The recent return of pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the Cleveland Indians had all the makings of a Disney movie. That is, until reality came into being.
Carrasco, who has been with the Indians for 10 years, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Despite talk he could return this season, it seemed like the Indians were humoring him so he could continue to be optimistic. But return he did.
The team also nominated him for Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award, which goes to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.
Upon his return, Tampa Bay fans, and the Indians and Rays players, gave him a standing ovation as he came to the mound. In his initial appearance, he retired the first two batters before allowing a run. But then it fell apart in his next appearance when he was trying to hold a three-run lead. A three-run homer tied the game and a solo shot led to an Indians’ loss as manager Terry Francona second-guessed his decision to leave him in the game. On the other hand, he needed to see what “Cookie” could handle in case there is a playoff run.
Clevelanders are not strangers when it comes to dealing with players who have been diagnosed with leukemia. In December 1961, the Washington Redskins drafted Syracuse University running back Ernie Davis, who had just become the first African American Heisman Trophy winner.
Davis wore the coveted No. 44 for the then-Orangemen. Jim Brown wore it before and Floyd Little after.
Browns owner Art Modell, who had just bought the Browns and wanted to make a splash, traded for the rights to Davis, giving up most notably Bobby Mitchell, who went on to a Hall-of-Fame career. Modell envisioned the two Syracuse running backs becoming the greatest tandem ever, although he probably had the two best running backs with Brown and Mitchell.
The deal was made without the knowledge of coach Paul Brown. This was the final straw between Modell and Brown, who until that time had complete control over all personnel decisions. Davis signed a three-year deal for $200,000, a monstrous contract in those days, and headed to Chicago, where the college all-stars were preparing to play the NFL champion in the first exhibition game of the 1962 season. Davis was medically ruled out of that game, and while nothing was official, several of his teammates made statements that led many people to realize something serious was wrong.
Modell knew about the health situation and during the 1962 exhibition season, he wanted Davis to dress fora game and if nothing else return a kickoff. Modell tried to get the medical people to approve the idea as a public relations move, but Brown found enough medical people to reject the idea. With a great crowd and the spotlight on Davis, he was introduced in one of the most chilling moments in the history of Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.
Davis never played a down for the team. He died on May 18, 1963, at age 23. The team retired his No. 45 jersey. If you are looking for a movie to watch, check out “The Express,” the story of his life. Some of the events in the movie didn’t happen exactly as they happened in real life, but it’s close enough.