Tuesday, March 26, 2013

#521 - Ken Aspromonte/Indians Field Leaders



Ken Aspromonte is looking off to his right in Cleveland. He probably should have been looking over his shoulder because by the end of the ’74 season GM Phil Seghi and new player Frank Robinson were about to run him over to make history. ’73 was the second of three years Ken would run the Indians, only “running” was sort of a relative thing with Ken since in the clubhouse he ceded control to Gaylord Perry and his goon, John Ellis. The Indians had been on a downward spiral before Ken got there and in ’73 it was pretty much more of the same. They had some good young players in Chris Chambliss, Buddy Bell, and Charlie Spikes. And Perry was having a nice run as staff ace. But after him and young Dick Tidrow the rotation didn’t have much going for it. Defense was spotty and Perry wouldn’t let certain guys play behind him, including Spikes. That was too bad because Charlie was the RBI leader on the team and he didn’t get to play for Perry’s 40 starts. Plus the Yankees were sneaking in every couple years or so to raid the team of its talent, like when they got Graig Nettles right before the ’73 season and came back in a year to get Chambliss. That made things tough, even if Ken kept control of the clubhouse. His middle year the Indians went 71-91, a step back from ’72. Things would improve a bit in ’74 but history was coming.

Ken Aspromonte grew up in Brooklyn, NY, where he and his brother Bob played baseball at Lafayette High, the school that also produced Sandy Koufax. Ken got signed out of school by the Red Sox in ’50 and hit .295 that summer in D ball as a middle infielder. In ’51 and ’52 he put up comparable numbers in C ball and B and Double A ball respectively before hitting .243 in Triple A as a second and third baseman in ’53. He then spent the next two years in the service where during the Korean War he was a radio operator. When he returned in ’56 he went out west to join the San Francisco Seals its last two years, hitting .281 and .334 with 35 doubles each year. In September of ’57 he made his debut in Boston as a second baseman and hit .269 the rest of the way. In ’58 Pete Runnels took over second so Ken wasn’t going to play much and early that year he went to DC. For the next two seasons he split time at second, hitting .233 in 482 at bats. Early in ’60 he went to Cleveland for Pete Wisenant and had his best season, hitting .290 with ten homers, 48 RBI’s, and a .364 OBA in 459 at bats. He then got plucked by the new Senators in the expansion draft before getting traded to the other expansion team, the Angels, on the same day. He was traded for a guy named Coot Veal. His average faded to .223 as the early regular guy at second for LA and by July he was on the road back to Cleveland where he did back-up and pinch hit work the rest of the way. He occupied that role in ’62 with the Tribe and the Braves and then in ’63 with the Cubs. That finished his time up top where he had a .249 average and .330 OBA in just under 1,500 at bats. After finishing ’63 in Triple A for Chicago (.236 in 64 games), he moved to Japan where over the next three years he played for Chunichi and Taiyo and hit .273. He hit .281 in the minors stateside. He returned to the US in ’67 to coach and then manage in the Cleveland chain. From ’69 to ’71 he went 205-215 in the minors and prior to the ’72 season was elevated to the Indians.

Bolstered by Perry’s big ’72 Cy Young season, Aspromonte had a decent first year, going 72-84 and improving about 15 games on the prior year. But things kind of middled out in ’73 and then got a little exciting in ’74 when Perry went on a 15-game winning streak that helped put the Tribe at better than .500 into September. But a 6-15 finish ironically happened right after the team acquired a new DH in Robinson. By the time the season ended Ken had resigned in the wake of rumors that Robinson would take over the team as MLB’s first black manager. By ’76 Ken had relocated to the Houston area where he and his brother began what would become a very successful Coors distributorship and Burger King franchise business. According to a news report that business was sold off in 2000 but current business listings still have the brothers associated with Coors so maybe they bought it back or started a new one. Either way, it seems things in Houston worked out a lot better than things in Cleveland.


