Most Cleveland Indians fans breathing air today have been waiting their entire lives for a World Series championship that has not come yet.
Oregon resident Tom Fuller would like it to be this year, when the pressure is off and everyone is expecting the Detroit Tigers, with over double the payroll, to be the team. Fuller was born in 1952 — four years after the last time the Indians won a World Series.
“There is something going on. They swept the White Sox a couple weeks ago,” Fuller said. “The last time they did that they won the 1948 World championship.”
|The Bob Hope bobblehead that Oregon resident Tom Fuller
collected is licensed to be sold only in Cleveland and Los
Angeles. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
One of the reasons he’s an Indians fan — first impressions. He admits that is probably true for a lot of people.
“My grandfather took us to our first game (at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium), and it was Ball Day, and I’ve still got the ball somewhere. But when you see that big Chief Wahoo outside, it’s impressive. I’ve been drawing Chief Wahoo’s face since I was in seventh grade.”
Either way, he’s a fan of the Tigers or Indians in the playoffs, and a baseball museum located at his home is proof.
Insured for $40,000, there is so much “stuff” Fuller is running out of room. It isn’t all stuff that he picked up — much of it is donated by other fans. He even has baseball memorabilia picked up from a trip to Japan.
It extends to his refrigerator, where there are bottles of Bertman’s Original Hot Dog Mustard, which is sold at all Cleveland Indians home games.
“It is Sports Illustrated’s No. 1 hot dog mustard in all sports. Their assortment is the best. I got tons of this in spring training and at Jacob’s (now Progressive) Field,” Fuller said.
There are nearly 600 bobbleheads from various sports venues across the country.
“The Yankees are one of the most popular in the world. This is one of my all-time favorites — a Billy Martin one — you look at his face there is a lot of detail,” Fuller said, pointing to the Martin doll.
His Bob Hope bobblehead is only licensed to be sold in Cleveland and Los Angeles. The collection includes long time Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell, other celebrities, each of the presidents who race at a Washington Nationals baseball game, and players, coaches and mascots from college and professional sports.
Fuller says rare bobbleheads kept in his home are worth $300 to $400. One of his oldest is a Chief Wahoo bobblehead dating back to 1965.
Traveling the country
While his “museum” is about 33 percent Cleveland, there is memorabilia from sports franchises across the country, including Detroit. The displays are beyond what you would usually consider sports memorabilia.
“I’ve got every type of (drinking) glass you can think of — shot glasses, (Cleveland) Indians’ glasses, mug glass — it’s just unbelievable,” Fuller said.
Much of his collection is from spring training, which he attends every year.
“I had the first two seats next to the (Cleveland) dugout when I go to spring training, so these people come up to me and they sign everything for me,” Fuller said.
During the season, he’s traveling all over the country. Last week, he went to Target Field in Minneapolis to pick up bobbleheads of Minnesota Twins all-stars Justin Moreau and Joe Mauer.
He’s been to every stadium in the American League’s East Division, most stadiums in the Central, and 12 National League parks. In 1974, he attended the largest opening day crowd ever up to that point as 74,420 people watched Gaylord Perry and Mickey Lolich pitch in freezing cold. Cleveland defeated Detroit, 3-2, on a Chris Chambliss first inning home run.
“I go to (Cleveland’s) opening day, and I gone to every game at Yankee Stadium for the last 12 years. I’ve probably seen more Indians games at Yankee Stadium than I’ve probably seen at Jacobs Field, except the year my wife passed away,” Fuller said.
He has a sign made from a photo his brother, Dan Fuller, a former Northwood softball coach, took at Yankee Stadium after Cleveland had just defeated New York, 8-7.
“We went to an old-timers game, which is like a religion in Yankee Stadium,” Fuller said. “They just beat the Yankees 8-7, so I had this thing made up — ‘Having your picture taken in front of Yankee Stadium after a Tribe victory — priceless. Winning on Old Timer’s Day — quiet.’”
But New York is not his favorite place to attend a baseball game, nor is Cleveland.
“Of all the parks I’ve been to, Wrigley Field is the most fun — the whole community there, they call it ‘Wrigleyville.’ Whether they win or lose, the party is unbelievable. The most beautiful park other than Jacobs is PNC in Pittsburgh. That is the most breathtaking park you will ever see.
“My wife loved to travel, and every time we went on vacation, she couldn’t believe the Indians were in town, except for when we went to Aruba,” Fuller continued.
When he goes to Detroit, he likes to remind Tiger fans that manager Jim Leyland grew up a Cleveland Indians fan. While a faculty member at Cardinal Stritch High School, Fuller taught across the hall from Father Tom Leyland, the manager’s brother. He wonders how it affected Jim Leyland when, as manager of the Florida Marlins, he led the team to a World Series victory over the Indians.
One of his proudest pieces is a letter written to Fuller from 1970s Cleveland owner Vernon Stouffer and an article about it from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Another is a letter he wrote to a hall of famer, which received a touching response.
“I sent a letter when Herb Score was dying, and usually they send this card to all people who want an autograph,” Fuller said. “Well, I sent a bunch of his baseball cards and a letter and his wife was so touched, she sent me a color picture (of Score alongside fellow hall of fame pitcher Bob Feller), and both are signed by each one of them, and it’s a very rare picture.”
There are autographed bats and close to 100 baseballs, mostly from legendary Cleveland players, some hall of famers. The autographs include Rocky Calovito, Sandy Alomar, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, plus current manager Terry Francona and General Manager Mark Shapiro. All the autographs were signed in Fuller’s presence, and he has a photo of himself and the signer to go with each.
Other autographs include the former commissioner of baseball Fay Vincent and former Toledo sports announcer Frank Gilhooley, signed within a few days before his death.
Fuller’s collection includes an line-up card signed and posted by New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi from when they opened the new Yankee Stadium.
Of course, there is more. But even Fuller’s baseball days are something to talk about.
Fuller graduated from Stritch in 1970, started the junior varsity baseball program in 1975 and became varsity coach in 1978.
He took his Stritch pitching staff to the Indians winter clinic in 1977 and 1978, hosted by Cleveland pitchers. It paid off.
In 1979, Stritch defeated Rossford 3-2 in the Class AA district final and reached the regional tournament for the first time in school history. Fuller was named Ohio’s Class AA Coach of the Year and coached in the Ohio prep all-state game at Ohio State University.
The year before, his 2-5 Stritch team went to Oregon’s John Ousky Field to play an 11-0 Clay team, and the Cardinals used two first inning suicide bunts to give the Eagles their only loss of the season. The following year, 1979, Clay went undefeated and won the Class AAA state championship.