Joe Carter and Cory Snyder of the Clevleand Indians graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's 1987 Baseball Preview issue. It declared the Indians as the best team in the American League. The ’87 Indians would lose 101 games. How could this happen? No one is picking a team who was terrible the year before to win a pennant and indeed the year before the Indians were the surprise team of baseball. There have plenty of looks at the infamous ’87 Indians so I figured I’d look at the ’86 team that led to their label as preseason contenders the following season
Going into 1986 the Indians were coming off a 102 loss season but would put together their best team in 27 years, leading the Majors in runs scored. They were never serious contenders in the A.L. East to the Red Sox in ’86 as their highpoint was on July 23rd when they were 51-41, five games out of first place. After terrible month of August (12-19) they hovered around .500 but won 9 of their last 12 games to finish 84-78, their first winning season since 1979.
C: Andy Allanson (.225/.260/.280, -9.3 VORP, 0 Win Shares) – 101 games played, 0 Win Shares. Wow. Allanson was a rookie and brought absolutely nothing to the table. On top of those stomach turning offensive numbers he also committed 20 errors. Played with the Indians thru 1989 then bounced around to Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and California.
1B: Pat Tabler (.326/.368/.433, 28.7 VORP, 16 Win Shares) – Tabler would have made an awesome middle infielder with his numbers but problem was he played first base. ’86 was his best year as he finished 4th in the A.L. in average but he had almost no power with a career .379 SLG. Traded to the Royals in 1988 for Bud Black, then traded to the Mets in 1990 (the fifth trade of his career), and finished his career with two years in Toronto.
2B: Tony Bernazard (.301/.362/.456, 48.2 VORP, 25 Win Shares) – The top A.L. second baseman in 1986 per Win Shares, this was also Bernazard’s career year (possible trend?). Traded midseason the following year to Oakland in what would be his last year in the Majors before a brief comeback with the Tigers in 1991.
3B: Brook Jacoby (.288/.350/.441, 30.0 VORP, 21 Win Shares) – Only 26, Jacoby appeared to be a rising star but would peak the following year with a 32 homerun season. Fell off a cliff performance wise after age 30, the Indians traded him to Oakland in 1991 and then return to Cleveland a forgettable final season in 1992.
SS: Julio Franco (.306/.338/.422, 41.9 VORP, 18 Win Shares) – Allegedly 27 years old at the time, Franco was one of my favorite non-A’s players as a kid because of his bizarre batting stance. He was awful defensive shortstop and was moved over to second base in 1988. After that year he was traded to the Rangers for Pete O’Brien, Oddibe McDowell, and Jerry Browne where he’d win the batting title in 1991. Signed with the White Sox for the 1994 season where had a terrific year but during the baseball strike decided to play over in Japan for the ’95 season. He returned to Cleveland in 1996, released late in 1997, signed with Milwaukee, and then went back to Japan in 1998. Played in Mexico in 1999 but did appear in one game for one at bat for the Devil Rays in September. Played the next two years in Mexico but the Braves purchased his contract late in 2001 and has since made a surprising return as solid, platoon player. This year joined the Mets at age 117.
LF: Mel Hall (.296/.346/.493, 29.4 VORP, 18 Win Shares) – Hall was the very definition of a platoon outfielder. In 1986 the left handed hitter had just 26 at bats against left handed pitchers. Basically a decent hitter against righties but completely useless against lefties. Traded to the Yankees before the 1989 season and I’ll just post his awesome bio on BaseballLibrary.com to talk about the rest of his career.
Meanwhile, Hall's showy habits in the Big Apple were earning him a reputation as one of the game's most flamboyant characters. He rented an upper-level apartment in Trump Tower and would often sally across town with two pet cougars in tow. He dated a 16-year-old, drove her to school in flashy cars and even attended her prom. All of this made quite an impression his teammates, especially the young two-sport star Deion Sanders, who later asked Hall to be the godfather of one of his children.
