The Plain Dealer recently reported that approximately 1500 players have played for the Cleveland Indians since l901 and identified l00 of them as being "special".
I saw my first Indian's baseball game in l942 or l943 at League Park when I was l0 or 11 years old. The Indians defeated the Washington Senators. My recollection is that the starting lineup was:
- Roy "Stormy" Weatherly -CF
- Oris Hockett - RF
- Mickey Rocco - 1B
- Jeff Heath -LF
- Lou Boudreau - SS
- Ken Keltner - 3B
- Buddy Rosar- C
- Ray Mack - 2B
- Steve Gromek- P.
The Indians of the War Years were not particularly good. They finished fourth in l942, third in l943, and fifth in l944 and l945 in The American League. To my friends and me however, they were giants.
Ray Mack, the second baseman was a large, muscular athlete who had played fullback for Case Institute. Despite his physique he was a poor hitter but a good fielder. We felt embarrassed for him because he batted eighth, and in those days the catcher almost always batted eighth.
Jeff Heath was my favorite player. He was a power hitter who took a ferocious swing, much like Jim Thome does today. He usually led the team in home runs and extra base hits. The sportswriters called him "Sir Geoffrey".
Oris Hockett was a very ordinary outfielder who played for Cleveland from l941 to l944. His unusual name captured my imagination. To this day I have never met anyone name "ORIS" or "HOCKETT". Similarly Roy Cullenbine was one of my favorites, not because of his abilities, but because of his unusual name.
Players like Eddie Wheeler, Felix Mackiewicz, Al Cihocki, Ray Poat, Hank Edwards, George Case, Otto Denning, Frank Doljack, Hank Ruszkowski, Al Smith and George Susce played for Cleveland while many of the better players were in the military. They kept baseball alive until the Fellers, DiMaggios, etc. came back.
Only a few of the War Year players were still on the Indians roster during the glory year of l948, i.e. Boudreau, Keltner, Feller, Gromek, Harder and all of them are on the "special" list.
To me, however, all of the War Time players were special and remain so today in my memory.