SI scribe and native Clevelander Joe Posnanski has written eloquently and often about one Duane Kuiper — second basemen for the Tribe from 1974 to 1982, and he of the one career home run* and unassuming .271 career average. To get the full effect of Posnanski's love for Kuiper you really do need to read his "Why Duane Kuiper is my hero" post at his blog, not only because it's well-done, but also because it's impossible to effectively excerpt a guy who writes 2000-word posts. We'll try anyway:
* (Using Pozterisks here is the only honorable thing to do, right?) The photo above is actually one that I found and sent to Posnanski. It's from a ceremony with Doug Dieken and former Tribe manager Dave Garcia to honor Kuiper's "first" home run. As Posnanski wrote in a blog about it: "The words on the plaque say: Duane Kuiper, First Major League Home Run, 8 -29 — 77, Off Steve Stone, Baltimore Orioles." And, naturally, they got the plaque wrong. Kuiper hit the dinger off Steve Stone, but Stone was a member of the White Sox at the time, not the Orioles.
People always seem to think that I love Kuiper ironically, or that I'm somehow being a wise guy about this whole thing, but in the words of that noted philosopher Mike Gundy, that ain't true. I loved Duane Kuiper when I was 10. And I love him now. He has always represented something important to me, something I did not understand when I was young. Duane Kuiper was the player who brought the game closer. He was the one who said that you don't have to be supremely gifted and impossibly strong and touched by God in order to get where you want to go. You can also dive for every ground ball.
When I got older and found that there was a whole other world outside of Cleveland, I started to appreciate that perhaps Duane wasn't a good ballplayer. It's funny … I had never really thought about it. I guess I felt about Duane the way I felt about nearsightedness, male pattern baldness and my Uncle Lonka who played the accordion at weddings and bar mitzvahs — I inherited him. I had never really thought to evaluate him. That almost seemed beside the point. He was the second baseman I wanted to be. He was the player who represented what life could become if you wanted it enough. He was the guy who every game made one diving play to send a little kid home with a memory.
Everyone has that one guy. Sometimes it's a Kosar or a Daugherty or a Webster Slaughter, but oftentimes it's not. It's just some guy that we find a strange way of identifying with. Everyone has a Kuiper.
So I decided to round up some contributions from friends and some other bloggers and put together a list of other Cleveland Kuipers. Mine is directly below, the contributions are after that.
Somewhere in my basement or a storage facility is a photograph of me as a 7 or 8 year-old sitting at the Shriver's house watching a Browns game. I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor in a Browns shirt probably no more than five or six feet away from the television. I have an eager look on my face, or at least what you can see of it, thanks to a massive Cleveland Browns helmet perched on my head. I think my eyes are barely visible because I have my head tilted up at a ridiculous angle trying to keep the helmet on my head. It would look ridiculous for any child, but especially so for me. I was always small for my age — the first or second in the front row for class pictures, the last of a group of friends to be tall enough to ride the roller coaster, etc. So, yeah, I was tiny.
The gigantic helmet on this stick of a neck and tennis ball of a head looked like when a kid tries on his dad's shoes, except, in my case, it'd be like trying on your dad's shoes if he was a clown.
My formative Browns years came between 1987-1989, years when I first started paying real attention to the team, years when I remember not only being aware of them, but being excited to watch them. And although there were plenty of guys for a young kid to grow attached to on those fabled squads, there was really only one guy that grabbed the attention of the little shrimp of a boy who was the smallest on the block, smallest at school, and smallest among my friends.
Gerald McNeil returned punts and kicks (as well as played some receiver) for the Browns from 1986-1989, when he moved to the Oilers. What endeared the "Ice Cube" to me wasn't just the fact that he was a returner, my absolute favorite play in backyard football, or that he had a cool nickname. It was simply the fact that he was 5'7" and weighed less than 150 pounds. He was tiny out there amongst the beasts of the NFL, and yet, he made a career of it. He wasn't particularly fast, although he was a handful to get a hold of since he was so small. He wasn't particularly successful -- his only two TD returns both came in 1986 -- but he handled punt return duties for the Browns full-time during a captivating stretch of years for the franchise.