Clay Bryant grew up in Alabama where he was a pitcher in high school. In 1930 after he graduated he threw pretty well in a few innings in both D and A ball for local teams. He returned to throw semi-pro near home and then signed in ’32 with Cleveland, going 6-6 for its D level franchise. In ’33 he won 15 in C ball and in ’34 went 16-10 with a 3.48 ERA in B ball. Towards the end of that season he was sold to the Cubs and in’35 he debuted in Chicago, going 1-2 with a couple saves and a high ERA, also putting in some innings in the minors. In ’36 he went 1-2 again with a 3.30 ERA and then in ’37 went 9-3 in a swing role with a shutout and three saves. In ’38 he had his big year, going 19-11 with a 3.10 ERA and leading the NL in both walks and strikeouts. He got a Series start against the Yankees but lost the game. Early the next year he hurt his arm and his back and by ’40 he was out of the majors. Up top he went a combined 32-20 with a 3.73 ERA, 23 complete games, four shutouts, and seven saves. He was a good hitter, hitting .266 with 28 RBI’s and 48 runs in 192 at bats. His post-season record was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA. He returned to the minors to pitch, but despite going 4-4 with a 1.70 ERA in a few starts in ’42 his arm was toast. He finished at that level 51-45 with a 2.99 ERA and a .283 batting average. He moved into managing in ’44 in the Browns chain and then began a long run in the Dodgers one from ’45 to ’64, except for ’61 when he was a coach for LA, and ’63 when he was a scout. In ’65 he moved to the Cleveland system where he was a roving coach, manager (’66, ’68-’69, and ’72), scout (’70 –’72), and Indians coach (’67 and ’74). He won over 1,800 games as a manager. He was dismissed when Robinson took over as manager and then scouted for a few different teams before settling in Florida. His son Chuck was a big deal football player in Ohio who still holds some Ohio State receiving records and played a year in the NFL. Clay passed away in Fort Lauderdale in ’99 at age 87.

Antonio Pacheco was born outside Havana, Cuba, and began his playing career in the US in ’49, when he was 21. Antonio was a second baseman and his first two seasons in D ball he hit .246 and .293. He got picked up by the Senators in ’51 and spent the next three seasons with their Havana franchise, a B level team. The best he hit at that level was .233 and in ’53 he got into a couple Triple A games, but that was as far up as he got. He hit .250 at that level in ’54 in a few games but spent the rest of his playing career in the lower minors and was done by ’56. He finished with a .236 average. His last year he began coaching and by ’58 was managing in the Cincinnati system, which he did through ’59. He then scouted for the Reds (’60-’61) and the Astros (’62-’65). He then managed in the Houston chain from ’66 to ’72 and in the Cleveland one in ’73 and ‘75. Like Clay above, Antonio had a one-year run in ’74 with the Indians before Robinson dropped him. He then returned to Houston where he coached for the Astros (’76-’79 and ’82) and scouted for the team (’80-’81 and 83-’86). Late in the ’86 season he became ill – I cannot tell with what since the newspaper accounts are all in Spanish – but it was quite serious as he passed away the next year at age 59.

In the book “The Curse of...” there are a couple chapters devoted to the time immediately before and after Frank Robinson’s time as manager. In it Robinson indicated that one of the reasons he got rid of the coaching staff – which included Larry Doby, who nearly beat him in being named manager – was that he noticed in the locker room that the team seemed to segregate itself along racial lines. Doby would sit at one end with the black players and Aspromonte and the other guys would sit at the other end of the clubhouse. Robinson thought the coaches should all sit with the manager regardless of ethnic background. I guess that was New Age thinking back then. Ken also had the luck of being the Cleveland manager during the ten-cent beer night fiasco and he and his players had to arm themselves with baseball bats to help try to rescue the Texas Rangers from the Cleveland fans’ beer-inspired ire. That must have been fun.

So we return to the double hook-up. First for Ken Aspro as manager:

1. Aspromonte managed Oscar Gamble on the ’73 to ‘74 Indians;
2. Gamble and Tim McCarver ’70 to ’72 Phillies.

Now for Ken as a player. The above connection just gets extended:

1. Aspromonte and Jim Perry ’60 Indians;
2. Perry and Oscar Gamble ’74 Indians;
3. Gamble and Tim McCarver ’70 to ‘72 Phillies.

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