My recently released book, “Cleveland’s Bitter Pill: A diagnosis of injured title dreams and die-hard fans,” chronicles what I like to call a fraternity of misery.
In our city’s quest for a championship, typically it’s been injury, illness and even death that have come between us and that fiercely coveted title. The book recounts 45 cases from the 1920s through the 2000s where our hopes have been derailed.
This week I visited in studio and spoke with 1590 WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about the book and some of this city’s infamous heartbreaks.
Cleveland’s sports history is chock full of ups and downs like a roller coaster, but our passionate fans haven’t given up hope — and neither have I.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.
HORNER: With us in studio, our good friend, my good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Joe just handed me a brand new book, off the shelf, it’s called “Cleveland’s Bitter Pill: A diagnosis of injured title dreams and die-hard fans.”
What’s the book about?
DR. CONGENI: Well, if you want to know what the book’s about …
HORNER: Go get one! [laughter]
DR. CONGENI: … What’s happening to the Cleveland Cavs this year? What just happened in the last week? We’re cruising. We put together a really nice team.
One of the things about sports, and you and I talk about it every week, and that’s why you share this with me, [is injury]. This is my 20th year on the air with you guys. So, you know, we talk about the fact that putting a team together, how well you play has a lot to do with it, but injuries have a lot to do on how these things wind up. There’s just no question.
We talk about it all the time in football, baseball, basketball, and what I dealt with was Cleveland sports particularly. And the reason is, you know, from being here, these fans are incredibly passionate. They’re incredibly resilient. They go to the lowest lows.
If this thing works out in a bad way with this Bulls series, this town is gonna be at its lowest point. Could you imagine the other side if there would be a swing and we find a way to beat the Bulls? …
So, we wear our hearts on our sleeves. But typically, we’ve ended up on the low end of these with some ups and downs like a roller coaster ride, but many times it’s been injury, illness and even death in a handful of cases.
And so, we wrote about 45 different cases, where we went back historically to the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s mainly … ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. Many people our age will remember a lot of the stories and say, “Oh yeah, I remember. Oh my gosh, I remember, uh, Tony Horton,” you know, in the ’60s for the Indians, or “I remember Herb Score.”
For younger people, they need to know the history. They’ve not given up. Younger fans in this town, instead of saying, no, I’m gonna join another, [they need to know where we come from].
They have a more virulent breed of this Cleveland sports stuff and they have the ups and downs. They have joined what I call the fraternity of misery … but many times it’s been sports injury that has derailed our hopes.
HORNER: I think immediately, and I’m sure you covered this one, and we’ll get to the pictures on the cover of the book, but I think of the Jim Chones injury. I imagine you covered that one.
DR. CONGENI: It’s gotta be the Jim Chones. Whenever you hear Chones on the TV and A.C. (Austin Carr) on the TV, they harken back to the “Miracle of Richfield.” For those who weren’t here in the mid-’70s, it was crazy. It was awesome. It was so much fun. And then, in preparing for the semi-final series, Jim Chones breaks his foot.
HORNER: In practice.
DR. CONGENI: In practice a Jones fracture, which we heard again about this year by Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder). Exact same fracture that Kevin Durant had [whom] we know well in sports. But why did it have to happen? Everybody unanimously said that team was headed to a championship and so, you hear about that with Chones.
Now, I thought you’d bring up being a baseball guy you are is, of course, [what’s highlighted] every All-Star game …
HORNER: Ray Fosse.
DR. CONGENI: Ray Fosse getting wiped out in an exhibition game.
DR. CONGENI: Ray Fosse was looking to be one of the best catchers in baseball.
DR. CONGENI: His numbers at the All-Star game that year were astronomical. He never hit home runs again. He never hit more than 10 or 12 home runs. He never hit for average. He was a decent catcher. This was a guy on a meteoric rise and his shoulder was totally wiped out by Pete Rose in an exhibition game.
HORNER: He was the first guy I drove 2 hours to get an autograph for and I still have it at home on my baseball glove as a Little Leaguer … because you’re right. He was on his way to super stardom and I was in Pennsylvania. I remember he was at the Sparkle Market in Hubbard, Ohio, with an appearance and we jumped in the car and drove all the way there so I could get Ray Fosse’s autograph.