And he looked in his real, adult NFL uniform a little like the kid who threw on the the big plastic helmet at his friends house and smiled for a picture. Being 4' in the neighborhood game was about like being 5'7" in the pros, and I figured, if the "Ice Cube" could do it, so could I.
By Paul Cousineau (The Diatribe)
As a 10-year-old, a little boy who lived and breathed the Cleveland Indians (despite their obvious warts and prodded on by a certain Sports Illustrated cover), the greatest moment of my life to that point came prior to a Tribe game at a function of the Little Indians' Fan Club.
Sitting in the 1B stands at Municipal, I watched as Pat Tabler stood on the Indians' dugout to "teach" the assembled...I don't know 20 or so kids...how be field grounders. When he asked for a volunteer to help him demonstrate, I thrust my hand up to be the one lucky enough to stand next to the Tabbie Cat. When he called on me and complimented my ability to get in front of a ball, then put his arm around me while he finished the presentation, the die was cast...I would live and die with Tabler as my favorite player.
From wearing his #10 in all sports from that point on all the way to posting as Pat Tabler at The DiaTribe until a call from Bob DiBiasio asked that I cease and desist so Tabler (now a broadcaster for the Blue Jays) wouldn't feel the need to explain himself for the ramblings of a slightly-obsessed Indians fan, Tabs was my man.
I didn't care if he was a fair-to-middling infielder whose claim to fame was his "ability" to hit in the clutch, or the fact that he wasn't even on the Indians for that long (6 seasons), or that his career high in HR (as a 1B no less) was 11. No, among the players of the team that inexplicably forced me to fall in love with baseball (that 1986 Tribe), Tabler epitomized my Indians - loved through the flaws.
By John McQuaid
As a young baseball fanatic in Cleveland, the 1986 Indians had an overabundance of players and personalities to root for: a veteran slugger — Andre Thorton, young slugger — Joe Carter, my first autograph — Julio Franco, great nicknames — Macho Camacho, the Yeti, scrappy guys — Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, and two, count them, two knuckleballers — Phil Niekro and the Candyman. The best was yet to come in the form of June call-up, the one and only Cory Snyder. When the collegiate, Olympic and minor-league hero arrived in Cleveland, it was as if a blond Jesus came to play for the Tribe (and since Snyder went to BYU he probably thought the imminent return and baseball career of Jesus was a distinct possibility). The parallels between Snyder’s career and my own are uncanny: both hyped rookies in 86 (albeit is slightly different leagues), blond hair, rifle arm, played OF/SS. The only differences I can recall were he hit for power while I hit for average and he could grow a fantastic mustache, although I would chalk that up to the age difference.
1987 was to be a breakout year for both of us. Neither the American League nor the Lakewood 7-8 year-old little league stood a chance. Our destiny was confirmed by the infamous “Indian Uprising” Sports Illustrated cover which, in my mind, served to introduce Snyder to the world. Of course things did not go according to plan. Although Snyder his best individual year, we all know what happened to the Indians, for my part a broken arm wiped out my entire season. The next year the injury bug, now beginning to attack Snyder, came after me with a vengeance. That summer my broken arm was a beauty, requiring a hospital stay and surgery. The lone bright spot was the Indians player who sent me an autographed baseball and a personal letter wishing me well on my rehab from... who else but Cory Snyder. With the dawning of the 90’s, the end of the road was rapidly nearing for both of us as injuries beset Snyder’s career and puberty mine. Not to go out quietly, we would both enjoy a brief renaissance, Snyder in the National League and me in Division III college intramurals.
