1993 | CLERMONT, FLORIDA – On the one off-day the Cleveland Indians had the entire 1993 spring training an afternoon of relaxation turned into tragedy. Pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed and Bobby Ojeda was seriously injured when the fishing boat they were in rammed into a pier on Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Florida. The lake is about 25 miles north of their spring training site at Winter Haven, Florida.
The three Indians pitchers brought their families to the lake to enjoy the day off. Olin, Crews and Ojeda had been fishing and were returning to shore when the accident happened. Crews was piloting the boat. An autopsy showed Crews was legally drunk when the boat slammed into the pier. He was killed instantly. Olin was pronounced dead the next morning. Ojeda had serious head lacerations but survived and made a complete recovery.
Twenty-seven year old Steve Olin had come into his own as the Indians closer the previous season. He appeared 72 games and had 29 saves.
Thirty-one year old Tim Crews had just signed with Cleveland as a free agent after spending six seasons with the Dodgers. He had an off year in ’92 when his ERA ballooned to 5.19, but he was just two years removed from an ERA of 2.77 in 66 games.
Thirty-five year old Bob Ojeda was a 13-year veteran when the accident happened. He won 115 games in his career, and was a major part of the New York Mets World Championship season in 1986 going 18-5. He recovered enough to appear in 9 games in ’93. He signed with the Yankees in ’94 but was released after appearing in two games.
Tragedy still haunts
1897 | CLEVELAND, OHIO – A member of the Penobscot Indian tribe was signed by the National League Cleveland Spiders on this date in 1897, and some later claimed that’s where Cleveland’s American League franchise got its name.
Louis Sockalexis showed superb athletic ability and ferocious power playing baseball as a kid on the Penobscot reservation in Maine. Stories, some apocryphal, had him throwing a ball 600 feet over the Penobscot River and hitting a baseball just as far.
He went on to play ball at Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame before signing a major league contract. His career didn’t last long, before the turn the century he was no longer a major league baseball player – heavy drinking took its toll. Sockalexis died in 1913 at age 42.
A year after Sockalexis died Cleveland’s American League team was in need of a new name. They had been called the Naps, after star player Nap Lajoie, but he was traded in 1914. The name “Indians” was chosen.
As time went by the story that the team was named in honor of a real Indian, Louis Sockalexis, was allowed to surface. Ithaca College Professor Ellen Staurowsky, among others, looked into the issue and wrote in the Sociology of Sport Journal, in 1998 that the name “Indians” was more likely chosen for exploitative purposes. The real story of why “Indians” was chosen was that it was a take off on the Boston Braves which were a baseball sensation that year for going from last place on July 4th to winning the World Series.
“An Act of Honor or Exploitation?: The Cleveland Indians’ Use of the Louis Francis Sockalexis Story,” by Ellen Staurowsky, Sociology of Sport Journal, 1998
The American Indian Quarterly
FEBRUARY 3, 1938 | CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – Future Baseball Hall of Famer, manager and broadcaster Lou Boudreau was a two-sport star at the University of Illinois. But on this day in 1938 he got suspended from the Illinois basketball and baseball teams for the rest of the year.
The 20-year old forward and captain of the basketball team was disciplined for taking money from a professional baseball team. The Cleveland Indians was sending his mother monthly checks in exchange for the Harvey, Illinois native’s word that he would give the Indians the right of first refusal when he graduated.
Boudreau missed six basketball games that season. The team won two and lost four and finished with an uninspired 9-9 record in the Big Ten.
Boudreau ended up not returning to the University of Illinois in the fall for his Senior year because he signed a contract with Cleveland and started his professional baseball career. He played 13 seasons for the Indians, mostly at shortstop, including nine as player-manager. He started managing at the age of 24. He guided the team to a World Series Championship in 1948, and was he league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Boudreau finished his playing career with the Boston Red Sox in 1952. He also managed the Red Sox, Kansas City A’s (today’s Oakland A’s) and Chicago Cubs. Boudreau began broadcasting Cubs games in 1958, and except for managing the Cubs for one season (1960) he remained in the booth until 1987.
Louis Boudreau was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1970.
Boudreau as manager
Associated Press (AP), February 4, 1938