At the end of spring training last year, Cory Snyder packed his bags for Old Orchard Beach, Me., and Triple-A ball, disappointed that he couldn’t make the roster of a team that lost 102 games in 1985.
This spring, he is scheduled to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s baseball issue, posed alongside teammate Joe Carter in front of a stained-glass Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ mascot.
The long-lost Tribe, which finished 39 1/2 games out of first place just two years ago, is said to be a contender this season.
And if the Indians’ rise seems rapid, how about Snyder’s?
After his recall from Triple-A last June 12, the former Olympian from Canyon Country batted .272 with 24 home runs and drove in 69 runs in only 103 games.
“People don’t realize how awesome that really is,” Indian catcher Rick Dempsey said.
In a stellar year for American League rookies, some thought Snyder, 24, was the best.
Indian Coach Bobby Bonds said he has “Hall of Fame talent.” Teammate Brett Butler said Snyder reminds him of Dale Murphy. And almost everyone said his arm is one of the best in baseball, some going so far as to say it is the equal of Roberto Clemente’s.
“If people compare me to somebody, that’s great,” Snyder said. “But I just go out and play hard.”
Snyder’s emergence didn’t exactly surprise anybody.
There was some talk two years ago that Snyder might join the small group of players--among them Al Kaline, Sandy Koufax, Dave Winfield and Bob Horner--who moved right into the majors without playing in the minors.
The Indians’ No. 1 draft choice in 1984, he had been a three-year starter at BYU, where he was a teammate of Wally Joyner.
He hit home runs in his first three at-bats at BYU, had a collegiate batting average of .432, set an NCAA record for slugging percentage at .844, and hit 73 home runs, more than any other collegian in a three-year career.
A scout once timed his throws from third base to first at 91 m.p.h.
As the starting third baseman on the U.S. Olympic team, he hit a ball over the roof at Comiskey Park during a pre-Olympic tour. And in five games during the Olympics, he hit .400 with two home runs and seven RBIs.
But General Manager Joe Klein said that the Indians never seriously considered putting Snyder in the majors without his first serving a minor league apprenticeship.
They sent him to their Double-A affiliate in Waterbury, Conn., where in 1985 he had 28 home runs and 94 RBIs in 139 games and was named Most Valuable Player of the Eastern League.
And when he struggled at the plate last spring, they sent him to Triple-A.
“We wanted three things to happen before we brought him up,” Klein said. “We had to have a commitment from the manager (Pat Corrales) that he would play every day. We didn’t want him to be platooned.
“No. 2, the team would have to be playing well. We did not want to bring him into a losing situation where he would have to hit fourth and try to pick up the team.
“And third, he would have to be doing well down in Maine.”
Everything fell into place last June 11, when infielder Pat Tabler was put on the 15-day disabled list. Snyder, who was hitting .302 at Maine, was recalled the next day and on June 13, in his second major league at-bat, he tripled off Minnesota’s Bert Blyleven.
On June 15, he hit his first home run. Two weeks later, he hit two in a game against the Angels’ Don Sutton. In August, he had a six-RBI game and in September he had a 17-game hitting streak.
Said teammate Mel Hall: “He’s not hurting for talent, that’s for sure.”
Still, Klein said Snyder is in the “formative” stage and that he’s not yet a “finished ballplayer.” His swing is said to have some holes in it. In 416 at-bats last season, he struck out 123 times.
Klein also said that Snyder is too critical of himself, “but that’s because he has high expectations. . . .
“Young players tend to be streaky. When Cory’s hot, he’s very, very hot. And when he’s cold, his being cold from the day before has a tendency to carry over.”
Snyder allows that his most pressing need is consistency at the plate, and Klein said he may be helped in that area if the Indians settle on one position for him. Last year, Snyder played third base, shortstop, left field and right field.
This year, the Indians hope to keep him in right.
He’s an enthusiastic, hard worker who said: “Not too many people can say they love what they’re doing, but I love playing. I love being out there on the field.”
Said Klein: “He just has to learn the strike zone. Once he does that, he has a chance to put some awesome numbers on the board.”