Steve Olin

Before his death in the 1993 accident I’ve described elsewhere on this blog, Steve Olin had become one of the best young closers in baseball. In this post, I’m going to take a look back at the days when he was still a promising Indians’ pitcher.

Olin got his first major league save on Thursday, August 10, 1989, giving up two hits over 3 1/3rd innings in a 7-4 win over the Yankees in New York. Rod Nichols got the win to go 3-1.

Late that June, the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph reported on how well he was doing in AAA: “Olin threw a scoreless ninth for his minor-league leading 17th save. He has not allowed a run in 13 straight appearances. During that span, he has allowed just five hits and one walk in 122/3 innings, striking out nine. He has not allowed a run since May 22.”

“Having a guy like that makes a big difference,” said Sky Sox manager Mike Hargrove. “It’s nice to have a guy like that come in and shut them down.”

At the start of ’89, Olin had made the jump from A ball to AAA ball after a fine spring training. He said of seeing that assignment: “I was looking on the Double-A roster and I didn’t see my name there and I said, ‘Oh my God, they’re sending me back to Kinston.’ And then I just glanced over to the AAA chart and went into shock. It was the best day in baseball for me.

“I haven’t really thought about it (being in AAA). I wasn’t nervous, but I tried not to think about where I was. I still try not to think about it.”

The Gazette-Telegraph wrote: “The key to Olin’s success is his delivery. A right-hander, he releases the ball halfway between sidearm and submarine. That unique motion and good movement on his fastball, slider and changeup have befuddled PCL batters.”

Rick Adair, who joined Olin in making the jump from A Kinston to AAA ball in 1989, but as a pitching coach, said: “I know A ball isn’t AAA, but he had the things, besides his stuff, that we were looking for. He keeps the ball down, he can go four or five times a week and when he did have a bad outing, he’d come back and have a good one.”

Olin had two miserable games in late May, 1989, against the Tacoma Tigers (the A’s AAA team). He said of that: “Those two games against Tacoma, that killed me. I was really upset about that. But then I looked back on my start. Maybe if I get one or two saves right off the bat, I could’ve called that lucky. But I came out and got six, seven, eight saves, so I had to be doing something right. That helped me pull out of it.”

Olin wound up converting 24 of 26 save opportunities at Colorado Springs, leaving him one save shy of an 11-year-old Pacific Coast League record when he was summoned to Cleveland in early August.

In early ’90, Olin summarized 1989: “Last year was the most fun I ever had in baseball. It was great to play in a nice town like Colorado Springs. I hope we get this lockout thing settled, but if we don’t I wouldn’t mind going back to Colorado Springs at all.”

Published in: on May 21, 2009 at 12:12 am  Comments (1)  
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Cleveland Indians Tragedy in Spring Training, 1993: the Death of Steve Olin and Tim Crews

The Indians had a day off from their spring training in Winter Haven, Florida, on March 22, 1993. Pitchers Steve Olin, Tim Crews, and Bob Ojeda drove to Crews’ house on Little Lake Nellie, near Tavares, for a barbecue and some fishing. Sometime before 8 p.m., Crews and his teammates took his bass boat out on the lake. In its initial story about what happened soon after, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Olin, 27, died instantly when an 18-foot open-air bass boat in which he was riding ran head-high into a new dock extending some 220-250 feet into Little Lake Nellie from a private home.

The boat, equipped with a 150-horsepower engine capable of powering it at speeds up to 50 m.p.h., apparently was traveling at a high rate of speed in the dark.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Jetta Heinrich, who owns the dock, heard the boat strike it and called the Lake County Sheriff’s Office at 7:52 p.m. . . .

When paramedics arrived, they found all three men unconscious.
Paramedics said that Ojeda, a passenger, was found covered in blood and drifting in and out of consciousness.

Lt. Vinard Hitt, regional public affairs officer for the Florida Fish and Game Commission, said neither the boat nor the dock was seriously damaged, and that the boat had its running lights on at the time. He noted that most of the injuries seemed to be at head level.
“It was dark and apparently they didn’t see the dock,” Mock added. . . .

Crews sustained an injured lung and a “very serious head injury,” said Joe Brown, a spokesman at Orlando Regional Medical Center. He is in the intensive care unit.
No surgery was planned for Crews until his condition could be stabilized, Brown said.
With the Dodgers last season, Crews was 0-3 with a 5.19 earned-run average in 49 games.

Ojeda, 35, a left-handed starter who had pitched two seasons for the Dodgers before signing with the Indians as a free agent this winter, had surgery for head lacerations and was expected to make a full recovery. He is in stable but serious condition in the intensive care unit of South Lake Memorial Hospital in Clermont.

Crews’ wife, Laurie, said: “They just had the day off and we had a barbecue at home. They wanted to see Tim’s boat. Boys will be boys, and things don’t always turn out the way they are supposed to.”

Crews died early the next morning, while Ojeda, who had a lacerated scalp, was operated on at South Lake Memorial Hospital. In a follow-up story, the L.A. Times reported:

The Crewses already owned six horses and planned for more. Crews, who loved to fish, was from Florida. He grew up in Tampa and went to King High. On the Friday before he died, Crews attended a ceremony there to retire his jersey. The school painted a sign on the outfield wall in his honor and unveiled it during festivities.

Monday was the only day off the Indians had scheduled during spring training, so Crews decided to entertain in his new home. The afternoon was spent horseback riding and dinner was scheduled for 6 p.m. followed by night bass fishing.

The Florida Game and Fish Commission later interviewed Ojeda, who said the boat had hit the dock as a complete shock, and that the players had made a couple runs around the lake before hitting the dock.

In response to the accident, Indians pitcher Kevin Wickander said:

“What you have to understand is we had an off-day. We were just trying to enjoy ourselves. They had a family picnic. I’m sure there were a few beers. It was a relaxing day. It was one of those things that just happened. They don’t need to be remembered like that. Steve was a good person. Timmy was a good person. It’s not fair. It could happen to anybody.
“I’m not dealing with it very well at all. He [Olin] was my best friend. He was the best man at my wedding. The reason I am where I am is because of him. He taught me as much about life off the field as on.”

On June 26, Ojeda, who was returning to the Indians, said: “We were going, and bam! I don’t remember the bam part. Then I heard some lady hollering, ‘Are you guys OK?’ And I told her, `No, we need help.’ EMS got there in five minutes, and if they hadn’t, I would have bled to death. They were tremendous.”

Ojeda explained his surviving the crash like this: “I was inches away from the guys, but I slouch. That’s why it missed me by half an inch.”

He added of tests that found Crews was legally drunk as he piloted the boat: “That became an issue. I can’t sit here and try to rebuff whatever. I know Crewser. I know he could have done brain surgery, if he was a brain surgeon. Certainly we’re not choir boys. . . . Everybody does things, then something bad happens, and we all look for reasons-why did that happen?”

Patti Olin, Steve’s wife, added:

“I suppose I could say that Steve was a passenger and Steve was sober, but people would say he should have been smart enough to not get on that boat in the first place. We spent the whole day with them, and I’m telling you, Steve would never have gotten on that boat if there was any doubt. I don’t care what the legal limit was, Tim Crews was not drunk. If he was, I wouldn’t have let my husband go out on a boat with him.”

Last winter, Mike Hargrove, the Indians’ manager in 1993, looked back at the accident in an interview. You can also read the transcript of an ESPN retrospective on the accident 10 years after it happened here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Olin and Crews, you can read some material I’ve gathered about their early careers here and here.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 3:20 am  Comments (3)  
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