The Indians and Tigers opened their 1960 campaigns on Tuesday, April 19, in Cleveland. The Indians had finished 1959 in second place, five games behind the AL pennant-winning Chicago White Sox. Detroit had ended the year in fourth place, 18 games out of first place.
Two days before the season opener, the teams made headlines when they swapped All-Star outfielders. Cleveland general manager Frank Lane sent fan favorite Rocky Colavito, the reigning AL home-run co-champion,1 to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn, who led the league with a .353 batting average in 1959.
Detroit general manager Bill DeWitt had proposed trading Kuenn for Colavito in February, when both players were holdouts. Lane rejected the deal at the time. After both players signed contracts, Lane again turned down the proposed transaction.2 Believing Colavito’s late-season slump in 1959 had cost the Indians a pennant,3 however, he reconsidered. “The more I thought about trading Colavito for Kuenn,” explained Lane after the deal was announced, “the more I liked it. … Rocky could win a ball game for you with one swing and often did. But there was too long a period between home runs when he didn’t help at all.”4
The trade took the 26-year-old Colavito by surprise. “I heard a rumor Saturday that I might be traded to Detroit or Chicago, but still it came as a shock,” he said. “That’s baseball, I guess. There isn’t much you can do about it.”5 When asked about playing the opener against his old team, the 29-year-old Kuenn said, “[I]t has happened so suddenly it’ll feel strange for a while. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had played a few exhibition games with the Indians before opening up.”6
A crowd of 52,756 was in attendance for the 3 P.M. start on a sunny but cool afternoon. The game quickly turned into a pitchers’ duel between Cleveland’s Gary Bell (16-11 in 1959) and Detroit’s Frank Lary (17-10). Bell retired the Tigers in order in the first, striking out Charlie Maxwell to end the inning. Lary responded by striking out Cleveland’s leadoff batter, Johnny Temple. Kuenn, batting second and playing center field for the Indians, reached first on an error in his first plate appearance with his new team, but an infield popup and a groundout ended the inning.
Al Kaline walked to start the second for the Tigers. Bell then struck out Colavito and Steve Bilko before Chico Fernandez hit a line drive that was deflected by Bell to shortstop Woodie Held, who flipped the ball to the second for the final out.7 In the bottom of the inning, Cleveland catcher Russ Nixon singled. Vic Power, after hitting a groundball to the shortstop, reached first on a fielder’s choice and stole second base. Woodie Held struck out. An intentional walk to Bubba Phillips brought Bell to the plate, and he grounded back to the pitcher to end the scoring threat.
Bell struck out two of the three batters he faced in the third as Detroit again went down in order. Lary walked Temple to start the Indians’ half of the fourth inning but retired the next three hitters. Detroit’s Maxwell hit a one-out single in the fourth, and Kaline followed with a hard smash down the third-base line. But Phillips backhanded the ball, robbing Kaline of a potential double. His throw to second was off balance but accurate, and Temple turned the double play.8 Cleveland failed to score in the bottom of the fourth as Power’s one-out triple was wasted when he was thrown out trying to steal home.
As the game continued, neither team was able to push a run across in regulation. Neither starter allowed more than one baserunner in any inning until the bottom of the ninth. Tito Francona began that inning by hitting a fly to short right field. Colavito lost the ball in the sun and it dropped in for a single.9 A sacrifice moved Francona to second, and Lary issued an intentional walk to Power. With runners on first and second, Lary retired the next two Indians batters on a strikeout and a fly ball to left field, sending the game to extra innings.
Colavito walked with one out in the Tigers 10th, but Bilko struck out and Colavito was thrown out at trying to steal second to end the frame. Kuenn hit a two-out double in the bottom of the inning, but the next batter fouled out to the catcher.
Bell finally tired in the 11th. A one-out walk to Detroit’s eighth-place hitter, Lou Berberet, was followed by Lary’s single and a walk to Eddie Yost, loading the bases. Bob Grim relieved Bell. Pinch-hitter Neil Chrisley’s single to right field scored the first two runs of the game. Maxwell and Kaline both flied out to left, leaving Detroit runners stranded at first and second.
With the score 2-0 in Detroit’s favor and the Tigers three outs from victory, manager Jimmy Dykes inserted defensive replacements at catcher, first base, and second base. Lary stayed in the game and gave up a leadoff single to Francona. Russ Nixon followed with a double off the right-field fence. Francona held at third.
