Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #18 Mike Garcia

Mike Garcia - AP

On arguably the best starting rotation in history, the best pitcher on the 1954 juggernaut Indians was also arguably not one of the three Hall of Famers, but rather Mike Garcia.

Edward Miguel Garcia (The Big Bear)

Starting Pitcher, 1948-1959

Height: 6'1" Weight: 195 lbs

Throws: Right; Bats: Right

How Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, prior to 1942 season

Left Via: Released, October 23, 1959

Garcia grew up in Orosi, California, a small farming community just outside Fresno. He was slight as a child, but a very good vaquero, and he dreamed of becoming a jockey. He attended Orosi High for three years before transferring to nearby Visalia for his senior year. In addition to his high school team, Garcia also pitched for a nearby semi-pro team. Cleveland scout Willis Butler happened to be traveling through the area, noticed Garcia, and inked him to a contract.

After graduating, he reported to the Appleton (WI) Papermakers, Cleveland's affiliate in the Wisconsin State League (Class D). He had a 10-10 record with a 3.94 ERA in 20 games in 1942, his first taste of professional ball. Garcia was of draft age, and was assigned to the Army Signal Corps. He spent the next three years stringing up telephone wire for the Army, including some time in Europe.

After the war ended, Garcia was discharged. He spent 1946 with the Bakersfield Indians, a Class C affiliate in the California League. The time off away at war did not affect his pitching skills. He went 22-9 with a 2.56 ERA and led the league in strikeouts. The following spring, he was given a close look, but deemed not quite ready.

The 23 year old was bumped up to Class A in 1947, with the Wilkes-Barre (PA) Barons of the Eastern League. He made the league All-Star team and finished with a 17-10 record and 3.24 ERA in 34 starts. In 1948, with the retirement of Mel Harder, there was an opening on the staff, but Garcia was given one more year of seasoning. Garcia reported to Oklahoma City Indians of the Texas League (AA) and went 19-16 while lowering his ERA to 3.09 with a one-hitter and two-hitter among his accomplishments. That season earned him a September call-up.

On the final day of the season after Bob Feller was knocked out in the third inning, manager Lou Boudreau went through a number of relievers. Garcia was one of them and pitched two shutout innings. The Tribe lost, but won a one-game playoff with the Red Sox the next day. As Garcia was a late season call-up, he was not eligible for that World Series.

In 1949, Garcia made the opening day roster, but was primarily a reliever for much of the season. His first spot start in a doubleheader on May 22 did not go well. He walked the bases loaded without recording an out and was removed. His second start went much better, he shut out the St. Louis Browns on May 30, but the Browns were lowly, so it was his start on June 12 against the Yankees that proved his mettle. In front of a capacity crowd at Municipal Stadium on a Sunday afternoon, he allowed only 3 hits and 1 run, with 6 strikeouts in a complete game win. He finally became a regular member of the rotation in late July.

Garcia finished 1949 with a 14-5 record, an ERA of 2.36 and an ERA+ of 170, both of which led the league. He finished with a 1.218 WHIP (third in league) and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Teammate Joe Gordon took to calling him Big Bear because of his large frame. Near the end of the season, he also became roommates with Bobby Avila, a Mexican League signee who spoke very little English. Garcia became his de facto translator.

The sophomore slump hit Garcia in 1950, though not too badly. He finished 11-11 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.440 WHIP. Knee and shoulder maladies were a bigger issue for him, and Garcia's mother passed away, making it a very difficult time for him on a more personal level.

By the time 1951 rolled around, the press had taken to calling the Cleveland rotation the "Big Four" and some Cleveland writers assigned Garcia the moniker of "Mexican Mike." Garcia's game had been built around his strong fastball and decent slider. In 1951 he finally perfected a curveball Harder had taught him in 1949. With a week left in the season, the Tribe was even with the Yankees, but lost 5 of their final 6 and missed the playoffs (which would become a recurring theme).Garcia won 20 games for the first time, had a 3.15 ERA and 1.264 WHIP, along with 6 saves for good measure. He finished 22nd in MVP voting.

Garcia's best season might have been 1952. He went 22-11, with a miniscule 2.37 ERA (141 ERA+), 1.269 WHIP, 19 complete games and 6 shutouts (leading the league). He added 4 saves, made his first All-Star team, and finished 9th in MVP voting. Garcia was fantastic that September. In 7 starts, he had 4 complete games, 3 shutouts and a 1.80 ERA, as the Tribe won 9 of its last 10, ultimately finishing 2 games behind New York.

