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Anthony Castrovince

Ironically, 1988 Tribe squad was a skipper factory

Castrovince: 1988 Tribe squad was skipper factory

Ironically, 1988 Tribe squad was a skipper factory play video for Ironically, 1988 Tribe squad was a skipper factory
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pop quiz, Ron Washington.

Four other members of your 1988 club are now current Major League managers, just like you. Can you name them?

The Rangers skipper, approached with this informal test at the Winter Meetings this week, strokes his chin for a second.

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"Terry Francona," he said. And yes, Francona, the newly named leader of the Indians, hit .311 in 62 games that season, primarily as a designated hitter.

"John Farrell," Washington continued. And yes, Farrell, who has changed American League East affiliations -- from the Blue Jays to the Red Sox -- this winter, was an up-and-coming 25-year-old starter who won 14 games that year.

"Um," said Washington, looking momentarily stumped, until the memory clicks. "Charlie Manuel was the hitting coach!"

Right again. Long before he won a World Series with the Phillies, Manuel was, indeed, the hitting coach on this particular club.

One more to go.

"Buddy Black!" Washington said, slapping his hands. And yes, Black, principal of the Padres, was a midseason rotation acquisition for the 1988 Indians.

"See?" said Washington. "I don't have Alzheimer's!"

No, but he does have a spot in one of baseball's trickiest trivia questions.

Go ahead and ask your friends if they can name the five active managers who were on the same squad at one time. And then see if they can name that team. Chances are, their minds will immediately gravitate toward a playoff club of some caliber. Doubtful they'll immediately guess the 1988 Cleveland Indians, a team that was every bit as comical as the movie "Major League," filmed in '88 and released in '89, would lead you to believe.

"Little did we know," said Farrell, "that the fertile soil of the shores of Lake Erie was cultivating five future managers."

Well, that's the eloquent way to put it. Or you can just get down to the meat of the matter, as Francona does.

"That," said Francona, "was such a bad team."

It's an irrefutable argument. The 1988 Tribe went 78-84, had a minus-65 run differential and finished sixth in the AL East.

But that wasn't even the worst team of that era for the Indians. No, the worst might have been the 1987 club touted by Sports Illustrated (which put Cory Snyder and Joe Carter on its cover) as one ready for an "Indian Uprising," only to lose 101 times and finish 37 games out of first.

By comparison, then, the 1988 club looks like a juggernaut. And truth is, there was some talent on that team. Carter hit 27 homers and Snyder hit 26, giving the Indians a potent middle of the order. Julio Franco, in the final year of his first Cleveland stint, batted .303. Farrell (14-10, 4.24 ERA), a 23-year-old Greg Swindell (18-14, 3.20) and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti (14-8, 3.28) gave them the makings of a solid rotation. And Doug Jones (2.27 ERA, 37 saves) was one of the better closers in the game.

Alas, they didn't have much else.

"Other than Jones, we were lacking a bullpen that year," Manuel said. "Our bullpen was [awful]. Also, we had some injuries in our infield."

The injuries were why Washington, who made the move the previous winter from Baltimore to Cleveland, just like team president Hank Peters, got a little more playing time at age 36 than anticipated. It's also why Francona got on the Major League radar in Spring Training and was later called up in July.

"I went from, like, Field 11 to Field 1 in Spring Training, because those guys were going down like flies," Francona recalled. "And [clubhouse manager] Cy Buynak didn't have any lockers available. Cy put me in a closet. So every morning, I would dress, and the guys would come over to rub up the [baseballs] and be like, 'Excuse me, can you move over?'"

If that doesn't sound like a scene from "Major League," what does?

When Francona and Black joined the club in July, they instantly hit it off with Farrell. The three felt a special kinship from the very beginning, and they remain especially close to this day.

"Our personalities just meshed," Black said.

Friendships weren't especially hard to come by on that club. Even if the play was disjointed, the clubhouse was harmonious.

"We were so bad," said Francona, "that we couldn't have a whole lot of arrogance. It was a team that genuinely liked each other. We just got beat up."

Lessons must have come from the beatings, though, because quite a few of those guys on the 1988 Indians went on to leadership roles.

Snyder, he of the golden locks, managed in the independent Golden Baseball League from 2007-09, followed by a stint with Na Koa Ikaika Maui in the North American League. Franco, the fittest 54-year-old you'll ever find, has managed in the Venezuelan Winter League and has often expressed his Major League aspirations. Jay Bell is the new hitting coach of the Pirates, and Brook Jacoby is the hitting coach for the Reds. Dave Clark is the first-base coach for the Astros and was the team's interim manager at the end of 2009.

But for five members of a single club to wind up in the full-time managerial ranks in the Majors is certainly a quirky coincidence. And it's one that makes Doc Edwards beam with pride.

Edwards was the manager of that 1988 club, 26 years after he made his Major League debut with the Indians.

"When I was in the Minors, one spring, they posted me to the Triple-A club," said Edwards, reached by phone in San Angelo, Texas, where he still manages a North American League team. "We were taking infield, and we had Joe Altobelli at first, Sparky Anderson at second, Chuck Tanner in left field and I was catching. I was thinking about that one day: That's some great managers on the field at one time. And now here it is, years later, and all these former players of mine have gone on to become good managers. That's something I love to talk about and feel really good about."

Edwards, whose four former players-turned-managers cited him as an influence, can look back and see how the seeds were sewn.

Edwards had played with Francona's father, Tito, and so Edwards knew the son had the lineage and had been a longtime student of the game. Edwards had coached Farrell as far back as Class A, knew how fearless the pitcher was with his fastball and slider and that the righty was always up for any challenge. Edwards always appreciated Black's intellect, which allowed the pitcher to break bats and confound hitters, even though his fastball maxed out around 89 mph; and Edwards knew what a great and patient teacher Manuel was.

That said, if any member of that 1988 team, from Edwards on down, tells you that he knew each of those guys would ascend to this point, he's full of it.

"We were all just trying to hang on to our jobs," Francona said. "We were fighting for our lives. I just wanted to try to find a way to get a hit. I can honestly tell you none of us were thinking about that."

"But looking back on it," Black added, "with the personality traits and the leadership skills, you could see how this happened."

Black and the bunch all took separate paths from 1988 on, yet some similarities are shared.

Farrell and Black both made the relatively rare leap from pitching coach to manager, and Farrell was Francona's pitching coach in Boston before, eventually, replacing the man who replaced Francona. Manuel and Francona have both donned the red pinstripes in the Phillies' managerial seat, but it was Manuel who ended Philadelphia's World Series drought, while Francona had to "settle" for ending the "Curse of the Bambino" in Boston. Washington, like Francona, has taken his club to the World Series twice, though with distinctly different results.

In the game today, it seems your two best avenues to a Major League managerial job are to be a former catcher or to be a former member of the 1988 Indians. (And when you think about it in those terms, how does Andy Allanson not have a job right now?)

It's strange synchronism. And it makes for a great trivia question.

"If you asked me that one," Francona said, "I probably wouldn't have even gotten me right."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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