DR. CONGENI: Wow. You aren’t as young as I thought you were.
DR. CONGENI: I’ll tell you about one when I was a kid, really young kid. … We had these great young, uh, athletes. We had Rocky Colavito, Herb Score and a bunch of other young, good-looking talent that was going to be a team of the ’60s in baseball.
And one night in 1957, a line drive right into the eye socket, the orbit, of Herb Score, and Herby was never the same. They traded Rocky the next year. The ’60s in Cleveland, wow was it low.
DR. CONGENI: So, we covered a few stories from the ’60s.
HORNER: Go to the 3 pictures on the cover, Joe, and hit those. Again, Joe Congeni with us. He’s got a book out now, “Cleveland’s Bitter Pill.” I love the idea, so let’s go to the pictures on the cover.
DR. CONGENI: So, the farthest on the left is Ray Chapman, the only guy to ever die on the baseball field. So, Ray Chapman, you know, was hit by a pitch in 1920. No one else has ever before or after died on the baseball field.
He was hit. There was some discussion historically. He took a few steps, then he collapsed. He had a brain bleed and he died. You knew there were no helmets in those days and so, Ray Chapman died.
HORNER: Right, which brought the helmets into the game, actually.
DR. CONGENI: Brought the helmets into the game, exactly. So it started way back then. Um, then of course, the story of Ernie Davis and Art Modell with Paul Brown when they were still somewhat on the same page. They wanted to build the dream backfield.
Jim Brown was at his peak. Ernie Davis was the Heisman Trophy winner at Syracuse. Have you seen the movie, the “Elmira Express?”
DR. CONGENI: Of course. He gets leukemia. He comes into camp for the college All-Star game. He’s a little bit weaker. They do some blood work. He gets leukemia.
In the early ’60s, we didn’t know how to treat it. In the 2000s, we have an 80 percent success rate of treating it, but in the early ’60s it was pretty much a death sentence. We watched Ernie Davis go down hill over about a half of a year and then end up passing away without ever getting to play a game for the Browns.
DR. CONGENI: And then, of course, LeBron James and the unexplained … elbow injury that came at the very worst of times in 2010. Things weren’t going good off the court. There were other issues involved definitely, but something about the elbow where he was shooting left-handed, driving only left-handed, [while] facing a Tom Thibodeau defense for the Boston Celtics.
And so, it happens to be as soon as we’re done writing the book there are more stories. I mean, this year Alex Mack for the Browns. The Browns are 7 and 4 and they lose their center and go down hill.
And, of course, this week …
DR. CONGENI: You and I talked about it is Kevin Love. And when you’re a team and a franchise and a city that [doesn’t] have a lot of leeway because we’re midmarket and we don’t have a … lot of depth, it seems when we’ve lost players in the past it’s end up being devastating to our teams.
There are 45 stories that will jog your memory all the way from the ’60s through the 2000s of injuries to people like Grady Sizemore, who you and I have talked about. To people like Jake Westbrook and others.
HORNER: Joe, where can the listeners get the book?
DR. CONGENI: I’m not so good on the marketing part of things.
DR. CONGENI: It’s being marketed by the University of Akron Press, and I spoke with them yesterday and it’ll be in the bookstores in 2 weeks.
DR. CONGENI: You can order it from University of Akron Press. They have an 800 number. It can be delivered at home. You can order it through Amazon. They have boxes of books they’ve given to Children’s and a box at Hoban High School. There are a lot of Hoban people that have been asking about it in the bookstore at Hoban. There will be other bookstores that we sell it from, too.
Uh, I’m not great at the marketing part, but I sure had a love affair writing the darn thing.
HORNER: I bet you did. “Cleveland’s Bitter Pill” by Dr. Joe Congeni. Love the concept of the book, Joe. Good stuff. Good luck with it and good talking with you again.
DR. CONGENI: Thanks, Ray.
HORNER: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on May 6, 2015