This day in baseball history

On Sunday, July 8, 1962, the Cleveland Indians lost both games of a double-header to the Chicago White Sox. This ended a six game winning streak and dropped the Indians to second place in the American League heading into the All Star break.

Still, Indians fans had little to complain about. The previous year, the Indians had finished in fifth place, 30.5 games behind the Yankees and five games under .500. Now, they stood at 47-36, 11 games over .500, and just one game behind the first place Yankees.

Even so, some Indians fans may have entered the second half of the season with trepidation. For at the 1961 All Star break, Cleveland’s record had been almost as good: 47-39. After the break, the Tribe had slumped to 31-44.

Sure enough, the Indians opened the second half of the 1962 season with a win at Baltimore, but then lost their next nine games. By July 21, they were in fourth place, 8.5 games behind the surging Yankees, and only three games over .500.

Nor did the Indians right their ship when they finally ended the mid-July losing streak. They would finish the season in sixth place with a record of 80-82.

For Cleveland, then, the 1961 and 1962 seasons were nearly identical in this respect: In both years a fine first half, followed by a miserable second half, equaled a slightly below .500 finish.

Why did the Indians suffer two seasons of nearly identical second half swoons in a row? Serious injuries don’t seem to have been an issue, nor did Cleveland make dramatic in-season trades in either year. The occurrence of parallel swoons appears to be random.

It’s interesting, though, to reflect on how Cleveland tried to shore up its team following the 1961 collapse. In essence, they traded fielding defense and hitting for starting pitching. Specifically, they acquired 1961 AL ERA leader Dick Donovan (along with catcher/outfielder Gene Green) for centerfielder Jimmy Piersall, and they obtained pitcher Pedro Ramos for first baseman Vic Power (along with pitcher Dick Stigman, who had seen limited action in 1961). Power was the Gold Glove winner at his position from 1958-1964. Piersall won the Gold Glove in 1958 and 1961. One wonders how pitchers like Jim Perry, Gary Bell, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Barry Latman felt about losing Power and Piersall.

Unfortunately, the Indians were unable to improve their pitching in 1962 – the team ERA remained nearly the same (4.14 in ’62, 4.15 in ’61). Donavan had a strong year and Ramos did okay, but the ERAs of Bell, Grant, and Latman all went up (Perry’s went down).

To make matters worse, the 1962 team scored 45 fewer runs than their 1961 counterparts. Thus, they were lucky to finish with a fractionally better record and, having given up 63 more runs than they scored, they were lucky to finish only two games below .500 in 1962.

Perhaps the most remarkable statistic from the Indians 1962 season is this: before the All Star break they outscored opponents by 393-355. After the break, they were outscored 289-390. This was a far more dramatic meltdown than had occurred in 1961. And again, I can’t identify any serious injuries that would help explain it. Manager Mel McGaha sent essentially the same players out game after game, even as the team’s run production was declining by about one-fourth.

The odds against this great of a disparity in runs between two halves of the same season must be high, and the odds of an offensive meltdown of this magnitude (from 393 runs to 289) in the absence of a major injury or personnel change, presumably are much higher.

UPDATE: I have corrected the numbers in the final two paragraphs regarding the Indians second half run production in 1962.


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