. When the year ends, the Indians hold the AL East crown, finishing one game ahead of New York. They end up winning their first World Series since 1948, when they beat the Big Red Machine in seven games.
Years later, in 1991, George drafts a shortstop from the State of Michigan named Derek Jeter. In 1994, he gets called up and proceeds to hit 25 homers and 230 hits, enough to win ROY and MVP. Because of the excitement in Cleveland, no one wants to see Jeter stop playing so the baseball strike never happens. The World Series that year is one to remember. The Tribe squares off against the Montreal Expos led by manager…. Hall of Famer Felipe Alou (who made seven more All Star teams with Cleveland)! Jeter hits a walk-off single to end the deciding sixth game. Montreal is so mad at the team that Canada kicks them out! So where do they go to play in the NL? Tampa, because the Rays haven’t been created yet. So they become the Tampa Bay Barracudas, a much scarier fish name than the other Florida team. Back in the Bronx, new manager Tony La Russa tells Stouffer to go get shortstop Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Tino Martinez from Seattle before the 1996 season. He does so, and they both become superstars, starting a whole new dynasty in Yankee history. They win the World Series five straight years, one against Tampa in 1997, while Cleveland becomes a laughingstock in the AL Central, as Jeter is the only one who continues to deliver for the team. Well, not everything can be perfect, here in the ML”what would”B. Luckily, Steinbrenner hires Josh Flagner in 2000 as the Indians’ play by play announcer, who makes all of Cleveland’s games exciting with his commentary.