The Tribe finished 2nd for the third year in a row in 1953, as Garcia had another fine (if not quite as dominant) season. He made his second All-Star team, and finished 18-9 with a 3.25 ERA (120 ERA+) and a 1.255 WHIP.

In 1954 the Tribe finally put it all together and finished with a preposterous 111-43 record. A 16-7 final month of the season left the Indians 8 games ahead of New York. Garcia again was a major factor. He went 19-8, and led the league with a 2.64 ERA (140 ERA+), 5 shutouts and a 1.125 WHIP. He pitched 12 innings trying to get his 20th win, badly wanting a contract bonus that came with it, but the Tribe lost in the 13th. General Manager Hank Greenberg gave him the bonus anyway. Manager Al Lopez continued to use him in relief during tight games that season, and Garcia notched 5 saves (although they weren't called that in those days) in 9 relief appearances. He was named to his third straight All-Star team, but missed the game due to broken blood vessel in the middle finger of his pitching hand. Garcia started Game 3 of the World Series against the Giants, with the Tribe already down 2-0 in the series. He gave up an unearned run in the 1st and three more runs in the 3rd before being lifted for a pinch hitter in another loss. He added two scoreless innings at the end of Game 4 as the Tribe was swept.

In 1955, the Indians and the Yankees battled yet again. The Tribe clung to a 1-game lead with 8 games left, but finished 3-5 and 3 games back. Garcia took the loss in one of those games and for much of the year was merely average. His finished his first season ever with a losing record (11-13), along with a 4.02 ERA (100 ERA+).

In 1956, the Tribe again finished 2nd to the Yankees, though they never crept closer than 5 games after early July and finished 9 games back. Garcia finished 11-12, but his ERA improved to 3.78 (111 ERA+) and he finished with four shutouts (second behind teammate Herb Score), though his WHIP was up to 1.452.

In 1957, the Tribe's run was done, but Garcia managed one more decent year. He was 12-8 with a 3.75 ERA (100 ERA+), 9 complete games and a WHIP of 1.391.

In 1958, Garcia was the last of the Big Four still remaining, but it would be short-lived for him as well. In spring training, he slipped on a wet mound and wrenched his back. He made one start in late April (which lasted just 1 inning) and 5 relief appearances in May before shutting it down. He needed back surgery to repair a slipped disc.

Spring training in Tuscon in 1959 was just as unkind to him. He was hit in the knee by a line drive and ended up in the hospital. He made 3 spot starts in May before landing in the bullpen for much of the season. He pitched in 29 games, and had a 4.00 ERA (93 ERA+) in 72 innings. He was released that offseason.

Garcia sliced off the tip of his pitching middle finger that offseason, but it healed quickly and his arm felt healthy enough to give it another go. He hooked up with the White Sox for the 1960, as former Tribe owner Bill Veeck and former Tribe manager Al Lopez, were both there. His bad luck at spring training continued tough, as he had to have an emergency appendectomy. When the rosters were reduced to 25 players in May, he was cut, but he agreed to stick around as a batting practice pitcher and was re-activated in September, making 10 relief appearances. Chicago invited him to camp again in 1961, but for the fourth straight spring, he had a nasty injury. This time a line drive broke his leg. The expansion Washington Senators signed him after he recovered in July and he made 16 relief appearances before being cut on September 5. At the age of 37, he decided to retire.

Outside of baseball, Garcia married in 1951 (he met his wife at Municipal Stadium) and they had three children: Michael Martin (Little Bear) was born in July of 1954, Lisa in September of 1956, and Celeste in December of 1957. Garcia ran Big Bear Cleaners in Parma, and also raced midget cars (which is how he sliced the tip of his finger off), played slow pitch softball, and was commissioner of the local Little League.

Garcia developed diabetes in his forties, which resulted in kidney disease and heart damage. By the early 1980s he was doing dialysis three times a week, which forced him to sell his business to help pay his medical bills. He passed away in 1986 on his 35th wedding anniversary in Fairview Park and was buried in Visalia, California.

