Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Forgotten Superstars-NOT that Victor Cruz

A long overdue trip to the Forgotten Superstars universe with a long-forgotten player that shows that this feature isn't always for superstars, or even just stars-it can be regular players that for one reason or another connected with me...

Victor Cruz was a pitcher that showed promise until he couldn't control his weight and was quickly out of baseball.
I've written in the past that certain teams make connections with you even if they aren't very good.
The 1979 Cleveland Indians were that team because it was the first year that I was an Indians fan and Victor Cruz was a player that I connected with as it was his first season with the Indians-just it was my first as a fan.

Victor had been obtained in the off-season from Toronto in exchange for promising shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who would be the starter there for the Blue Jays for the following six seasons and would win Rookie of the year in the 1979 season, but Cruz had high value after a 7-3 season in 1978 with a tiny 1.71 ERA in Canada.
Considering the cost (Griffin and Phil Lansford, who was a former first-rounder of the Wahoos) and his 1978 performance, Cruz was expected to anchor the Cleveland bullpen for seasons to come.
Instead of a solid shortstop with the talents of Griffin, Cleveland was forced to continue to run the likes of Tom Veryzer and Jerry Dybzinski out to the position until the arrival of Julio Franco in 1983, so hopes were high for Victor Cruz.

Victor responded by not winning the closer job outright (he would split it with lefty Sid Monge) and finishing 3-9 with an ERA over four with ten saves.
Cruz would rebound a little in the 1980 season with 12 saves and cut a run off of his ERA of the previous year in improving his record to 6-7.
Little did Victor know it, his career was almost finished in the big leagues as he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 1981 campaign as part of the trade for Bert Blyleven.
Despite notching decent numbers (2.65 ERA) in 23 games, Cruz was sent to the minors and other than a 17 appearance stint in 1983 with Texas (1.44 ERA and 5 saves), Cruz was finished in the big leagues-career finished at 25, although he would pitch in the Mexican league for a while.

Why is Victor Cruz so memorable to me?
Well, it was his distinctive pitching motion, which brought to mind Luis Tiant and his weight (well over 200 pounds on a 5'8 frame) giving him the look of a stubby milk bottle from the days of milk being in the quart glass jars.
Cruz had different deliveries, but most famous for a back turning sidearm sling that was fun to watch and could be very effective.

The other memory was from Big Ball.
Those of you long time readers might remember this post about the Big Ball Universe and all those wonderful games against my brother and kids from the neighborhood.
Well, I spent many of those games as the Indians and would often "use" Victor Cruz as my "closer" and go fully into the Cruz impersonation, which drove my brother crazy.
Mainly because he couldn't hit the ball off the motion, but it caused him to lose his mind- to the point of refusing to swing no matter where the pitch was if I used that motion!
Of all of those things, my little brother screaming and refusing to swing against that motion is the most memorable of all.

I met Sid Monge when he was the pitching coach of the State College Spikes and playing in Niles, Ohio vs the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and I asked about his former bullpen partner.
Monge told me Cruz had passed away and said: "Victor ate himself out of baseball first and then he ate himself to death".
A sad ending for not a superstar and often forgotten player that nonetheless steps into our little universe.

 I will be doing a recap of my trip to Batavia with Doug Hopkins either later tonight or tomorrow,

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