The cougars were confiscated by the City of New York in 1990, and Hall was slapped with a $10,000 fine. To add to his woes, Hall's RBI total fell to 46, a five-year low. But over the next two seasons, he proved himself one of the Yankees' most productive hitters, topping the club with 80 RBIs in 1991 and besting that total in 1992.
Hall was dissatisfied with the club's lackadaisical attitude towards a new contract extension, however, and demanded a trade in August 1992. "I'm one of their most popular players," he grumbled, "and I'm the one getting the least respect." The trade request was not granted.
Major-league rules prevented Hall from testing the free-agent market, so he left the majors and spent three years in Japan. Hindered by increasingly sore knees, he returned to the States in 1996 as a left-handed pinch-hitter for the Giants, but was unhappy with his limited role. "Pinch-hitting is a vital role, but I will never accept it,'' he told the San Francisco Chronicle in late April. He was released less than a month later
CF: Brett Butler (.278/.356/.375, 18.3 VORP, 20 Win Shares) – Very good leadoff hitter he was the master of the bunt single. Was a late bloomer as his prime was actually in his early-30’s. Signed with the Giants after 1987, played there for three years then became one of the most hated players by Giants fans when he signed with the Dodgers after 1990. Traded late in 1995 to the Mets and then came right back to the Dodgers, retiring after 1997.
RF: Joe Carter (.302/.335/.514, 49.9 VORP, 28 Win Shares) – Although later recognized more for his playing days with the Blue Jays, 1986 was actually Carter’s best year (trend!). Indians traded him to San Diego after 1989 for Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Chris James. Almost exactly a year later he would be traded in a blockbuster deal to Toronto with Roberto Alomar for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. Played for the Blue Jays for seven years and of course became a World Series hero in 1993. Split his final season in 1998 with Baltimore and San Francisco.
DH: Andre Thorton (.229/.333/.392, 7.0 VORP, 9 Win Shares) – Thorton was washed up at this point after being an unsung, very good DH for several years. Played in only 36 games the following year hitting just .118, his final season.
UTL: Cory Snyder (.272/.299/.500, 19.5 VORP, 13 Win Shares) – I figured I’d throw Snyder in since he was on that infamous S.I. cover and it was partly the hype behind him that led to the Indians being overrated going into the following year. He hit 24 homeruns in only 103 games as a rookie but no one bothered to notice his .299 OBP and that he struck out 123 times with only 16 walks! Having 100+ more strikeouts than walks is hard to do and Snyder did it three more times in his career. Traded in 1991 to Toronto, then signed with San Francisco, and then played two years in Los Angeles.
Tom Candiotti (116 ERA+, 47.6 VORP, 17 Win Shares) – This was Candiotti’s first full year in the Majors and he was the Indians only good pitcher in 1986, leading the A.L. with 17 complete games. Traded to the Blue Jays in 1991 in a five player deal. Then signed with Dodgers who he played with for six years. Signed with the A’s after 1997 then released during the 1999 season but was picked up for a return to Cleveland. Signed with the Angels before the 2000 season but did not make the team.
Ken Schrom (91 ERA+, 12.4 VORP, 10 Win Shares) – The Indians offense helped the mediocre pitcher to 14-7 record and an All-Star selection. Posted a 6.50 ERA the following year which would be his last in the Majors.
Phil Niekro (96 ERA+, 7.3 VORP, 9 Win Shares) – I doubt we’ll ever see another rotation with two knuckleballers on it and besides everyone knows only Doug Mirabelli can catch them. Anyways Niekro was 47 at this point and was no longer effective. His final year come next season as the Indians traded him in August to Toronto who released him a few weeks later. Picked up for a purely sentimental final start with the Braves and retired after the season. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Closer: Ernie Camacho (102 ERA+, 9.9 VORP, 7 Win Shares) – A former 1st round pick of the A’s he had an injury filled, sporadic career and this was one of only two years that he threw more than 30 innings.