He was named one of the 100 Greatest Indians in March 2001 and inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sources

SABR Biography Project by Warren Corbett; Wikipedia; Baseball-Reference

Indians Career Stats
Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB Awards
1948 24 CLE 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 2.0 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 9 1.500 13.5 0.0 0.0 4.5
1949 25 CLE 14 5 .737 2.36 41 20 10 8 5 2 175.2 154 51 46 6 60 94 2 0 1 718 170 1.218 7.9 0.3 3.1 4.8 1.57 RoY-4
1950 26 CLE 11 11 .500 3.86 33 29 0 11 0 0 184.0 191 88 79 15 74 76 0 0 2 804 112 1.440 9.3 0.7 3.6 3.7 1.03
1951 27 CLE 20 13 .606 3.15 47 30 14 15 1 6 254.0 239 101 89 10 82 118 3 0 6 1066 120 1.264 8.5 0.4 2.9 4.2 1.44 MVP-22
1952 28 CLE 22 11 .667 2.37 46 36 8 19 6 4 292.1 284 93 77 9 87 143 7 1 4 1236 141 1.269 8.7 0.3 2.7 4.4 1.64 AS,MVP-9
1953 29 CLE 18 9 .667 3.25 38 35 3 21 3 0 271.2 260 106 98 18 81 134 3 0 3 1133 115 1.255 8.6 0.6 2.7 4.4 1.65 AS
1954 30 CLE 19 8 .704 2.64 45 34 8 13 5 5 258.2 220 85 76 6 71 129 2 0 1 1053 140 1.125 7.7 0.2 2.5 4.5 1.82 AS,MVP-19
1955 31 CLE 11 13 .458 4.02 38 31 7 6 2 3 210.2 230 101 94 17 56 6 120 3 0 2 894 100 1.358 9.8 0.7 2.4 5.1 2.14
1956 32 CLE 11 12 .478 3.78 35 30 1 8 4 0 197.2 213 93 83 18 74 5 119 5 0 3 874 111 1.452 9.7 0.8 3.4 5.4 1.61
1957 33 CLE 12 8 .600 3.75 38 27 5 9 1 0 211.1 221 98 88 14 73 6 110 6 1 2 915 100 1.391 9.4 0.6 3.1 4.7 1.51
1958 34 CLE 1 0 1.000 9.00 6 1 0 0 0 0 8.0 15 10 8 2 7 0 2 1 0 0 46 43 2.750 16.9 2.3 7.9 2.3 0.29
1959 35 CLE 3 6 .333 4.00 29 8 9 1 0 1 72.0 72 39 32 4 31 3 49 0 0 3 310 93 1.431 9.0 0.5 3.9 6.1 1.58
CLE (12 yrs) 142 96 .597 3.24 397 281 65 111 27 21 2138.0 2102 865 770 119 696 20 1095 32 2 27 9058 118 1.309 8.8 0.5 2.9 4.6 1.57
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/27/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL All-Star: 1952, 1953, 1954
  • AL Pitching Title: 1954
  • AL MVP: 9th, 1952; 19th, 1954; 22nd, 1951
  • AL WAR: 10th, 1952-5.2
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 3rd, 1954-4.8; 4th, 1952-5.3; 6th, 1953-3.8; 7th, 1949-4.6; 7th, 1951-4.0
  • AL ERA: 1st, 1949-2.36; 1st, 1954-2.64; 2nd, 1952-2.37; 6th, 1951-3.15; 8th, 1953-3.25
  • AL Wins: 3rd, 1952-22; 4th, 1951-20; 4th, 1954-19; 5th, 1953-18
  • AL W/L Percentage: 4th, 1949-.737; 4th, 1952-.667; 6th, 1953-.667; 7th, 1954-.704; 10th, 1951-.606
  • AL WHIP: 1st, 1954-1.125; 3rd, 1949-1.218; 6th, 1951-1.264; 7th, 1953-1.255; 10th, 1952-1.269
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 7th, 1949-7.860; 7th, 1954-7.655
  • AL Bases on Balls/9IP: 3rd, 1955-2.392; 4th, 1949-3.074; 5th, 1951-2.906; 5th, 1952-2.678; 5th, 1954-2.470; 6th, 1953-2.683
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 5th, 1949-4.816; 6th, 1955-5.127; 8th, 1951-4.181; 10th, 1953-4.439; 10th, 1956-5.418
  • AL Games Played: 2nd, 1952-46; 3rd, 1951-47; 7th, 1954-45; 8th, 1949-41
  • AL Saves: 5th, 1951-6; 9th, 1954-5
  • AL Innings: 2nd, 1952-292.1; 2nd, 1953-271.2; 3rd, 1954-258.2; 4th, 1951-254.0
  • AL Strikeouts: 5th, 1952-143; 5th, 1953-134; 7th, 1951-118; 7th, 1954-129; 8th, 1955-120
  • AL Games Started: 1st, 1952-36; 3rd, 1953-35; 3rd, 1954-34; 6th, 1951-30; 6th, 1955-31
  • AL Complete Games: 3rd, 1953-21; 4th, 1952-19; 10th, 1951-15
  • AL Shutouts: 1st, 1952-6; 1st, 1954-5; 2nd, 1956-4; 3rd, 1949-5; 9th, 1953-3
  • AL Home Runs: 8th, 1953-18
  • AL Hits: 1st, 1952-284; 2nd, 1951-239; 3rd, 1953-260; 4th, 1955-230; 7th, 1954-220; 7th, 1957-221; 10th, 1956-213
  • AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 1st, 1949-1.567; 2nd, 1955-2.143; 3rd, 1953-1.654; 4th, 1951-1.439; 4th, 1954-1.817; 6th, 1952-1.644
  • AL Home Runs/9 IP: 1st, 1951-0.354; 1st, 1954-0.209; 2nd, 1949-0.307; 2nd, 1952-0.277; 5th, 1957-0.596; 8th, 1953-0.596
  • AL Losses: 6th, 1955-13; 7th, 1951-13; 10th, 1956-12
  • AL Earned Runs: 3rd, 1955-94; 6th, 1953-98; 9th, 1957-88
  • AL Wild Pitches: 3rd, 1951-6
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 3rd, 1952-7
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 1st, 1949-170; 2nd, 1954-140; 5th, 1952-141; 8th, 1951-120; 10th, 1953-115
  • AL Win Probability Added: 1st, 1954-5.3; 3rd, 1953-3.5; 5th, 1951-3.5; 5th, 1952-4.0; 6th, 1949-4.4
  • AL Sacrifice Hits: 7th, 1956-8; 10th, 1952-10
  • AL Putouts as P: 3rd, 1954-20; 5th, 1951-18; 5th, 1953-14
  • AL Assists as P: 2nd, 1952-59; 4th, 1951-46; 5th, 1953-39
  • AL Errors as P: 5th, 1952-3
  • AL Fielding Percentage as P: 1st, 1953-1.000; 1st, 1956-1.000