Jim Bunning relieved with the tying run in scoring position and Power hit a comebacker to the mound. Bunning’s throw home beat Francona for the first out, with Power making first base and Nixon advancing to third. Bob Hale batted for Held and walked, loading the bases. Don Dillard, pinch-hitting for Phillips, flied out to right field, with the runners holding. Jim Piersall, the Indians’ third straight pinch-hitter, singled to left field, driving in two runs to tie the game at 2-2. The potential winning run was now at second, but Temple popped up to end the 11th.
The Indians sent Jim “Mudcat” Grant to the mound for the top of the 12th, along with replacements at catcher, third base, and shortstop. A walk, an error, and another walk loaded the bases with two outs, but Grant retired Yost on a grounder to first. With Pete Burnside now pitching for Detroit, Kuenn beat out an infield single to lead off the bottom of the inning. He pulled a leg muscle on the play, but stayed in the game because Cleveland had used all of its position players.10 Three routine outs followed.
Neither team scored in the 13th or 14th inning. Cleveland did manage to put runners at second and third in the 14th after two singles and a stolen base, but Francona’s fly out to center ended the threat.
Grant walked Detroit’s pitcher, Burnside, on a 3-and-2 pitch to start the 15th inning.11 One out later, Red Wilson doubled to left; Burnside stopped at third. Johnny Klippstein relieved, but after walking Maxwell to load the bases, he was replaced by Bobby Tiefenauer. Kaline singled to center, scoring Burnside and Wilson. Colavito grounded into a double play for the final two outs.
Holding a two-run lead, Burnside struck out the first Tribe batter in the bottom of the 15th. Power doubled to right field. The pitcher, Tiefenauer, was due up next for Cleveland. With their bench depleted of position players, Indians manager Joe Gordon sent his best remaining hitter, pitcher Carl Thomas, to the plate. Burnside struck out Thomas and the following batter, Steve Demeter, to secure the 4-2 Tigers victory.
The 15-inning contest, lasting 4 hours and 54 minutes, was the longest Opening Day game in big-league history until 2012.12 The two starting pitchers did not give up any runs through 10 innings. Each was charged with two runs in the 11th. Over the first 10 innings, Bell allowed only three hits and struck out 12. Lary matched Bell’s performance, allowing five hits and striking out five before the 11th. Over the first 10 innings only one Indians baserunner made it as far as third.
Kuenn contributed a double and an infield single in seven trips to the plate, but the pulled leg muscle he sustained in the 12th inning limited him to two pinch-hitting appearance in the Indians’ next five games. Colavito struck out four times and hit into a double play in his seven plate appearances. “[I] know I never struck out four times in a game before — not since I started playing professional baseball,” he said. “I guess I was tightened up the first time I went to the plate. Maybe, I was pressing some every time I batted.”13
Detroit’s Kaline, who drove in the winning runs, felt that the circumstances of the trade put more pressure on Colavito than Kuenn, saying, “I hope it never happens to me.”14
The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. for box scores/play-by-play information, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other data:
1 Colavito and Washington’s Harmon Killebrew each hit 42 home runs in 1959, tops in the American League.
2 Harry Jones, “Indians Get Kuenn in Deal,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 18, 1960: 33.
3 Gordon Cobbledick, “Colavito’s 1959 Slump That Cost Pennant Put Rocky on Lane’s Expendable List,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 18, 1960: 33.
4 “Indians Get Kuenn in Deal.”
5 Harry Jones, “Colavito Stunned by Lane Trade,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 18, 1960: 33.
6 “Colavito Stunned by Lane Trade.”
7 “Indians Game in Detail,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20: 36.
8 Harry Jones, “Batting Around,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20, 1960: 33.
9 Gordon Cobbledick, “Kuenn Easily Wins Opening Day Showdown with Colavito, Who Has a Miserable Day,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20, 1960: 33.
10 “Kuenn Easily Wins Opening Day Showdown with Colavito, Who Has a Miserable Day.”
11 Harry Jones, “Indians Lose in 15th,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20, 1960: 34.
12 Harry Jones, “Indians Beaten in Fifteenth, 4-2,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20, 1960: 1. The Senators and Athletics played a 15-inning game on Opening Day in Washington on April 13, 1926, with Washington winning 1-0. However, that game lasted 2 hours and 33 minutes. The 1960 Tigers-Indians game lasted 4 hours and 54 minutes and remained the longest on Opening Day until April 5, 2012. On that date the Indians lost a 16-inning game 7-4 to the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field. The game’s duration was 5 hours and 14 minutes.
13 Chuck Heaton, “Kuenn Is Injured,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20, 1960: 35.
14 “Kuenn Is Injured.” Kaline got his wish: His entire 22-year Hall of Fame career was spent with the Tigers.