The Indians’ Mr. Clutch, Pat Tabler: Reliving Yesteryear

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So anyway, I was doing a quick internet search for any recent nuggets of information I could find on 1980s Indians star, Pat Tabler. A link from The Daily Koz appeared.

According to the entry on that website, Tabler’s professional baseball career ended prematurely because he never listened to batting coaches, other than his father. Therefore, he was comparable to political right-wingers who are “set-in-concrete, unshakable, absolute perfect certitude about politics, religion, any sort of human behavior, for no other reason than it’s what their parents taught them.”

Now, I am familiar with Pat Tabler, and (especially if you are in your forties or fifties) you may be as well. I have heard various stories about him, but never before have I caught wind of his apparently unwavering approach to hitting that followed his father’s rigid command.

QUOTEI had heard of how Tabler came to the Cleveland Indians in 1983; he was acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Tribe shortstop Jerry Dybzinski. “The Dibber” had been born in Cleveland, and was a 1977 product of Cleveland State University (he was the first of four major leaguers from that school, although honestly I have never heard of the others). Dybzinski made it to the big-league Tribe in 1980. He was mostly Tom Veryzer’s backup at short. After being shuttled back and forth some between Cleveland and the minors, he was shipped off to Chicago’s south side for Tabler. The Dibber was good with the glove, and clubbed an unlikely home run at Cleveland Stadium off ex-Indian Jim Kern of the Rangers. It was during one of his first at-bats for his hometown team (it was his first of three career homers). Oh, and his brother was a shortstop on my father’s softball team, Shippe’s Auto Body.

That softball team had terrific uniforms. You know how a lot of guys regret not having their old baseball cards? I regret no longer having this uni. I wore it some for fun during my college years. It somewhat resembled a gaudy old bowling shirt, without the lapel. It was a dark yellow, and the fabric was some sort of shiny, sturdy, space-age polymer. It had some red, black and white curved stripes down the side, under the arms. Thin bands of the same colors around the collar. A black number on the back and a large round patch on the front, halfway down the front and off to the side. Each player had a nickname, and it was featured on the patch in cursive embroidery along with the Shippe name. Jerry Dybzinski’s brother’s nickname was… well, it was The Dibber, too.

Pat Tabler played for four major league teams, mostly in the 1980s. He’d been drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round in 1977, and played sparingly as an infielder for the Chicago Cubs in 1981 and 1982. Once acquired by the Indians in 1983, he was installed as the regular first baseman. He was a line drive hitter who hit for average. In 1986, Tabler took over for in the outfield for Cory Snyder, who’d suffered an ankle injury. His batting average soared to .326—fourth highest in the American League.

You know how every so often, the emotional nature of Cleveland fans catches fire and the entire region erupts? Gabe Paul is known for calling the city a sleeping giant, but that wasn’t particularly insightful to any of us. We always knew. Well, it happened with the Indians in 1986. They ripped off a ten-game winning streak late that season—mostly on the road—and the old stadium was the place to be when the team flew home to face Kansas City. Fifty thousand fans arrived, and the game had to be delayed around a half hour while they filed in. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Tabler stepped up to the plate. He was already known as a premier hitter in the game with the bases loaded. He stroked a single off of star Royals closer Dan Quisenberry to win the game.

indians-cover2Tribe fans are well aware that the Indians were favored by national magazines (plural) to win the pennant in 1987. One reason was their moments of excitement in 1986, and another was that the AL East had been won by a different team in each of the previous several years. Well, they lost 101 games, and coach Doc Edwards took over for manager Pat Corrales. The pitching was horrible although the offense improved after starting the season slowly. Tabler was the Designated Hitter in 1987, taking over from Andre Thornton. He was an American League All-Star, and hit .307 with 86 RBI.

Nineteen eighty-seven was the season in which Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers had at least one hit in 39 straight games. On August 26, he was going for game number 40—versus Cleveland. Still looking for a hit that day, Molitor smacked a ground ball to third baseman Brook Jacoby, whose throw to Tabler at first base was dropped. The Brewers’ scorekeeper (who was new to that job that year) correctly called the play an error- and the fans booed. In the bottom of the tenth, with the game still scoreless, now-Brewer Rick Manning came to the plate as a pinch hitter with Mike Felder at second, and Paul Molitor on deck. (Manning had been acquired in the unpopular trade of local favorite Gorman Thomas to Cleveland.) Manning singled to drive in Felder, for the win—and he was booed!

In recent years, Tabler has relayed some inside information about the 1986 season, when the Indians led the majors in hitting. Edwards stole catchers’ signs and relayed them to the hitters. The Indians even switched their bullpen from down the right field line to left field; that had nothing to do with the stated reason that Corrales could see the pitchers throwing in the pen from his first base dugout.

Tabler was 29-for-55 (.527) with the bases loaded while with the Tribe, over five seasons. Over his career, he finished 43-for-88. People—including his wife—often asked him how he did it, and when he couldn’t explain, they offered advice on how to approach hitting when the bases were not loaded.

In 1988, with the Indians woefully lacking in pitching, they shipped Pat Tabler off to Kansas City for Bud Black. Black was a fairly effective veteran starting pitcher for the Tribe, twice: from 1988 to 1990, and then also in 1995 during one of the Indians’ contending years. (By the end of 2002, the Indians’ Charlie Manuel had quit in midseason, with coach Joel Skinner managing the team through the rest of the season. Bud Black was winning a World Series ring as pitching coach for the California Angels. The Tribe wanted Black to come back to Cleveland and manage. Skinner was up for the job, as well. Black declined, and the job fell to Eric Wedge.)

Tabler, whom Wikipedia lists as a fan of Jethro Tull (I knew I liked him), played some for the New York Mets before winning a World Series ring with the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of his career. He remains part of the Toronto organization, as a television broadcaster.

Fans in Cleveland still reserve a position of honor for Tabler. Mr. Clutch proved his worthiness over five seasons with the Tribe. Although according to The Daily Koz, perhaps we need to rethink this.

I’ll go ask my dad.

  • scripty

    IIRC, the 87 ASG went 13 innings and Dave Winfield played the whole game. Some reporter asked John McNamara why he didnt sub out Winfield in such a long game and he said something to the effect of “Who was I supposed to put in – Tabler – he cant do anything but DH!”

  • Greg Popelka

    Ha, never heard that.