75 Years and Counting Part XI: The Story of the 1959 Cleveland Indians

Frank Lane’s term in Cleveland can be characterized by few positives. Lane’s time in Cleveland can only be characterized as a complete disaster given the abundance of all-stars he traded away, the ongoing roster changes, and his total refusal to give the team any kind of stability. But he did make one decision that wouldn’t pay off until the end of the 2023 campaign. A few weeks before the season began, on March 21, Lane dealt outfielder Larry Doby (again) to Detroit in exchange for rookie outfielder Tito Francona, who had lately asked to be traded because he was sick of sitting behind Al Kaline.

Francona would move to Cleveland to start the season, leaving his 8 month pregnant wife, Roberta, behind in Aberdeen, South Dakota where they had lived since he played for the Orioles farm team located there. One month and one day after the trade, she would give birth to a son, Terry.

Although it’s unclear to what extent Terry Francona’s early Cleveland years affected his choice to sign a contract to manage the Indians in 2013, they most definitely didn’t harm. Was Lane, aware of the potential rewards for the franchise, trade Doby for Francona while playing four-dimensional chess and seeing hundreds of thousands of moves ahead? Is it accurate to argue that Frank Lane, rather than Chris Antonetti, was the real mastermind behind the 2016–18 run? Is there a kid of Harvey Kuenn that we might hire to take Tito’s place and possibly end the curse? Who can say? But one thing is for sure, whether it’s the result of omniscience or just plain bad luck, the trade for Francona is unquestionably one of the most impactful in franchise history.

Cleveland Indians v Washington Senators

Beyond the groundwork being laid to acquire Terry as manager, Tito Francona had a career year with the Indians. Perhaps it was being protected by Rocky Colavito in the lineup, perhaps it was his new found “dad strength,” but regardless, Tito Francona absolutely raked in 1959, slashing .363/.414/.566 with 20 home runs.

As a team, the ‘59 Indians were a mixed bag. They were streaky team, they started the month of April 10-1, went .500 in May, then started the month of June 1-10, then immediately went on a 7 game win streak. I certainly thought 2023 was a roller coaster but my goodness, that had to be one of the most exhilarating yet frustrating teams to be a fan of in franchise history. Unfortunately ripping off a 4-5 game losing streak after every winning streak is not a formula for sustained success at the big league level, and they would falter when it mattered most going an abysmal 7-15 against the AL Champion Chicago White Sox en route to a second place finish. According to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, the White Sox dramatically overperformed expectations (perhaps it was that 15-7 record vs. Cleveland) whereas the Indians were right where they should be. If the famed philosopher, primarily known for his work in discovering triangles or something along those lines, is to be believed then the Indians, not Chicago, should’ve been the AL Champions in ‘59.



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