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 9th WAR Pitchers (30.8)
  • t-30th ERA (3.24)
  • 9th Wins (142)
  • 18th W/L Percentage (.597)
  • 36th WHIP (1.309)
  • 45th Hits/9 IP (8.848)
  • 33rd Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.930)
  • 40th Strikeouts/9 IP (4.609)
  • 6th Games Played (397)
  • t-32nd Saves (21)
  • 9th Innings Pitched (2138.0)
  • 9th Strikeouts (1095)
  • 9th Games Started (281)
  • 14th Complete Games (111)
  • 5th Shutouts (27)
  • 12th Home Runs (119)
  • 8th Bases on Balls (696)
  • 8th Hits (2102)
  • 34th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (1.573)
  • 37th Home Runs/9 IP (0.501)
  • 11th Losses (96)
  • 9th Earned Runs (770)
  • t-35th Wild Pitches (27)
  • t-20th Hit By Pitch (32)
  • t-39th Games Finished (65)
  • 17th ERA+ (118)
  • t-3rd WPA (19.4)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • 45th ERA (2.36, 1949)
  • t-46th ERA (2.37, 1952)
  • t-24th Wins (22, 1952)
  • t-39th Wins (20, 1951)
  • t-22nd W/L Percentage (.737, 1949)
  • t-45th W/L Percentage (.704, 1954)
  • 28th Innings Pitched (292.1, 1952)
  • t-28th Games Started (36, 1952)
  • t-40th Games Started (35, 1953)
  • t-11th Shutouts (6, 1952)
  • t-22nd Shutouts (5, 1949, 1954)
  • t-38th Shutouts (4, 1956)
  • t-26th Hits (284, 1952)
  • 50th Hits (260, 1953)
  • t-11th ERA+ (170, 1949)
  • t-9th WPA (5.3, 1954)
  • 20th WPA (4.4, 1949)
  • t-26th WPA (4.0, 1952)
  • t-32nd WPA (3.5, 1951, 1953)

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