Remember the struggling Cleveland Indians? The bottom of the iceberg. The loose board at the top of the stairs. Orson Welles trying to do stand-up comedy. Woody Allen playing the cello in a marching band. But those were the 1987 Indians. This year it's a whole different story - at least so far. The only team in the majors to lose more than 100 games last season has begun to turn adversity around as though the players really mean it, running a close second behind the New York Yankees in the American League East.
One big reason for Cleveland's new look is the tremendous improvement in a pitching staff that last year compiled an earned-run average of 5.28 - the worst in the majors in 31 years. Mention this to Doc Edwards, who replaced Pat Corrales as manager of the woebegone Indians last July 16, and what you get is a polite:
``Well, yes, the pitching this year has been a lot better. In fact, from what I've seen so far I think our starters are going to be all right. What worries me is our bullpen. The season isn't old enough yet for us to know what we've got in the way of relief. But you can't win without three reliable arms out there. We'll just have to wait and see.''
Edwards, who acquired his nickname after four years in the United States Navy Medical Corps, has the rough hands of a catcher (which he was), the unhurried disposition of a man who spent 13 years in the minors, and the courage of his convictions.
``I don't have a philosophy as a manager, but I know what it takes to win,'' Doc says. ``Teams have to fit together. And like people have always said, you have to be strong up the middle. I try to play everybody on my roster at least once a week, because how can you ask a man to do a job for you if you take away his sharpness by not using him.
``I wanted to get away well this spring, and we did by winning 17 of our first 30 games,'' Edwards continued. ``That gave us confidence. If we can win 17 of every 30 games we play the rest of the year, I'll be satisfied. But if we win our division, I'll be surprised.''
Young players to watch on the Indians include outfielder Joe Carter, catcher Andy Allanson, and the shortstop-second-base combination of Jay Bell and Julio Franco. And on the mound, of course, there is 23-year-old left-hander Greg Swindell, a power pitcher with control who has been the talk of baseball this spring.
Swindell, who missed 14 weeks last year with an arm injury, leads the majors in wins with a 10-1 record. Carter, who hit 32 home runs in 1987, should match or better that mark and also ranks among the league leaders in batting average and RBIs. Mechanically, Allanson is supposed to be the best young catcher since Bob Boone. And getting a ball through Bell and Franco is like trying to slip an illegal tax form past the IRS.
Although everybody says the Indians are making it big with basically the same players they had last year, this is not completely true. Maybe it wasn't a blockbuster deal when Cleveland purchased first baseman Willie Upshaw (15 home runs) from Toronto, but it did give them a boost in the key area of producing runs, where they were last in their division and next to last in the entire league a year ago.
In 1987 the Baseball Writers' Association of America gave Edwards one third-place vote as Manager of the Year. It probably bought Doc his present one-year contract. This year he'd like to try for two! Worrell among bullpen elite
Although not as well publicized as Lee Smith of Boston and Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees, Todd Worrell of the St. Louis Cardinals nevertheless rates high among baseball's top relief pitchers.
In the past two years, relying mostly on a 95 m.p.h. fastball, the big right-hander has won 17 games and notched 71 saves, two of the latter coming against Minnesota in last year's World Series. This spring he has already racked up 13 saves to lead the National League by a wide margin.
``Perhaps the biggest reason Worrell has been so effective for us is because of the way we use him,'' coach Red Schoendienst explained. ``One thing we stumbled on early about Todd was that after two innings his fastball tends to flatten out, meaning that suddenly he isn't as tough to hit. So we get him out of there.
``Actually though, the situation has turned into a blessing in disguise, because when you only use a pitcher for two innings, there is nothing risky about bringing him back the next day with no loss in effectiveness.''
Last year Worrell made 75 appearances in relief for the Cardinals; the previous year, 74. Elsewhere in the majors
One reason so many baseball scouts call Roger Clemens the best pitcher in the game is his road record. When the ace Boston right-hander beat the Angels in Anaheim Sunday to snap a five-game Red Sox losing streak, it boosted his road record to 6-0 this season and 35-9 for his career.
When Jerry Reuss of the Chicago White Sox recently won his 200th major league game, teammate Dave La Point told the 38-year-old left-hander: ``Great. That's something you can tell your grandchildren about ... tomorrow!'' Reuss is the 86th pitcher to reach that figure, but only the second (Milt Pappas is the other) do have done so without posting at least one 20-win season.
It's open season on losing managers once again. First the Atlanta Braves fired Chuck Tanner and replaced him with Russ Nixon, then the San Diego Padres dismissed Larry Bowa and turned the reins over to general manager Jack McKeon. McKeon, however, is only expected to hold the job on an interim basis. Other major league managers reportedly in jeopardy include John McNamara of the Boston Red Sox, Lee Elia of the Philadelphia Phillies, John Wathan of the Kansas City Royals, and Cookie Rojas of the California Angels.