Rocky Colavito Pitches In
August 13, 1958
A young slugger could hardly ask for a greater compliment than the one bestowed on Rocky Colavito by Gordon Cobbledick of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, who dubbed the Indians’ powerful young right fielder “the new Babe Ruth.” But the veteran scribe wasn’t just referring to Colavito’s powerful swing — he was pointing out his hidden talents on the mound.
Colavito’s first appearance on a major-league mound wasn’t mop-up duty. It came in a tight game against Detroit on Aug. 13, 1958, when the Tigers put runners on second and third against knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. Manager Joe Gordon decided it was time for a new hurler — but instead of turning to the bullpen, he looked towards right field. Colavito jogged in.
The 24-year old outfielder was enjoying a breakout season — he went on to lead the team with a .303 batting average, 113 RBI and 41 home runs, second only to Mickey Mantle in the American League. But the most impressive part of his game was his cannon arm. Herb Score, who came up through the Indians’ farm system with Colavito, spoke of players placing bets on whether the outfielder could clear the center field wall with a throw from home plate. He would routinely make the 400-foot throws.
Indeed, the Bronx native had originally been signed as much for his pitching ability as anything else. In his only mound appearance to date, had struck out five Cincinnati batters in two innings of an exhibition game. “As a pitcher, Rocky could have been a 20-game winner,” Gordon said on numerous occasions.
On Aug. 13, Colavito gained several believers — especially among the Detroit hitters. He dominated the Tigers with his 90-mph fastball, tossing three innings of no-hit relief, walking three and striking out one. Despite Colavito’s impressive outing, the Indians lost the game 3-2.
Colavito was too valuable as a home run hitter for the Indians’ front office to risk his getting hurt on the mound. Although Gordon would also use outfielder Gary Geiger for an inning in ’58, Colavito never pitched for the Tribe again.
Yet “The Rock” would not leave baseball without an encore performance. A decade later — long after the notorious deal that sent him from Cleveland to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn — Colavito found himself in Yankee pinstripes following a midseason trade from Los Angeles. He contributed five round-trippers but hit just .220 for the fifth-place Yankees.
But this was 1968 — the “Year of the Pitcher” — and on the mound, Colavito put forth a more worthy performance. When he convinced manager Ralph Houk to send him to the hill, he returned with a victory after 2 2/3 shutout innings.
Fans in Cleveland adored him, teammates called him an angel and one of the friendliest guys you’d ever meet, but try prying the same response from the batters who had the unfortunate opportunity to dig in against the fastball of Rocky Colavito.