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March 22, 1993 – Remembering the Darkest Day in Cleveland Indians History

A routine day off during Spring Training, March 22, 1993 will forever be remembered as one of the darkest days in all of baseball, claiming two pitchers lives and devastating the lives of countless others

 

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It was a Monday in Clermont, Florida. The Cleveland Indians were enjoying a much needed day off, the only one scheduled during a very busy Spring Training schedule in their new home of Winter Haven. Indians skipper Mike Hargrove had turned down an invitation from Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to play an unscheduled game that day so that his club could spend a day with their families and recover from what had been a grueling Spring Training schedule. While many of the members of the ball club and their families headed to Orlando to visit Walt Disney World that day, pitchers Steve Olin, Tim Crews and Bob Ojeda opted to retire to Crews’s home in nearby Clearwater to enjoy a day of barbequing, horseback riding and boating. It was to be a day to relax and recoup before hitting the final push to prepare for Opening Day, but instead it turned out to be one of the darkest days in all of baseball.

The three pitchers set off in an open-air boat that evening on Little Lake Nellie, a small body of water not even large enough to be included on the state map. Olin was set to be the Indians’ closer that season and talks of a long-term contract were underway given his performance that spring. Crews and Ojeda were set to be key parts of the Tribe’s bullpen with Ojeda being brought in that winter to add some experience to the young ball club. They were set to enjoy an evening on the water and were waiting for Indians’ strength and conditioning coach Fernando Montes and another friend to join them, awaiting their signal from the shore that they had arrived. Crews, Olin and Ojeda were on the lake fishing when Montes flashed his headlights to alert them to return to shore to pick up the other two men. At the helm, Crews fired up the boat and made a wide turn, preparing to return to shore. In the dark of night, a night with a new moon and almost no light, he did not see the 185-foot long wooden dock that extended out into the lake.

Witnesses have recounted the sound of the crash, and the eerie silence that followed. Montes and several other people who were in the area immediately rushed to the site of the crash, finding Olin fatally wounded, and Crews and Ojeda both severely injured. The families of all three were in the immediate area, and also rushed to the scene as those who were struggling to help the wounded men kept their wives from viewing the horrific scene. A call was made to Indians’ manager Mike Hargrove who was having dinner with his wife and with Indians’ pitching coach Rick Adair and his wife as well as other friends who had made the trek down from Cleveland. Hargrove, Adair and their spouses immediately made the 35-minute drive north to the scene to comfort the families and to offer any assistance that they could.

By the time the skipper arrived, Crews and Ojeda were being airlifted to a nearby hospital, but Olin remained in the boat, he had been killed instantly as the 18-foot vessel struck the dock at head-height. Crews would undergo an operation that evening, but he was pronounced dead of his injuries at 6:00 the following morning. Ojeda suffered severe head injuries, and reports from witnesses say that he had more-or-less been scalped by the impact with the dock. Miraculously, he would recover from those injuries though he was never the same after the accident. He would return late in the 1993 season, but he struggled for the Tribe, finishing with a 4.40 ERA in 43 innings of work. Ojeda would leave the Indians following the 1993 campaign and signed with the New York Yankees in the offseason, but he would make just two appearances for the club before being released. Ojeda retired from active play shortly thereafter.

The deaths of Crews and Olin were the first of active players since 1979 when Thurman Munson was killed in an airplane crash. Their deaths haunted the Indians that season as the club struggled to move on and went 76-86, good enough for sixth place in the American League Eastern Division. The club celebrated the memory of the two men by wearing a patch bearing their numbers on their sleeves throughout the 1993 campaign, their final in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. A memorial service was held in Winter Haven for the fallen pitchers and was attended by not only the Indians, but several players from other teams who were also training in the sunshine state, as well as representatives from all of the ball clubs who were training in Arizona. Hargrove, Indians’ GM John Hart, and former Indians first baseman Andre Thornton, who lost his wife and daughter in a 1977 automobile accident, all spoke at the ceremony. “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, the Olin’s favorite song, was played at the service. When the Indians’ clinched the Central Division championship just two years later in 1995, Hargrove chose that song to be played as the club raised the pennant in Jacob’s Field in tribute to Olin and Crews.

Twenty years later, the widows of both Crews and Olin have struggled to move on with their lives. Patti Olin has remarried and her children have grown into successful young adults as have the children of Laurie Crews. Ojeda spent nearly 7 years out of the public eye before returning to the game as the pitching coach for the New York Mets’ Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones. He would spend two years with the Cyclones before being promoted to AA-Binghamton for the 2003 campaign. After spending some time with the Can-Am League’s Worchester Tornadoes from 2005 to 2007, Ojeda became a broadcaster for SportsNet New York, serving as a pre-game and post-game analyst along with Chris Carlin for the New York Mets.

 

 

By Robert Gonzalez
Cleveland Indians Correspondent

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