Just like old times for old-timers

1960s Indians reunite at Jacobs Field

CLEVELAND -- The Indians of the 1960s never amounted to much on the field.

But oh, man, did those guys have fun.

"Such great frivolity," said former Tribe beat writer Russell Schneider, with a laugh.

Win or lose -- and there were plenty of the latter in a decade that only produced two winning seasons -- the fellows would fritter away hours following the games, just telling stories, talking ball and laughing the night away.

Some 40 years later, little had changed for the bunch. As some 40 players returned to town this weekend for a 1960s reunion, the good ol' days came pouring back.

"After a while, the hair comes back and the wrinkles go away, because when you start talking, you're back where you are at 19, 20 years old," said former Cleveland second baseman Vern Fuller. "The appearance just goes away when the conversation starts flowing. This is terrific."

The get-together, which was organized by Fuller and former clubhouse manager Billy Malone, had a varied cast. But whether it was a player whose career died in the club's farm system or Max Alvis, 20-game winners Mudcat Grant, "Sudden" Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant or former Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance, the fellows were equals on this weekend.

Just the way it used to be.

"To see the guys you played with, the guys who it's been 40 years since you've last seen, it's awesome," Alvis said. "The guys haven't changed."

The guys even reminisced about why they never really won.

"Our pitching was awesome," Alvis said. "But we either played poor defensively or didn't score enough runs. It's hard to believe we didn't win more."

But mostly, they talked about the fun that was had before "real" jobs took over their lives.

"Those teams were so close," Malone said. "They would stay hours -- hours -- after the game just talking baseball. Win or lose, they'd have a few beers and just talk and talk.

"A lot of these guys were even in each others' weddings, they were real friends. That's why it's so fun to get together these guys who shared a life."

The idea for the reunion came about one night 10 months ago in a conversation between Malone and former catcher Duke Sims.

"We just started reminiscing and laughing, asking, 'Have you heard from this guy and that guy?'" Malone said. "And somewhere in the course of the evening, Duke said [that] we ought to have a reunion."

A reunion was born.

The initial plan was to have a small gathering at McDowell's house in Florida. But Fuller quickly shot that down.

"Bad idea," Fuller said. "You can't get a hotel room for under $200, and why would you have an Indians reunion in Florida?"

Besides, there wasn't too much interest to stage it at someone's house. So Cleveland it was.

This weekend, the players have golfed, dined at a 16,000-square-foot, lake-view carriage house built by the Hanna Estate, put on a local baseball clinic, toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, of course, taken in Saturday's Tribe game from the Legends Suites area in right field.

Why did so many make the trip? For fun, of course. A celebrity tour this was not.

Perhaps most telling was that the players in town had to pay much of their own way for the trip. That's how close they once were.

"They were ordinary people, great guys," Schneider said. "Those were some good times."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.