Q&A: Pat Tabler on the 1980s Cleveland Indians

From 1983-1988, Pat Tabler was a good hitter on some not-so-good Cleveland Indians teams. Bouncing between the outfield and the infield corners, he hit .294/.356/.408. Overall, “Tabby” was a career .282 hitter in 12 big-league seasons. He currently serves as a TV analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tabler reminisced about his time in Cleveland — including notable brawls and off-the-wall teammates — on a recent visit to Fenway Park.

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Tabler on bench-clearing brawls:
“In 1986, we were playing the A’s, who we always had hard-fought games with. Pat Corrales was our manager and he thought Dave Stewart was throwing at one of our guys. He was barking at him and Stew said, ‘Come on out here.’ Corrales did. They met at the first base line and went after each other. Both of them had belts in karate. Corrales went to dropkick, and missed, and Stew smoked him. It was on after that. It was a good fight.

“Another time, against the Royals, Jamie Quirk hit a home run against us. Next time up, Sammy Stewart hit him with a pitch and broke his hand. The following night, with Ken Schrom pitching, Willie Wilson hit a fly ball to center. As our center fielder is catching the ball, Kenny is standing behind the mound waiting for the ball to come in. Wilson charged him and blindsided him — he threw him into the ground and separated Schrommy’s shoulder. I was playing third base and saw it coming. I yelled, ‘Look out!’ right before he smoked him. Willie had been a great football player in high school.”

On Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton: ‘We had a good offensive team, but we needed some pitching and were able to get two three-hundred-game winners on our team [in 1987]. Just to watch those guys do their thing was unbelievable. I don’t know how Knucksie still got people out with his knuckleball, but he did. He was 48 years old and still doing his business. He was also a nice mentor to Tom Candiotti, who was also on the team.

“I used to ask Carlton to tell me about when he was in Philadelphia and doing all that Gus Hoefling [workout program] stuff. He’d tell me about the rice and the balls to get strong, and things like that. He’d go, ‘OK, I’m going to stretch you out like you’ve never been stretched out before.’ Lefty was all into that martial arts stuff. He would stretch me out before games; he’d do things like put my leg up over my head. And I’m telling you, I ran faster. I was like, ‘Lefty, thank you very much.’

“Lefty was one of the most interesting guys I’ve ever met in this game. He was on a different level from everybody else. He was a wine connoisseur, intelligent — he knew a little bit about everything. He was also a great teammate, a good mentor for someone like Greg Swindell. Lefty’s slider was mostly gone by then, though. He was over 40 and at that point was pitching on smarts and guile. He didn’t have the stuff, but he could paint pretty well.”

On other notable teammates: “Julio Franco was an interesting guy. You could write volumes about him. He was a great player that… my memories of him are… let’s just say he was an interesting guy. I better leave it at that.

“We had a lot of guys who became broadcasters and managers. Ron Washington was on the team. John Farrell was there. Terry Francona. Bud Black. Rick Sutcliffe. Bert Blyleven. Rick Manning. Mike Hargrove. Myself. In about a four-year window, we had a bunch of smart guys, like me. No, seriously — we had a lot of guys who loved baseball and are still in the game.”

On some of his Cleveland highlights: “I loved playing in Cleveland. One, I’m from Ohio, so it felt like I was playing at home. We had a bunch of young guys and we kind of grew together. Some of us came from different organizations and were getting a chance to really start our major league careers. Nobody cared about the stadium or the lack of fans. We wanted to win, but we knew we weren’t good enough to win.

“I went 4 for 4 on opening day once [1984] and got pinch hit for in the ninth inning. I think Grover — Mike Hargrove — pinch hit for me. I made an All-Star team one year [1987]; I finished fourth in the American League in batting [1986]. I got an extra-inning hit off Dan Quisenberry one day when we had nearly 80,000 people there. We were on a 10-game winning streak — this was in May — and everybody was saying, ‘This is the year.’ The game was supposed to start at 7 o’clock, but it didn’t start until 7:30, because we had a flash crowd.

“I remember another game against Minnesota. There were about two or three games left in the season and they were trying to win the division. This was a few years before they got really good and won it all, in ‘87. They jumped out to a huge lead, maybe 8-0, and we came back to win 10-9. There might have been three or four people at that game. Okay, maybe three or four hundred.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Anon
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Anon
3 years 24 days ago

I can’t find the Willie Wilson game – Schrom was on the Indians for 2 years and made 33 and 29 starts and pitched all the way to the end of the game. I skimmed the individual games against the Royals and couldn’t find the incident in question.

Anon
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Anon
3 years 24 days ago

end of the season, not game.

Powder Blues
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Powder Blues
3 years 24 days ago

Loved the story, but I also couldn’t find a Ken Schrom season-ending surgery. Did find this though:

“Jul 6, 1987 – Cleveland starts three days of contentious baseball with Kansas City by beating the Royals‚ 9-7. Snyder drives in 6 runs … Winning pitcher Sammy Stewart hits Jamie Quirk with a pitch‚ breaking his hand‚ and Frank White is also decked. Tomorrow‚ Willie Wilson will be decked by Ken Schrom and will lead a benches-clearing brawl with a charge to the mound. The Tribe will come back to win that one as well‚ as Joe Carter hits a 2-run HR off Quissenberry in the 9th.È

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Willie_Wilson_1955&page=chronology

isavage30
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isavage30
3 years 24 days ago

It would’ve been July 7, 1987. Doesn’t appear Schrom was hurt, but Wilson charged the mound from first base after flying out. It he did hurt his shoulder as Tabler said, it could’ve been the non-pitching shoulder.

MikeS
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MikeS
3 years 24 days ago

Great interview as always, but you absolutely tease us about Julio Franco like that. It’s not fair!

Matt Booher
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3 years 24 days ago

Growing up a Tribe fan in the 1980s and loving baseball, this was an absolute treat!

Dave Scott
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Dave Scott
3 years 24 days ago

The first thing I remember about Tabler was his excellent record with the bases loaded.

Pennant
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Pennant
3 years 23 days ago

Maybe their best team was the 1986 Indians: Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Tony Bernazard, Brook Jacoby, Cory Snyder. A lot of 100+ OPS regulars, maybe 9, if you cheat and make Andre Thornton’s 99 a 100. Alas, there was always something missing, and in 1986, Ernia Camacho’s best year was past, and their starting pitching was mostly mediocre to bad. Still it was a fun team to listen to on the radio. Then in 1987, i think they had Cleveland on cover of SI and it was all downhill. Had Fangraphs been around then, we would have known to not trust guys like Carter and Cory Snyder for longterm production.

Mac
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Mac
3 years 23 days ago

Any sign on life in Cleveland must have been SI news. The Indians had been in a rut for 26 years at that point.

Speaking of Cleveland, how crazy is it that they’re only 2.5 back of the Tigers right now?

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