It has been fifteen years since I could root for James Cory Snyder on a baseball field and while different players and sports have filled the interval, none will match his effect on my sports interests. He, more than Kosar and more than Price, dragged me into Cleveland fandom, for which I am eternally grateful. He represents the promise of the young prospect that brightens so many meaningless September games and the feeling of hope for next year that we all know so well. I have moved many times in the last decade, paring down my possessions to the non-essentials, but the baseball card album occupied solely4 by Cory Snyder cards has made the cut every time. This spring, when the New York Museum Softball League restarts, you better believe I’ll be out there swinging for the fences, gunning down runners at third and wearing 28 (it’s just too bad I still can’t grow the mustache).
Jay Guidinger *
By Brian Cuglewski
The Working Man’s Hero. That’s the nickname my friend and I came up with for Jay Guidinger. Boasting front line players like Daugherty, Nance, Williams, and Ferry, the 1992-93 version of the Cavaliers didn’t need another finesse player. Guidinger possessed the body of a 6’10” lumberjack, and he used it to bang around inside and do the unsung jobs such as boxing out, taking a charge, and committing the hard foul — in his 6.7 minutes per game. Would you expect anything less from an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota Duluth?
As a ten-year old, I admired the dedication it took to do that. See, I knew Jay had the ability to put up 20 and 20 every night; he just chose to sacrifice personal glory to do whatever Coach Wilkens needed him to do for a Cavs’ win. After all, as my father said, that was what a working man, a real man, did.
My friends and I balled with a few older boys in the neighborhood and invariably, the teams would evolve into an older versus younger match-up. I could shoot, dribble, and even dunk on the retractable six foot hoop we played on, but I never led my team in points. I didn’t call the plays. I didn’t shoot the three pointers from behind the crack in the fourth block of concrete. I set picks, pump-faked, and fought for rebounds with the bigger guys. Why?
Because I did what it took for us to win. I was a real man.
I was Jay Guidinger.
* Brian loves Jay Guidinger so much that for his birthday last year I bought him the sponsorship on Jay Guidinger's Basketball Reference page — a page that has, no doubt, been looked at no more than five or six times since it was created.
** How appropriate is it that there's not even a full picture of Guidinger on Google image search? All I could find was this old card with his head cut off. I think Jay would want it that way.
By Rick Grayshock (Waiting for Next Year)
I think all my favorites from childhood probably qualify for this discussion. Since Jay Guidinger is already taken, I'll go back a few more years. My Duane Kuiper is Brian Brennan.
Brian Brennan was the ultimate possession receiver for the Browns. He rarely led the team in receiving yards, or yards per catch, or even receptions. But he was the king of the third down conversion. Brennan probably came into the league a few years too soon. While the Browns were featuring the grind it out running attack, a slot receiver was seldom used. Brian was David Patton before there was a David Patton. He stood on the sidelines on first and second down and ran into the game when it was third and 5 or more. He ran a crossing route or a button hook a yard beyond the first down stick, caught the ball and got hammered. That was his job, and he did it better than most.
He had kind of an aw shucks look to him as well. Sort of a Howdy Doody meets Opie Taylor. He was the typical five foot nothing, hundred and nothing football player. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Browns a year before they selected Bernie Kosar in the '85 supplemental draft. Kosar would learn to love Brian Brennan, even though Brennan was from Boston College, you know the team that beat Kosar's Hurricanes in the infamous Flutie Hail Mary game.
Brian played eight years with Browns, and scored a mere 19 TD's for us. But he was my favorite receiver.
By Scott Sargent (Waiting for Next Year)
During a run of success that the Indians were blessed with in the 1990s, Espinoza rarely saw action on the field. Mostly because the Indians had players like Omar Vizquel and Carlos Baerga playing in the infield, but also because… well, he’s Alvaro Espinoza. But that didn’t stop him from finding a way into the hearts of fans through his all-around excellent demeanor, his more-than-obvious admiration and friendship with his teammates and his never ending pranks and dugout hijinks. You know you had a great career when your “milestone” is being one of six players to have a ball hit in fair territory, only to be lodged in some sort of stadium obstruction.
It’s sad that Espinoza — like many others before him — has made his way into the dark side as a minor league coach with the Yankees. Regardless, you can still mention his name and Espinoza is one of the few .250 hitters that Indians fans will remember for quite a long time.
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