100 Greatest Indians: Rocky Colavito

100 Greatest Indians: Rocky Colavito

In 2001, a panel of writers, historians and baseball officials got together and named the "100 Greatest Indians," and the organization then held a season-long celebration in honor of the men who made the team. Those men will be honored and their feats chronicled in an ongoing series of stories about each of them. Each month a story will appear that takes fans back through Memory Lane as one by one the legends of Cleveland baseball have their stories told.

The series began in March with a story on Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, perhaps the most heralded player in team history. Here in installment No. 4 of the series is a tribute to outfielder Rocky Colavito.

He was "The Rock" long before some pro wrestler pirated the nickname in the 1990s and turned it into a big-money career in Hollywood.

But the first was an original here in every sense of the nickname, because no baseball player outside of Bob Feller had ever left a more endearing legacy for Tribe fans than the man they lovingly called "The Rock."

To them, right-fielder Rocky Colavito was all they could want in a baseball icon.

"The first baseball player's name I learned was Rocky Colavito," wrote Terry Pluto in his book, The Curse of Rocky Colavito. "He was everything a ballplayer should be; dark, handsome eyes, and a raw-boned build -- and he hit home runs at a remarkable rate. Best of all, he had a nickname. Baseball fans love nicknames, especially when they fit. In 1959 he led the American League with 42 homers. He drove in 111 runs, and no player signed more autographs.

"Colavito was the Rock ... the rock of the franchise."

That's a lot to put on one man's shoulders, but Colavito had the kind of talent that made him the perfect candidate for such a lofty role in a franchise's survival. And make no mistake, baseball in Cleveland was in survival mode.

The Indians had been on a downward spiral after their World Series appearance in 1954, but young talent was on the horizon. Colavito was one of those talents.

He arrived as a full-time player in 1956. He was 22, and in 101 games, Colavito slugged 21 homers and knocked in 65 runs. His statistics would only improve in the seasons ahead.

In 1959, he had his breakout season. Now 25, Colavito batted .303, hit 42 homers and knocked in 111 runs. He had become an All-Star; he had become the darling of a city that needed someone like "The Rock."

But like a shooting star, he vanished as quickly as he had arrived. For after the '59 season, general manager Frank Lane traded Colavito to the Tigers for American League batting champion Harvey Kuenn.

If the Red Sox had their curse, the Indians have had theirs as well. The Colavito-for-Kuenn trade was the root of it. For all the promise, all the optimism that had surrounded Indians baseball throughout the '50s disappeared the day Lane traded The Rock.

He spent the next four seasons with the Tigers and another with the Kansas City Athletics before he returned to Cleveland. His return created a renewed interest in the Indians, and he treated their fans to two more good seasons before the Tribe traded The Rock again.

The combination of his two stints here produced memorable moments season after season, and it was for his body of excellence that he was selected as one of the "100 Greatest Indians."

The Rock was a three-time All Star as an Indian. He slugged 190 or his 374 homers as an Indian, and he gave the Indians fans someone they needed: a genuine hero.


Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.