Top 100 Indians: #61 John Romano

USA TODAY Sports

A key offensive player on the early '60s teams, John Romano was part of two extremely important trades that helped set the course of the Indians for perhaps decades to come.

John Anthony Romano (Honey)

Catcher, 1960-1964

Height: 5'11" Weight: 205 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Trade, December 6, 1959: Traded with Norm Cash and Bubba Phillips by the Chicago White Sox for Minnie Minoso, Don Ferrarese, Dick Brown and Jake Striker

Left Via: Trade, January 20, 1965 (3 team trade): Traded with Tommy John and Tommie Agee to the Chicago White Sox; the White Sox sent Jim Landis, Mike Hershberger and Fred Talbot (PTBNL) to the Kansas City Athletics; the Indians received Rocky Colavito from the Athletics and Cam Carreon from the White Sox

John Romano grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, which is across the Hudson from Manhattan Island. The (then) blue collar city was famous for its major-league talent, and after starring on his high school team, he was quickly signed by the Chicago White Sox, which was quite a coup, as it seemed a given that he'd sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers. From Todd Neville's excellent biography of Romano on SABR.com:

"I always thought I was always going to be a bonus baby with the Brooklyn Dodgers," Romano said. That’s because he used to work out with the Dodgers at Ebbets Field by invitation of coach Clyde Sukeforth, a former major-league catcher, coach, scout, and manager who is best known for scouting and helping sign Jackie Robinson.

Romano joined the White Sox organization in 1954, and after working his way up the ladder, he stalled for a time in Indianapolis, spending two years there. His offensive ability was not in doubt, though he needed to polish off his defensive skills. Sherm Lollar, Chicago's long-time catcher (who actually was signed by the Indians and was part of the deal that brought back Gene Bearden in 1946), was also in the tail end of his peak, so there was no rush to bring the top prospect to the majors as an everyday catcher.

But Chicago could use Romano's bat, and so he made the team in 1959 as mainly a pinch-hitter and later as platoon catcher (with Lollar moving to first against left-handed pitchers). This was the season that the "Go-Go" White Sox held off the Indians for the AL pennant, and Romano played a small but key role, hitting .294/.407/.468 in 153 Plate Appearances. Romano would make one Plate Appearance in the World Series, and that would turn out to be his only post-season experience.

After the season, the White Sox had a decision to make: should they keep the 35-year-old catcher who to this point was still a fine all-around catcher, or go with the 25-year-old top prospect. They chose the latter, and dealt both Romano and 25-year-old Norm Cash to the Indians to re-acquire Minnie Minoso. As mentioned in the Al Smith profile, Minoso was hugely popular in Chicago, so the trade wasn't completely a baseball move. It turned out that Minoso had one great year left in him, but that came at the cost of two outstanding prospects. It turned out that the White Sox under Al Lopez would continue to churn out great seasons, but like the Indians of the 1950s, they kept coming up short of the New York Yankees, who were then in the midst of yet another string of pennants.

From the Indians' perspective, dealing Minoso for Romano and Cash represented a way of getting younger. Of the starting position players on the 1959 team, four of them were over 30. But there was a core of young players, Rocky Colavito and Tito Francona were still in their mid-20s, and they had several excellent young pitchers, including Herb Score, Mudcat Grant, and Jim Perry. The addition of Romano and Cash could have continued the Indians' success, but Frank Lane was not one to be patient with his current roster. He would deal both Cash and Colavito to the Detroit Tigers in separate deals, and I think those two deals, taken together, marked the downfall of the franchise (while revitalizing Detroit) into at first mediocrity and then later oblivion.

But Romano would stay in Cleveland, becoming the good player that his minor-league numbers portended. In his first season as a starter, he hit .272/.349/.475 with 16 home runs. That year he had a 22-game hitting streak, which remained the highest by an Indians catcher until Sandy Alomar's 30-game streak in 1997. Other AL clubs tried to run on him, and although he was consistently among the leaders in stolen bases allowed, he caught enough of them (in 1961 he led the league both in stolen bases allowed and runners caught stealing) to stay viable at catcher. He was short and stocky man, perfect for the position, and had excellent power; in a three-season span (1960-1962), he slugged .480 with an OPS+ of 129 and averaged 21 home runs and 20 doubles a year. In 1961 and 1962 he made consecutive All-Star teams.

