Manning praised as player and analyst as he celebrates 40th anniversary of MLB debut
One generation of Indians fans can still remember when Rick Manning patrolled center field. Another knows Manning for his work as the analyst on SportsTime Ohio’s broadcast of the team’s games.
Before Saturday’s game against the Reds, the Indians will recognize the 40th anniversary of Manning’s debut in the majors. Manning went 1-for-4 that night as the Tribe lost to the Athletics 4-1.
"I can’t believe I’ve been around 40 years to be honest with you. That’s something pretty cool," Manning said last week during the Indians’ recent homestand.
Manning was the second overall selection in the 1972 MLB Draft and started the ’74 season in Oklahoma City, which was the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate at the time. Manning’s memories of his debut were more for what happened before the game.
"It was my first day sitting in the clubhouse and they used to have those big trunks. I had my foot up on one of the trunks putting my socks on and Cy Bunyak (who was the team’s equipment manager) was in the trunk getting something. He closed the trunk and it landed on my toe," Manning said. "I went in, got it bandaged and then got a hit in my third at-bat."
Manning alternated between left and center his first four weeks before becoming the team’s regular center fielder on June 20. He batted .285 in 120 games, was named to Baseball Digest’s All-Rookie team and led the team in stolen bases with 19. The following season he won the AL Gold Glove in center, becoming one of the youngest players to do so.
Duane Kuiper, who is Manning’s longtime friend and former teammate, ended up making his MLB debut in 1974 but started ’75 in Oklahoma City. He got called up a couple weeks after Manning. The two would be among the more popular players on the Indians in the mid to late ’70s.
Kuiper first met Manning in 1972, when then-general manager Phil Seghi told Kuiper to make room for a 17-year old shortstop from Niagara Falls, NY, that was going to become his roommate. Kuiper already had five roommates at the time.
"The first 10 games he played short and then they discovered he was a better center fielder," Kuiper said last week of Manning. "It was the beginning of a pair of nice careers and a great friendship."
Mike Seghi, the Indians longtime traveling secretary, said the Indians struggled the first two months of the ’75 season but started to improve once Kuiper and Manning were called up. The Tribe would go on to finish 79-80 that season and finish fourth in the American League East. They next season they would go 81-78, which was the first time the Indians had finished over .500 since 1968.
"We were struggling when they came up and gave us a spark," Seghi said. "Manning could run like a deer. He’s still the same guy he was then and can make people laugh. He was a good person then and a good man now."
Kuiper still looks fondly on those 1975 and ’76 teams, especially because of the competition within the division.
"The American League East was always a struggle in those days with the Yankees, Baltimore and Detroit," he said. "But our lineup was good, the defense was good and we had a good mix of speed."
Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio didn’t join the organization until 1979 and credits Manning for helping him out as a young public relations director. He also wishes that people would give Manning more credit for a 13-year career in the majors.
"You look at his record and how many top draft picks play 13-14 years, you would think there are a whole lot but not as many as you think," DiBiasio said. "When he dove headfirst and jammed his back (during a game at Seattle in 1977) that changed the way he played. But he could run, he slapped the ball around the field and he played hard."
Manning was traded to the Brewers on June 6, 1983, with Rick Waits as the Indians got Ernie Camacho, Jamie Easterly and Gorman Thomas. He retired after the 1987 season and came back to the Indians in 1990 as an analyst.
In his 26th season as an Indians’ broadcaster, Manning is tied with Tom Hamilton for the second-longest tenure in team history.
"He is one of the best analysts in the game," said SportsTime Ohio’s Matt Underwood, who has been Manning’s broadcast partner since 2007. "If you talk to the people who watch the different broadcasts he knows the intricacies can talk you through a pitching sequence and talk about what is next. He has a good feel for what pitches are trying to do and what hitters are looking for in certain sequences. That’s what makes it fun working with him."
Kuiper, who in his 32nd year as an announcer, said that the first 3-4 seasons in the booth are the roughest, but if a former player can survive that and improve, then they are on their way to a successful career. Kuiper also noted that the 1972 squad in Reno produced four future baseball analysts — Kuiper (Giants), Manning, Dennis Eckersley (Red Sox) and Larry Anderson (Phillies).
Kuiper added: "The fans in Cleveland have adored Rick and he has turned out to be one of the top five analysts in the game."
Underwood said that memories of Manning’s debut are sure to come up during Saturday’s broadcast. Underwood hopes though that the pregame ceremony gives fans a chance to recognize Manning’s contributions to the team.
"I’m happy for him and that he gets to have his day in the sun. Not many guys decide when they finish their careers to stay in Cleveland," Underwood said. "It’s a well-deserved tribute to a guy that was a heck of a player who spent most of his career in Cleveland. He came back even after he got traded and made it is home."
When asked if there are any memories that pop out over the past 40 years, Manning said that it was hard to believe it has been that long and that it has gone by fast.
"Baseball is a young man’s game," he said. "I’m still happy that I am around and been involved with baseball all this time in Cleveland. It is a lot of fun for me."