A fractured hand torpedoed the 1963 season, but he recovered with a fine 1964 campaign. But he would be dealt back to the White Sox after the season. The Indians were excited about Joe Azcue, who they had acquired from Kansas City in 1963, and wanted to give him the starting job. So they included Romano in another trade that turned out to have disastrous long-term consequences. Romano was part of a three-team trade that netted the Indians Rocky Colavito (from Kansas City) and Cam Carreon* (from Chicago). The Indians, though, parted with Tommy Agee (who would win the 1966 ROY and have several fine seasons with Chicago and later the New York Mets), and Tommy John (who would be an incredibly durable pitcher despite missing a season for some obscure elbow surgery). Colavito by this time was 31 and towards the end of his peak, and although the move was popular with the fans, it cost the Indians dearly in the long run.

Meanwhile, Romano had two more good seasons (OPS+ of 128 in '65 and 122 in '66) with the White, but then weight problems ended his career early; his last major-league season was in 1967 and was spent buried on the bench in St. Louis. He didn't make the Cardinals' World Series roster. He retired after the season to his native New Jersey, selling swimming pools for a while and later working for the Bergen County government. He now lives in retirement in Florida.

*Carreon would make just 62 Plate Appearances with the Indians, and would quickly be out of baseball. The Indians would trade him just before the 1966 season for a prospect named Lou Piniella, who would go on to have fine playing career, but not with the Indians, as the Seattle Pilots selected him from the Indians in the 1968 Expansion Draft. Carreon's son Mark would also be a major-leaguer, and finished his career with the Indians in 1996.

References:

1. John Romano, SABR Baseball Biography Project.

2. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James

3. Baseball-Reference.com

Career Indians Stats

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1960 25 CLE 108 361 40 86 12 2 16 37 50 .272 .349 .475 .824 124
1961 26 CLE 142 580 76 152 29 1 21 61 60 .299 .377 .483 .860 132
1962 27 CLE 135 548 71 120 19 3 25 73 64 .261 .363 .479 .842 128
1963 28 CLE 89 300 28 55 5 2 10 38 49 .216 .317 .369 .685 93
1964 29 CLE 106 415 46 85 18 1 19 51 83 .241 .346 .460 .806 123
CLE (5 yrs) 580 2204 261 498 83 9 91 260 306 .263 .355 .461 .816 123
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

AL All-Star: 1961 (Games 1 & 2); 1962 (Games 1 & 2)

AL MVP: 1961-24th

AL WAR Position Players: 8th, 1962-4.3; 10th, 1961-4.4

AL oWAR: 9th, 1961-4.7; 9th, 1962-3.8

AL dWAR: 8th, 1962-1.4

AL Average: 8th, 1961-.299

AL Slugging: 10th, 1962-.479

AL OPS: 9th, 1962-.842; 10th, 1961-.860

AL 2B: 10th, 1961-29

AL OPS+: 9th, 1961-132; 9th, 1962-128

AL Hit By Pitch: 4th, 1964-7

AL Sacrifice Flies: 3rd, 1962-9

AL Putouts as C: 2nd, 1961-752; 5th, 1960-470; 5th, 1962-657

AL Assists as C: 2nd, 1961-58; 3rd, 1962-63

AL Errors as C: 2nd, 1961-9; 5th, 1962-7

AL Double Plays Turned as C: 3rd, 1961-8; 4th, 1960-6; 5th, 1962-6

AL Range Factor/Game C: 1st, 1964-7.83

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 44th WAR Position Players (13.9)
  • 44th oWAR (14.3)
  • t-43rd dWAR (3.0)
  • t-46th On Base Percentage (.355)
  • 27th Slugging (.461)
  • 29th OPS (.816)
  • t-29th Home Runs (91)
  • 25th OPS+ (123)
  • t-20th Sacrifice Flies (26)
  • t-33rd Intentional Bases On Balls (17)
  • t-47th Double Plays Grounded Into (49)
  • 27th Wins Probability Added (6.2)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-17th Sacrifice Flies (9, 1962)

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